long term unemployment

Waiting for the bounce – surviving long term unemployment

There is quite often less sympathy for senior people impacted by job loss.  A general feeling pervades, perpetuated by the media that the 6 and 7 digit golden parachute exit packages we hear about in the press are the norm. But that is simply not the case.  Not all individuals who have had successful careers are exempt from pain.  In fact the further the drop  – the harder the fall and very often there is no bounce at all. Many struggle with the challenges of long term unemployment.

“The harder you fall the higher the bounce”

The challenge of long term unemployment

Long term unemployment can be very difficult for senior people.

Rachel is quadri-lingual  with a double masters in International Law and Finance. She had a successful career in the financial services sector until she was dealt three bitter blows in close succession: redundancy, a serious car accident and the need to care for an elderly parent who required two major  surgeries. She has been off the job market for 5 years. Today she works as a baby sitter and is applying unsuccessfully for sales assistant positions.

Oliver had 15 years’ experience in international marketing before he lost his job in 2008.  He has tapped into his network for some ad interim positions but currently can barely cover his costs.  He lives on state benefits, can no longer afford to run a car and sold his house to move to a lower cost area. His savings are depleted and his marriage broke up with the strain.  He struggles to get to sleep and also to get up in the morning (or even afternoon).

Gerry was summarily dismissed 18 months ago for alleged poor performance. Within 30 minutes his professional reputation was shattered with no prior warning.  He lost  his company car, health insurance,  school fees support, his phone, his lap top, luncheon vouchers and gym membership. His wife’s income as a mid-level communications manager covers about 25% or their  bills.  He settled out of court for unfair dismissal,  but 20% of the payment covered his legal fees.  Their house has been on the market for five months with little interest.  He’s taking antidepressants.

Are you struggling with long term unemployment? Take a look at the  individual coaching programmes 

How long is a piece of string? 

When a senior job seeker first hits the job market one of the first questions he/she will ask is how long will it take to find  a new job? They both fear but don’t consider the prospect of long term unemployment. Frustratingly  there is no single, correct answer. The answer will depend on:

  • Level and salary  – there are simply fewer jobs at the top of the pyramid.
  • Skill set  – how populated is the market?
  • Sector –  how buoyant is it?
  • Geographic location  –  ditto.

So for those job seekers with a very special skill set, or equally very common skills,  at a senior level,  focusing on a very narrow geographic reach,  the answer could  easily be 9-12 months, perhaps longer. If there are additional barriers  (old-fashioned CV, no online presence, reluctance to/ or weak network)  then it could take longer.  It is this frightening realisation that causes the onset of job search panic and a flood of non strategic activity. This generally is unsuccessful and followed by the onset of deepening demotivation and depression , which increases with the passage of time.

Quite often there can also be an immediate onset of avoidance tactics including: self medicating, disrupted sleeping patterns, isolation from family, friends and networks, busy-ness – unfocused non job search activity, usually on the internet, food issues (over eating/under eating)  and so on.


So what can anyone do in what seems like a hopeless situation. The key message is to do something differently:

