What To Do After Your Career Goes 'Poof'

Finding a new job: Gail Belsky's quest.

Gail Belsky will be blogging for AOL Jobs about her quest to find a new job -- and reinvent her career. This is the first post in her weekly series that will run Mondays.

At 51, I've become both a cliche and a victim of circumstance -- neither of which makes me happy. A cliche because I'm a middle-aged woman who left the workplace a decade ago to freelance from home and raise kids, and who now needs to worm her way back in. A victim of circumstance because while I was doing that, the recession and the rise of social media made my traditional print- and online-journalism career go poof. The editing gigs that used to routinely come my way have dried up; the writing work, now mostly online, pays half of what it used to.

Colleagues and contacts have disappeared -- sometimes without warning. I wrote a story for an editor who loved it and wanted to assign me another, but she was downsized before she had the chance. The editor who took over and processed my payment was downsized two weeks after that. It's gotten to the point where if I don't hear back from someone after a week or so, I call the company operator to make sure she or he is still working there.

More: Freelancers: 10 Ways To Get A Full-Time, Corporate Job

The whole thing is depressing. And scary. Because in order to make a decent living, send my kids to college, and save for retirement, I have to either win the lottery or shift my career.

On paper, I'm not qualified for many of the other types of positions I'd like to explore, such as teaching. While I've been an adjunct journalism professor for a decade, I can't get hired on staff without an M.A. or Ph.D. (I've never met a working journalist with a doctoral degree, but I'm sure one exists somewhere.) Many of the jobs I've seen posted involve social media, an area that I've avoided because it's not what I signed up for when I became a journalist. So now I have to figure out where and how to redirect my skills, and frankly, I'm stuck.

Here's what I know I'm looking for in a job:
  • A grown-up, steady income. I actually have bills to pay. On time. So no more piecemeal freelancing; only long-term contract work or a staff position.

  • Good benefits. I've never had a pension; boy, would that be great! But just a 401(k) plan where the employer kicks in a small percentage would be thrilling.

  • A renewed sense of professionalism. Not having to chase down the money I've earned would go a long way here.

  • Work that is varied, challenging and energizing. The best part of working independently is having the ability to stretch and do new things, and I'd hate to give that up.

  • Smart colleagues. The worst part of working independently is having nobody to talk to except the dog.

  • Joy in what I do. For three decades, I've loved almost everything I've done. I'd like to feel the same for the next two.

  • Decent vacation time. I'm an adult; two weeks doesn't cut it. In my last two jobs I had four weeks; I'd like to pick it up there.

This is where I'm starting. But I hope that within the next few months, I'll become another kind of cliche: the midlife worker who launches her second act.

Are you trying to shift your own career? What are you looking for in a new career? Share your experiences below.

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I'll be 57 (female) next month, been unemployed for the last five months, and on the verge of losing everything. I left a decent paying night shift job, for a day job, paying more money. I should have known better when they seemed overly concerned about my passing a drug test. So, without investigating, I accepted this housekeeping job, only to realize that the actual job description, did not match what was disclosed during the interview. Needless to say, within a month and a half, I was unable to use my left arm because of the 100 lb. caret shampooer, which I tried to maneuver in and out of a truck and up stairs. This was one of the undisclosed jobs. Even at half my age, I couldn't do this! I still love to clean, and have more energy, skills, and work ethics than anyone I know but, that was just taking it a little too far! I've never done much "desk work", and can't vision myself sitting still for any length of time. I have many years of retail experience also but, my applications in that field, and for whatever reason(s), always result in a, "we're sorry, we've chosen another candidate". I'm at my wits end, and seem to be out of options.

November 12 2014 at 7:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

OMG, I am you or you are me. Either way, we have subtle differences yet we are at the same spot in life. I too left a job/career to go it alone only so that I could drop off and pick up my children after school each day. I wanted to be an integral part of their upbringing, which I was not in my parents. Having been a latch key kid before the term was coined, I was a happy kid and I knew how to do laundry, clean a house, get dinner going and do my homework, all at the age of 10. So, now since I have been a print broker, and printing is "dead" and it is now all branding and social media, what am I going to do? I have been trying to write myt resume for a year. It is depressing. Any suggestions?

