Do you remember when IBM launched their first personal computer in 1981 and helped fan the flames of the Digital Revolution? You were able to experience history in the making but you’re also over the age of 40, which makes you a protected class of employee in the U.S.
The irony of this is that in a report by investigative journalists at ProPublica, IBM reported targeted headcount cuts towards almost 20,000 employees over the age of 40. So thousands of mid- or late-career professionals just might have found themselves walking to their cars with a cardboard box of personal items, a severance check, COBRA paperwork, and a lot of emotions to process.
Consider this: If you were born in 1971 (the year the first successful Intel microprocessor was introduced) then you’re 47 years old this year. If you attended college you probably started working full time around the age of 22, meaning you’ve been employed for 25 years. If you are like most Gen X’ers and plan to retire at 72 then you’ve got another 25 years to go. Oh, and you’re that protected class we’re talking about. If you’ve involuntarily ‘gulped’ here, that’s a natural reaction.
I’m not trying to induce a mid-life crisis here, but rather I’m hoping you’ll get intentional about your career going forward. So if you’re sitting at the proverbial half-way point of your working life, what’s your plan for the other side of the hump? How can you avoid the HR axe that could cause you to start worrying about you how you’ll pay your mortgage or if your resume is going to be worth looking at?
It can become easy to coast in a job that we’re great at. Part of the appeal of younger workers is they’re hungry and eager to learn. They also have skills and energy that employers want. Here’s a few ideas on how to keep yourself relevant to your organization:
Play to your strengths. Take inventory of what you know, both hard technical skills and softer professional skills. Focus on what you know and how it brings value.
Sharpen your skills. If you’re not a lifelong learner, now is perfect time to become one. Seek out online and local opportunities to learn new skills. You can get a good understanding of a topic fairly quickly with Google and a book from the ‘For Dummies’ series.
Get connected. Networking is a severely under-rated skillset in today’s marketplace. Make connections with others in your field, attend professional networking events.
Make a plan. Pay off your debt, fund your HSA, create an emergency fund. In a lot of ways this is as important as funding your retirement.
Update your resume. If you find yourself suddenly looking for a job, a current resume will make the process much smoother and you’ll have one less thing to worry about.
If you do happen to find yourself over 40 and out of work, having a personal plan to deal with the fallout will make it much less painful experience. Nobody is above being let go, prepare for that contingency before you need it. You, and those who rely on you, will be grateful down the road and if it never happens then you’ll at least have slept better knowing you’re ready.
Full Disclosure: I was born in 1971, so I feel your pain. Hang in there, we’ve got this.
Author: Jason is a Career Coach and Co-founder of Merrfeld Career Management.