How to hang onto your job in tough times

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Mark Miller

The jobless rate for older workers isn’t as high as it is for the overall U.S. workforce. But older workers who do lose their jobs tend to remain jobless much longer than their younger counterparts — if they’re able to find work at all.

Many have been forced to take part-time jobs, and their retirement plans are taking severe blows due to unplanned withdrawals and stock market upheaval.

For those too young to qualify for Medicare, the loss of employer-provided health insurance has been a devastating blow. Finally, those who do find new work most often accept jobs with lower pay and less valuable benefits.

So, to state the obvious: The best strategy for job security after age 50 is to keep the job you have, if at all possible.

OK, you can stop laughing at me now. I know it’s one thing to advise keeping your job, and another thing to do it in this miserable economy. But is job loss solely a matter of the luck of the draw?

Alan Sklover doesn’t think so. An attorney who’s represented or coached hundreds of older workers in employment cases over his 30-year career, Sklover — who also coaches older workers facing firings, downsizings or layoffs — believes there are things you can do to boost your odds of keeping your job.

Eight employment tips

Sklover caught my eye with a recent video he created that outlines eight ways older workers can remain employed and employable. (You can view the video here: http://bit.ly/qFASnI.)

I spoke with Sklover recently, and started by asking for his views on workplace age discrimination. The answer, coming from an employment lawyer who represents workers, surprised me.

He acknowledged that age discrimination is “rampant” in the workplace. But he also said it is “natural and normal,” even though it’s illegal, adding that, “We all make judgments based on age, no matter what anyone says.”

That means it’s that much more important for older workers to “find ways to enhance job security by making yourself indispensable,” he said. “We’re all wired to be sensitive to our own self-interest, and an employer’s self-interest is to ask, ‘Is this person helpful to me? Can they help me be successful?’ That is always where it starts.”

Here are some of the tips for enhancing job security that Sklover said have worked well over the years for his older clients. Oh, and if he sounds a bit prejudiced against older workers, it’s worth mentioning that Sklover himself is over 60.

1. Be vigilant about appearance. “Sometimes we get a little grayer, gain a little weight, don’t stand up as straight,” he said. “Nature may have these effects on you, but that doesn’t mean you have to cooperate in the process.

“You can walk a little extra, or take up yoga. Get a little extra sun and sleep — even drink more water. Do what you can — within reason — to maintain a perception of vitality.”

2. Stay tech savvy. If you don’t know the latest software and other technologies, such as social media, it creates the perception that you’re over the hill. “You might need to hire a 15-year-old to be your tutor,” he said. What matters is that you learn.

3. Seek situations where you can have greater proximity to revenue. If there are things going on in your organization that involve revenue production, get involved if you can, because you’re less likely to lose your job. “And if you do lose your job,” he added, “you’ll be a more attractive candidate for the next job you apply for.”

4. Build and maintain relationships. This is important within your organization and outside of it. Be active in trade organizations, stay in touch with old customers. “Relationships are critical to organizations,” Sklover said. “Don’t allow them to fall by the wayside.”

5. Involve yourself in critical long-term projects and programs. If your organization is working on a project that will take three to five years to complete, do what you can to get involved because that probably will keep you on the job for that length of time, Sklover said.

6. Be a reputation-enhancer. “Write an article and submit it to a trade journal,” he said. “Do an appearance on television. In some way, help your organization polish up its perception in the marketplace.”

7. Play your strong card, which is experience. Would you rather hire someone for a job who has 40 years of experience, or four? “Don’t be afraid to market your experience and knowledge. But at the same time, don’t allow yourself to be perceived as someone who always is looking backward.”

8. Look beyond the horizon to the future. Be someone who thinks about and acts on what might be the next big wave in your field.

Mark Miller is the author of The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security. He publishes http://retirementrevised.com, recently named the best retirement planning site on the web by Money Magazine. Contact him with questions and comments at mark@retirementrevised.com.
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