February 04 2013 at 7:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JP-Retired CPA

Even in this economy you have an excellent chance of obtaining good employment. One of your great strenghts will be you proven ability to communicate both in writing and orally. Employers place great value on this. Try checking out Federal (USAJOBS.GOV), State, local government. The Federal government hires many editors to review the constant flow of reports, regulations, studies, etc. Inspector General and audit agencies hire editors to review and improve their audit reports (These jobs usually start at about $45K and go non-competitively to $110K with great benefits). Corporate America also uses editiors and writers in great numbers (i.e. large CPA firms use editors, advertising, & corporate reports and studies). If I were still working you would be an individual I would consider hiring as one of my editors. Good luck in your search.

January 10 2013 at 9:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dont be too picky

"Here's what I know I'm looking for in a job:"
Wow that is a big list. Any self-employed or self made person is probably laughing at that list as we at best can only get 2 things on that list (joy, challenge). I've realized that many of the best opportunities that I've had started from small menial tasks/jobs that at first made no sense from a time or money standpoint. I love my job, do it well, so a small or large task is not really all that difficult. When an employer/client sees you perform a job like this they will appreciate and remember this.

January 10 2013 at 5:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dont be too picky's comment
Gail Belsky

I was lucky...for most of my freelance years I did have it all (well, maybe the money could have been better, but it was enough!) And I've done many small jobs over the years because they're fun, or interesting, or were a foot in the door. It's really just about moving in a direction that is sustainable, because what I've been doing isn't anymore...

January 10 2013 at 6:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, Gail, for starters, maybe help out the editor who chose a title for this story. I clicked on the headline "What To Do After Your Career Goes 'Poof'," expecting some advice or at least a thoughtful discussion of the issues involved. But all this story tells me is your own situation and what you'd like to find in a job. There is nothing in this piece whatsoever that advises me what to do after my career goes poof or even remotely explores the issue.

January 10 2013 at 3:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Lorenzo's comment
Gail Belsky

I've just started working with career coaches, so in the coming weeks, I'll be sharing all the insight I get—including what worked and didn't work for me. Hopefully, my experiences will be helpful to you.

January 10 2013 at 5:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dave of the North

Dave of the North

I can get where you are coming from. You have needs and wants. There is nothing wrong with wanting something good for yourself and your family, as long as you accept that the needs may be satisfied prior to (and become a path to) the wants. Given what you've stated of your experience and skillset, I would think that employment for a major corporation in their Communications dept, might be feasible. Best of Luck!

January 10 2013 at 2:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Dave of the North's comment
Gail Belsky

Thanks! I know I may have to dial back on the wants given the economy, but I'm going to try for the whole package first. I remember how blown away I was when I first started asking employers for what I wanted—and got it! I felt truly valued and lucky, and I know I worked harder because of it. Those were different times, obviously, but I'd really like a job that I can stay in for a long time because it affords me what I need. We'll see what happens.

January 10 2013 at 5:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@Gail - you are late to this party. Print journos have been getting booted to the door for a decade, with a huge acceleration in the past five years. You were lucky to hang on as long as you did, if I read your history correctly.
Don't waste time & money on an M.A. That leads to puny adjunct jobs, at best, without benefits. And competition for those is fierce. Many in line ahead of you, with current experience teaching,
You should consider p.r., which has a faster-than-average hiring outlook {see the federal BLS site, plug in public relations to see the economists' estimates.}
There's a need in non-profit, corporate and government spheres for your writing, editing and story-generating skills. The pay is decent and the strong forecasts for demand should warm your heart.
No need for tuition, and you can network at your local PRSA branch. You will find many familiar faces (former journos) and be surprised at the challenges you can take on.
Check it out. Sneering at p.r. is old school. Those folks have some interesting jobs, relative security and decent pay and hours.

