What if it Happens to You?
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Your boss no longer talks to you about the future. Upper management is obsessed with hacking at costs. Everyone getting promoted is younger than you. Sound familiar? If so, your job could be in jeopardy. (For more, take the quiz "How Safe Is Your Job?" at fortune.com/careers.) Here are a few do's and don'ts to help smooth the transition to your next position. -- Anne Fisher

DON'T ...

▶ bother trying to negotiate to stay. Says Andrea Waines, a managing director at outplacement powerhouse DBM: "By the time you're told about the decision to let you go, it's irreversible."

▶ keep your job loss a secret from family and friends. That will only deprive you of networking opportunities and emotional support, and it's a waste of energy.

▶ fudge your résumé to seem younger. "An interviewer will wonder what else you're trying to hide," says Dave Theobald, CEO of Netshare, an online executive job board. "And the résumé goes right in the trash." Ouch.

▶ rely solely on the Internet to find your next position. "During a long career, you've accumulated a vast range of great contacts," notes Jean Erickson Walker, author of a book called The Age Advantage (Berkeley Books, $12.95). "You need to start using that network."

DO ...

▶ negotiate a generous severance package. Federal law gives anyone over 40 the right to mull over a severance deal for 21 days before signing. (For a crash course in severance negotiation, see fortune.com/careers.)

▶ realize that it can easily take six to 18 months to find a new job. A financial advisor can help you stretch your severance pay and savings.

▶ emphasize to employers your unique experience and skills, says Alan Sklover, author of Fired, Downsized, or Laid Off. "As Tom Peters says, 'If you're not distinct, you're extinct.'"

▶ job-hunt in the area (marketing, finance) where you've been working. A study by Right Management Consultants shows that a third of unemployed execs last year took their skills to a new industry, but only 5% found work in a new functional role.

▶ consider doing "interim executive" work for a while, through recruiters like Spherion (spherion.com).

▶ get in touch with small companies, which are often eager to hire a grownup with a gray hair or two.

▶ consider suing if you feel you've been sacked just because of your age. "Age discrimination is a wrong that needs to be righted," says demographer and consultant Ken Dychtwald. "Too many people slink away quietly. That helps no one."