How to stay in the game
Despite the grim news, you can emerge from this challenging period happier and more successful. First, remember that you have considerable assets: a record of success, a network of contacts, maturity, professionalism and years of wisdom to share. That's a great place to start as you devise ways to harness those skills.
If you're already in a job, says Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, tell your boss that you plan to be there for a good long while and would like to be considered for promotion, job training and new assignments. "You have to show them you're in the game," she says.
If you've already been laid off, make job hunting full-time work and apply the same professionalism, discipline and ingenuity to this new task that you demonstrated during your career.
Your search should be thorough and systematic. Start by creating a spreadsheet of companies in your field to help you plan and keep track of contacts, leads and the status of your applications.
Avoid expensive career coaches, who can charge $5,000 to $10,000. Instead, find a local chapter of the Five O'Clock Club, a career-coaching firm with 40 chapters nationwide that will give you a detailed battle plan and make sure you stick to it no matter how tough the market gets. The cost starts at $360 for 10 weekly sessions, and the average client finds a job within 10 to 12 weeks.
The vast majority of jobs - 70% - are filled through networking, says MENG's Guha, and less than 5% through ads or postings (recruiters do the remaining 25%). That's why it's especially important to find a contact within the company.
The digital age has made networking easier. Use sites like LinkedIn and Facebook to ask colleagues and friends for advice and expand your contacts. Join a networking group - the Financial Executives Networking Group (FENG) or MENG for marketing execs are good ones - and attend their get-togethers and scour their job lists, which often advertise positions before they are public.
Knowing how to work your contacts is also critical. "Don't just ask people for information - you have to tell them things you've learned about the industry too," says Kate Wendleton, president of the Five O'Clock Club. "And it's not just one shot. You've got to stay in touch because something might materialize later."
As embarrassing as it can be to let friends and family know that you're looking for work, Tom Bassett, 51, is a perfect example of how it can pay off. He couldn't find a job for four months after losing his position as vice president of finance for a high-tech manufacturer in February. The low point was when a headhunter told him to lose 20 pounds, dye his hair and whiten his teeth.
Then his brother-in-law mentioned that a job notice for a financial executive was about to be posted by his employer. Four days later, Bassett was hired. Not only does it pay the same six-figure salary as his old job, but it's located a quarter-mile down the road in Manchester, N.H.
"I feel like I've been reborn," says Bassett. "I'd been at the old place for 20 years and it was really getting stale. My wife says I'm a different person."