Unemployed? Don't Bother With A Career Coach

career coach

I'm sorry to say that I've developed a skeptical attitude toward career coaches and interview counselors and, in general, toward the profusion of job search advice I find everywhere on the Internet.

A whole industry seems to have sprung up to serve the needs of unemployed people. While I'm sure this is good for the people in this industry and for many of the unemployed, I doubt it's going to make much difference for a large subgroup of us. This is not personal. I know quite a few people who offer these kinds of services and I like them a lot. It's just that I now suspect that, at least for unemployed people older than 50, all the great advice and tips in the world are not going to benefit us very much.

That's because the older you are and the longer you're unemployed, the lower your chances are of finding a new job. In a May 12, 2012, piece in The New York Times headlined "The Human Disaster of Unemployment," there's a paragraph I can't forget:

The prospects for the re-employment of older workers deteriorate sharply the longer they are unemployed. A worker between ages 50 and 61 who has been unemployed for 17 months has only about a 9 percent chance of finding a new job in the next three months. A worker who is 62 or older and in the same situation has only about a 6 percent chance. As unemployment increases in duration, these slim chances drop steadily.

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This is why I'm afraid that, if anything, coaches and counselors and other sources of advice may inspire false hopes that are likely to be dashed in this group of people.

To be clear, I'm talking about the long-term older unemployed. In hindsight, I may well have benefitted from the one-on-one services of a career coach when I was newly unemployed; perhaps I missed an opportunity. In those early days, though, I felt quite confident that I would soon have another job. That had been my experience in the past, so I was sure I didn't need "help." Besides, I'd picked up useful information from several coaches I knew via email and at job-search presentations.

For the older unemployed who may cling to the belief that, if we can just identify and fix the thing(s) we're doing wrong, then we'll get jobs, repeated lack of success despite our best efforts may convince some of us that we're simply failures.

But what if we're not doing anything wrong? What if the reason we're not getting hired is found on our birth certificates? Resume updates and interview rehearsals and clever social media marketing can't change our birthdates.

I'm sure there are many happy-ending stories about job-hunting successes achieved after working with coaches or taking advantage of online help -- mostly involving younger people who've been unemployed for shorter periods. I also believe most of us, even chronically unemployed baby boomers, can make simple changes in how we present ourselves and our experiences, abilities and accomplishments that may increase our chances of winning the job.

I just wish that job coaches and career websites would carry a disclaimer, some sort of warning label that's based on actual employment statistics. Something like:

Caution: If you've been unemployed for 17 months or longer and are age 50 or over, your chances of being hired are less than 10 percent, no matter what you do.

This way, unemployed people could make informed decisions about investing limited funds in new resumes, personal coaching, interview role-playing or image makeovers.

I really do worry about my peers who aren't able to rebound after multiple rejections over multiple years, whose determination and optimism are slipping away, whose finances are in bad shape; the ones who are losing their ability to give it another shot or try another way. It seems almost cruel to allow these people to blame themselves for literally an accident of birth, to conclude that there's something wrong with them and to lose hope.

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The more I read and write about unemployment, the more I come across horrific stories about people born between 1946 and 1964 who've lost nearly everything because of the 2008 market crash and this prolonged economic stagnation. Not only have they lost their jobs: Some have also lost their homes, their plans to pay for their kids' educations, and their secure retirements.

It's heartbreaking to read about once-comfortably successful people who are now trying to get by, in midlife or later, with part-time jobs that barely pay above minimum wage. This is a recovery? It looks more like a Depression.

The plight of baby boomers is real. And based on so many of our personal experiences, it does seem to be primarily the result of the years in which we were born.

Fortunately, not all of our situations are so catastrophic. I do believe, though, that too many of us have been forced to let go of dreams we once cherished or long-term goals we'd pursued because it's no longer possible for us to regain what we've lost.

To put it starkly, we boomers don't have enough time left.

So yes, I very much want to believe that if I just change a, b or c, then I'll finally get that elusive job with all the advantages of a steady, dependable income. But I also need to live in the world as it is and accept that there are some things that can't be changed.

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October 21 2012 at 9:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Fran, you're being something alot of job counselors are not being: realisitic, pragmatic.
Let's face it. The reason most of these people worked for state-funded unemployment
agencies is because they themselves couldn't find jobs in the private sector with an
unemployment rate of over 8%. As we all know, most government jobs are recession-
I've noticed job counselors have become more real in their advice to job candidates.
Before the economic crash, they would tell old(and young) to apply for jobs
even if you know that you're not qualified for it("Why not? Can't hurt, right?") In 2012, job counselors aren't offering this advice anymore.
I'm only 36 years old and it's still difficult to find a full-time job like older candidates. Sometimes I feel like
I'm being discriminated against by hiring managers who are only ten years younger than I am.

