For years, older tech pros have complained of ageism in the tech industry. Age discrimination lawsuits against IBM and other firms have only aggravated the suspicion that, if you’re over 50 (or even 40), you’re going to have trouble finding or keeping a job—no matter what your skills.
In fact, this viewpoint is relatively widespread. Some 29 percent of the 3,993 respondents to Dice’s 2018 diversity survey reported either witnessing or experiencing discrimination based on age, outpacing those reporting discrimination due to gender (21 percent), political affiliation (11 percent), and sexual orientation (6 percent).
Whether or not companies are actually discriminating against older workers, the fact remains that Baby Boomers, like other tech pros, may face layoffs at some point in their later careers—a particularly perilous time, when expenses are often high and retirement isn’t quite close enough. Adjusting to a layoff, especially when it seems that only tech pros under 30 have a viable chance of landing a new job, can prove daunting.
Here are some tips for recovery:
Keep Your External Network Updated…
If you’ve been working at the same company for ten, twenty, or even thirty years, with no intention of jumping to a new gig, it’s easy to let your personal network wither a bit. For older workers, the danger is twofold: Even as you neglect your network, it’s dwindling as people retire, shift to different industries, or die.
With that in mind, it’s important to strengthen your networks. Maintain your valued contacts with regular “check in” emails and phone calls; if they’re local, offer to take them out for coffee every so often. Although conferences can prove stressful and annoying, they’re worth attending in order to further grow your web of connections.
…and Your Internal One
Companies rarely launch a big round of layoffs without warning. Signs that job cuts are imminent include declines in corporate revenues, management shakeups, outsourcing announcements, and big budget cuts and/or downsizing. If you’re an older tech worker, you’ve likely been through all this before; you’re also probably plugged into your company’s rumor mill.
At such moments, it’s important to have a strong internal network. Not only can this spare you from layoffs; if you do end up cut, your manager may offer you a better package than you might have otherwise received.
Although it’s easy to tuck inside your own silo and focus on your work, make an effort to spend some face-time with employees from other divisions. Offer to mentor, or just share your knowledge about a particular project or problem. Also, make a point of spending at least some face-time with your supervisor, sharing news of your accomplishments and current projects.
Yes, these kinds of moves can often seem like a waste of time—until it’s your name on a list of potential cuts. The manager who’s aware of your vital work is more likely to spare you when the axe threatens to fall.
Leave with Everything You Can
The day you’re laid off is emotionally brutal; it’s easy to walk out the door without some things that will prove vital to your future job hunt. Make sure that you don’t leave your company for the last time without your performance reviews, any letters of recommendation, and any documentation that might help with a future job search.
In addition, many companies offer outplacement services of some sort to laid-off workers. Sure, the effectiveness of such services is often debatable—but you have nothing to lose by asking about them, and taking whatever’s offered. Make sure to ask HR the following questions:
- How long will my health insurance last?
- Can I consult for the company?
- What payout can I expect from bonuses and PTO?
- What about my outstanding expenses?
If you can land freelance or consulting work with your former company, that could provide a good source of transitional income until you figure out your next step.
Take Some Time for Yourself
If you do end up cut, make sure to focus on your inner self. Everyone needs time to deal with the inevitable feelings of anger and disappointment (and fear, frankly) that arise at times like this. If you plunge back into the job hunt immediately, you risk making emotion-driven decisions that may not pan out well.
Also, discretion is your best friend in the post-layoff environment. Don’t badmouth your former company, or vent too much negativity to friends, contacts, and former colleagues; it may make people uncomfortable to be around you, which could make it more difficult to activate your personal network for a fresh job hunt.
Map Your Skills
If you’re a casualty of layoffs, and you want (or need) to land another full-time gig, sit down and make a list of your skills. You might not want to work the same job—or that job might be fading away due to changes in the industry—but you can certainly apply your skills to something entirely new. Having a list will make it much easier to scan for new jobs that closely match your skills.