  • Re evaluate: career goals,  passions and values. Have they changed?  So many millions of people have lost their jobs in the last 5 years it no longer carries the same stigma as it once did.  Many find that they don’t want to carry on along the same path.
  • Reality check  – how are things now? How far are you from your goals?   Do you need  temporary medical support? Do you need professional job search input?   I see a high number of execs with inconsistent levels of success converting outplacement packages to cash believing they can transition themselves on the cheap.  This generally is not a wise move. Later on,  budget can be a genuine restriction,  but never before has there been such a wide range of  excellent free or low-cost advice. If what you’re doing isn’t working – that is a message to try something new. But also many find their goals have simply changed and the loss causes them to reconsider  their futures.
  • Re-frame your current strategy what needs changing? What options to do you have? Can you volunteer to extend your network and gain new experience ?
  • Re-consider the role of pride:   For many not having a job title is tantamount to losing  part of their persona and the thought of attending a networking event with no business card can be a major psychological deterrent.   Now, use your USP instead’ “John Smith Tri-lingual MBA,  15 years Brand Management experience” .     Many also don’t like to put in the calls to their  “Go-To” Top 10  connections in an emergency.  Call them. If you have maintained your network they will understand.
  • Re-position :  Has your CV been tweaked to cover a gap?Have you composed a cover letter to explain the absence? What  are you doing to stay up to date? Have you re- formated your CV so that the dates are not highlighted to draw attention to the gap? Are you fully aware of your transferable skills? Do you have a functional CV? Even though that might send out a signal that there is something not quite right to any savvy head hunter  or recruiter, at least you have the chance to present yourself.
  • Reduce expenses :   This is the hardest part  for those who are  used to generous salaries. Ask yourselves if there is anything that could be cut,  using Skype or WebEx  for phone calls, even public libraries to save on heating bills. Gym –  walk. Car – take the bus or train.
  • Reserves: the modern lesson is that we are now told we need to save 40% of our salaries. Most of us don’t or can’t do that.   For any on that career ladder on the way to the top – this is a takeaway lesson. Observe and learn.

What else could you suggest?


2 thoughts on “Waiting for the bounce – surviving long term unemployment

  1. Elaine Hopkins

    Dorothy, this is a really insightful post. I find it particularly intriguing that, based on my experience of coaching senior execs who’ve been made redundant, there are a number of recurring themes.

    This can often be the very first thing we miss. Not having a routine can be completely disorienting and hugely upsetting, particularly if we’re surrounded by other people bustling around, bolting their breakfast, hurrying off to do whatever it is they’re going to do with their day.
    In my redundancy coaching work, I’ve noticed a very close link between sense of purpose and routine which makes crafting ourselves a new routine a top priority. Given that we’re all resourceful human beings, this task – even without the external pressure of having to turn up for a job – is well within our capabilities. Ideally, let’s arrange our days such that we engage our mind, body and other people.


    Our identity (who we are) is most emphatically not the same as our behaviour (what we do or, in our case, used to do). So who are we now that we’ve temporarily stopped doing what we used to do?
    It may be difficult to answer that, particularly if we’ve come to the end of a long stint in corporate life and we had a huge emotional investment in our job. What can we do that will help? Here are some simple exercises:

    Recognize that we fulfil a number of roles in life.

    Jot down all our other roles in life: parent, friend, brother.

    Conduct a unique abilities audit.

    What do all these roles tell us about ourselves? Is there a common thread? This helps to build a complete picture of ourselves, rather than the tiny part reflected in our corporate CV.

    Obtain some external feedback.

    Ask between five and eight people who know you really well what they consider to be your unique abilities.

    Obtain some internal feedback.

    Engage your memory and imagination to explore all the possibilities. Ask yourself ‘What would I be doing if I knew all things were possible and I couldn’t fail?’.


    Dorothy’s blog post covers this one well. I’ll just add two concepts: rather than getting into the ‘going without’ mentality, try the ‘doing things differently’ one. I’d also recommend re-engaging with the forgotten art of delayed gratification. Not only do you appreciate whatever it is you’ve been saving for more when it does arrive, it turns out that delayed gratification is good for us.


    Two key ideas here: our relationship with ourselves, and systems thinking. The single most important relationship in our life is the one we have with ourselves. How is it? The tone of our internal dialogue will give us a clue. If it’s harsh and critical, let’s cut ourselves some slack and get into the self-compassion habit.

    Systems thinking is no more than looking at an entity as a whole and understanding how its component parts influence one another. In our case, the entity concerned is any group of which we’re a part. Our redundancy or long-term unemployment is going to affect everyone in our system in ways both obvious and unexpected. Acknowledging and discussing this openly will pay dividends.

    There’s more information in the free download available at http://www.redundancycrusader.co.uk.

  2. Pingback: Job search strategies for the 50 somethings | Dorothy Dalton

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