Just a tip for older candidates: if you feel like you been discriminated against for your age, you can always
contact the EEOC(Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) with your state board of employment if
you feel you've been discriminated against. It'd be a hard case to prove in court, but I'm sure it could be
done with a good lawyer. If you don't have the money because you're currently looking for work, get a Public

October 15 2012 at 3:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Age discrimination worse today than any time in modern history. With fewer people having children and crack down on illegal immigration, I look forward to the day when people can tell employers to kiss my a--. Employers are taking advantage of people in this economy and it is criminal, or should be.

August 08 2012 at 12:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Career Charisma

And at the risk of beating a dead horse, let me ask this...

At the turn of the last century, when cars began, quite quickly, to replace horse drawn vehicles, and carriage makers, blacksmiths and buggy whips manufacturers were made utterly obsolete...what did those people do? Did they all simply give up and die? Well, I'll bet many of them did...and many of them didn't. They used the "transferable" skills they had to do other things...like, perhaps, get jobs in the new automobile factories. They went into other kinds of businesses. And oh, BTW...the automobile industry that came into being hired how many hundreds of thousands of workers, in Detroit and elsewhere, during the 20th Century? Many, many more, I'd lay odds, than ever worked in small livery stables, and blacksmith shops, and buggy whip factories.

So good things have a way of coming out of bad things, except you don't want to notice that, or look at any positive possibilities...or learn from people who can show you how to find those opportunities. You just want to throw up your hands and say "Oh, God...we're finished!"

You, and the other hang-dog pessimists writing in this thread, would evidently much rather lock the doors, pull down the shades and mope, than learn what's changed and how you can take advantage of those changes.

YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES WHO'VE EVER GONE THROUGH MAJOR ECONOMIC CHANGES. Is that loud enough for you? CHANGE IS INEVITABLE. IT'S NOT UNFAIR, IT'S JUST CHANGE. And it keeps happening all the time. The kind of working culture we Boomers became used to after WWII -- the kind that allowed daddy to come home from the army or navy and find a job that paid so well that mommy could stay home -- remember "Father Knows Best"? -- and take care of the kids DID NOT EXIST PRIOR TO WWII. AFTER WWII the rest of the world -- Europe and Asia -- was a smoking crater! The only country that had untouched manufacturing capacity was the US. OF COURSE we had jobs! We were supplying the entire rest of the world with everything, from building materials to clothing to food!!

The one-company career that lasted 25, 30, 40 years was a post-war anomaly. It had never existed before. Times had changed to make it exist. Times have now changed again, and we have a global economy, and other countries that would like to have their populations earn decent incomes...which means they're perfectly happy to undercut the US in the goods and services they provide. That 20 - 30 year career is gone, and will never exist again. Get used to it and stop crying, because it's not coming back, no matter how you shake your fists and curse.

And learn what a job consists of now -- what's needed and how to make yourselves valuable to employers nowadays. And THAT'S what career coaches and job search specialists can do for you!

August 01 2012 at 8:14 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Career Charisma

"Caution: If you've been unemployed for 17 months or longer and are age 50 or over, your chances of being hired are less than 10 percent, no matter what you do."

Can you show me, Fran, the statistics that prove this statement to be true? Because I frankly don't believe it. 10%, BTW, over what period of time? Forever and ever, world without end? You mean that someone over the age of 50 who's been unemployed for 17 months or longer will never, ever work again? At anything? Ever again?

Are YOU aware that the WAY professionals work is totally different nowadays from what it was just 5 years ago? Nowadays, many, many successful, experienced professionals -- whether over the age of 50 or younger -- are very clearly understanding what you do not...which is that the full-time staff position, which Boomers got used to having from the 1970s on...has disappeared. Companies are reluctant, nowadays, to hire "permanent" staff...NOT because of age, but because they don't want to be saddled with staff, of ANY age, whom they may have to lay off if the economy gets worse, or if they're bought out by another company, or if the costs of doing business -- considering the extra taxes that are coming down the pike, and the extra medical benefits that many small and mid-sized businesses will be unable to afford -- get worse, as seems inevitable.

So companies are hiring people on a project basis, a contract basis, a consulting basis, and part-time basis, because they need the expertise that experienced workers have to offer...BUT NOT ON A LONG-TERM BASIS. Want to work? Fine! You're an experienced professional? Find out which companies need people to help them for 3 months, 6 months or a year. Develop 2 or 3 or more income streams. Purchase your own benefits...there are many companies out there that are beginning to provide quite excellent, affordable coverage for consultants or small businesses...I know, because that's the kind of coverage I've got.

