Fired After 40: How to Recover

In the last year, I’ve met far too many people who have lost their jobs in their 40s. In fact, it feels like an epidemic. Technology is transforming today’s workplace, and far too many people are caught by surprise when changes happen. On the job, we need to always keep our eyes open, look ahead and see changes coming as much as possible. Certainly recovery can take a long time, but if you’ve been ambushed and find yourself on the street, here are the first steps I’d take:

1) Get up to speed on the world—and fast. Most full-time employees lose touch with how the employment world is changing—even within their own field. I’ve been told that the two most addictive things on earth are heroin and a full-time paycheck. Full-time employees tend to get lax and stop staying up on changes in the industry. Well now is the time to shift gears. This may also mean you’re due for a personal make-over—clothes, style, makeup, hair—everything. It’s time to start fresh.

2) Get on the phone. Not to panic, but to renew relationships. Go through your contacts and pull the names of people who could help. Let them know your situation, but instead of asking for a job, ask them for suggestions, ideas and recommendations. Get them on your team, and chances are, they can connect you with new opportunities.

3) Make sure your resume, portfolio or demo reel is updated and evergreen. Sure you worked on that award-winning TV commercial, but it was in 1985! Don’t date yourself or your work. Refresh everything so it has a newer more recent feeling. Pull the old-style videos off the reel, yank the dated graphic designs from your portfolio and if you have to—create updated spec work to take their place. Nobody wants to hire yesterday’s genius.

4) Leave the job with a good attitude and positive relationships. No matter how awkward the layoff or firing may have been, be gracious. You may need their recommendation later. And while you’re at it, offer to do your job on a part-time or freelance basis—at least until they find someone new. A friend of mine was fired from his job at an advertising agency, but worked out a freelance deal that gave him the freedom to launch his own company. Now he hires his old ad agency!

5) Get used to it. The “uberization” of the workplace has begun. Like it or not, more and more jobs will be tasked out, freelanced or done part time. Learn to become comfortable without a full-time safety net. To do that, you need to up your interview skills, become a better leader, learn to cold call and hustle. You can always tell the freelancers on a film shoot in Hollywood. After every scene, as soon as the director yells “Cut!” they’re the ones that pull out their phones and start booking their next job. I’ve worked for myself for more than two decades, and although I wake up every morning unemployed, I’m able to depend on my skills, not somebody else’s, for my paycheck. Once you get past the fear of living on the street, the possibilities start opening up.

They key is not to panic. Keep in mind that you’ve built relationships and connections over the years, but probably haven’t activated them in a long time. If you can stay flexible, and look at new possibilities for your future, you can not only weather this storm, but come out stronger. Most important? Stay alert, and never be surprised again.

Any other good suggestions for our job hunters?