January 10 2013 at 2:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to florida.chick's comment
Gail Belsky

I've been looking into communications jobs...both corporate and non-profit, so it's great to hear that the sector is growing not shrinking. Any suggestions for how to pitch myself? I just talked to a career coach, so I'm working on the "branding" thing. That's the focus of next week's blog, in fact.

January 10 2013 at 5:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Gail Belsky's comment

make sure the career coach is tuned into PR> I used one and got offers from the next two interviews (after 11 rejections.) It was because the coach was tuned in and knew the field. he drew me out, did mock interviews, found things to highlight and what to downplay.
Also, get a makeover. I used a free service at Nordstrom but many stores have this. Journos look like crap, a point of pride. PR folks dress better and have better grooming. Get a dept. store or beauty shop makeover as well, that suits you. Stress the teaching aspect. See your dds and also a manicure place.
No I am not superficial. Working for yourself you had a great, tolerant boss. The PR folks need to envision you on camera, at a press conference, talking to donors & board members, etc. Let them see you at your best. Poise and polish are part of how you fight age discrimination.
Bring your A game. No clunky 4-yr-old flip phones or tattered Timex. Step it up, network and get that coach in your corner.

January 11 2013 at 11:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
Joseph W Shaw

Gail, I'm 36 and work in tech, and I am in a similar situation. Being 36 in tech means my effective career lifespan is probably close to an end. Tech workers over 40 are considered over the hill and worth little when younger people are coming into the workforce that have been raised on technology, even though I was as well and have been on the Internet since before it was open to the general public. That said, one thing you mentioned strikes me as odd: you say you're actively avoiding social media because it is something you are avoiding as a journalist. This strikes me as incredibly shortsighted. You even mention that the Internet and the rise of new media is responsible for the death or decline of your previous forms of work. Is it possible that failing to adapt to the changes in technology and the way people use it might be part of the problem? One thing you learn pretty early in tech is that you must adapt to the times or you starve. Print media is on the way out, and even my technophobic mother-in-law no longer subscribes to her local newspaper to get her news. Legacy electronic media is also on the way out, with new paradigms associated with the convergence between mobile devices (tablets, phones, etc) and content. I can understand that social media may have some negative connotations with traditional journalists, but I have friends who make decent livings working for SMB customers and managing their social media, including blog posts, Twitter, Facebook, etc because they lack the time and expertise to use them but still see the value in using them. There is good money to be made there.

January 10 2013 at 2:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Joseph W Shaw's comment
Gail Belsky

Hi...I think the original post wasn't clear enough. I've worked primarily online for 4 years, editing and writing, so technology isn't the issue. And if working online paid as much as print does, I'd still be making a reasonable living. It's that online pays a fraction of what print does, so it's not viable as a career. Social media is a whole other story....it's a great form of communication, but not of journalism—either online or print. And there's no money there, either. If I go into the corporate or non-profit worlds, social media will play a big role, and that makes sense. I'm actually attending a social media workshop next month to learn more about how to use it as a marketing/communications too. I'll blog about it then.

January 10 2013 at 6:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill Johnson

She can still afford an Apple computer.

January 10 2013 at 12:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Bill Johnson's comment
Gail Belsky

Three years old, and REALLY slow. :) But that's the whole point: when I bought this computer, business was still good. Three years later, I'm not rushing to the Apple store.

January 10 2013 at 5:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Pat Savu

You are grownup AND you have dependants. Worst, it sounds like you want to send your dependants to college. You need to concentrate on making enough money, period. How much vacation you get, whether you love you work, how challenging it is, has to fall by the wayside. These other factors are considerations for people without dependants and are maybe max 40 years old.
I am nearly 60 myself, but I am a technical person and I am just trying to last at my current job until I am 65 and can go on Medicare. I just finished paying for 2 kids to go to college.

January 10 2013 at 12:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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