The nature of the work we do HAS CHANGED. I don't know how much clearer I can make it. If you're looking for the same old/same old kind of staff position you had before, you're absolutely correct...it's gonna be miserably difficult for you to find. Learn what's happened out there, and how to change in accordance with the changes that have taken place...which is what career coaches and consultants, and job search specialists can teach you. But it doesn't seem to occur to you that anything has happened other than the fact that you can't do what you used to do, the way you've always done it, and isn't that a shame.

August 01 2012 at 7:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

{Currently 59.5. Current problems started in the Reagan era when "checks and balances" started being thrown out the window under the guise of "deregulation". From that point on, it has become a growing snowball rolling downhill with unstoppable momentum, regardless of who sits in the White house!}

August 01 2012 at 4:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Lost job at age 54 ... tried for over two years to get employed ... finally retired. Biggest hurdle encountered was age discrimination (sometimes blatant). {Perhaps someday the young and wise individuals that practise age discimination will find themselves in the same situation.} Paula, below, is absolutely correct. How is it that US corporations can take advantage of this country's infrastructure, and profit by sales in this country, and yet farm out work outside of the country (just so the 0.1% can make even more funny money)? It is a different world now ... "money", with its fictitious value and supportive games, is becoming more important than supporting humanity it seems.

August 01 2012 at 4:13 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I am 61, well educated, hardworking, unemployed, about to lose my home. Other people I know are in situations that are hard to believe for some one who grew up in the 50s and 60s. Fran Hopkins is right. We need to be realistic. As much as I dislike Paul Krugman, he is right, too. We are in an economic depression. Not in a recovery as comfortable supporters of a certain candidate say. Not in an economy that already has recovered as they claim here in New York. There are deep systemic problems that make it extremely difficult for the very young, over 50s, African Americans (no matter how well prepared--the fear level on the part of employers revives latent racism). Amid the afterglow of decades of mostly growth, some are in conditions that are as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930s. Most developed countries are in a plight similar to depressions of the 19th century, the stagnation from one of which lasted in some countries for 20 years or more.

The advice I got recently for redoing my resume just might be enough to get me employment of some kind. But then people told me the old one was impressive. Career Charisma believes in her/himself--has to--but I think is basically offering pie in the sky. We are clueless about our own condition and if we only employ him or her, we will get good jobs.

At best, if we follow the advice of the job counselors, what happens is this: The static (and small) number of people who find jobs will be reshuffled. Enormous energy is already expended trying to find employment. The career counseling industry probably does produce a marginal benefit to the economy because somewhat better qualified people come to the fore, but that just makes it a bit more hopeless for the millions who are not sterling candidates, bleak for those at the bottom. The message is this: If you are not perfect (and present yourself perfectly), drop dead.

The problem is the economy, not us. Things are made worse by a stunning lack of leadership. The antileadership favored by the elite does not work. There seem to be no people out there, here or possibly abroad, who have a handle on how to get economies rolling again. Both ends of the political spectrum are probably too ideologized to do us much good. Heaven help us if there are any other shoes out there waiting to drop.

July 31 2012 at 10:25 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to joseph.mccloskey's comment

I believe our problem could be as simple as "forcing" our corporations to hire U.S. Americans.

Our president doesn't have that power because our capitalistic "free enterprise" system - Corporations have the freedom to pick and choose the cheapest labor they can find, and have been allowed to exploit 3rd world labor because of this.

Over the past 10 years, they've stockpiled money and expect us consumers to buy goods and services (with what money?) Corporate tax cuts don't work because they're still not hiring people - at least not here!

The real Question is: How do we force Corporations to stop being greedy and hire Americans at an American wage we can life with? And offer some form of "punishment'' if they don't?

Why they're (US Corporations) are continually allowing the USA to suffer economically is beyond me!

August 01 2012 at 2:54 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Career Charisma

I am not clueless about job conditions, Joe, and I am not offering pie in the sky. I'm a thoroughly clear-sighted professional, and learning how to maneuver in this economy is what I do...and I teach other people to do it. And where on earth did you get the idea that you need to be perfect, or present yourself perfectly? You simply need to demonstrate the kind of value you'll bring to a company that needs your experience and your expertise...and most people -- particularly Boomers -- don't know how to do that because they've never needed to, and may not have had to job hunt for 25 years or more.

The problem isn't the economy. The problem isn't you, either. It's your unwillingness to face the reality of what the job search consists of in the second decade of the 21st Century. It's also your unwillingness to understand that the kinds of jobs -- "permanent" staff positions -- that we had from the time we graduated college -- I graduated in 1972 -- are becoming obsolete.

Learn what you need to do...or you really will be up the creek without a paddle...

August 01 2012 at 8:23 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

if you want a change dont bother changing your resume , make sure you vote this november to get this village idiot out of the white house and then maybe there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Obama = socialism.

July 31 2012 at 7:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Unemployed? Don't Bother With A Career Coach, just file for SSI like the rest of the Democratic voter base..

July 31 2012 at 7:33 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

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