Author Archives: Robin McKay Bell

Seven Elephants in the Room: unspoken obstacles faced by mature candidates

ImageAge stereotypes and objections are commonly held by employers. They’re present at very interview, being ignored, but influencing the decision makers. The challenge is to acknowledge and understand each elephant and then respond in a positive way. Here’s how:

1. Older people won’t work for a younger manager, or with a younger team

This is a big elephant. In some interviews it may be the only one. The best-qualified candidate can lose the role because a younger man or woman doesn’t want an older person working beneath them. If we examine corporate pyramids we see older people at the very top. Acceptable age limits are measured against a corporate norm. To engage with this problem, ask yourself: does success in the role mean being able to fit in with a young team, or will it be the result of experience and technical skills? If the team is young, your age is a factor, and for a good reason. But if the job requires experience and skills that you have, age should not be a problem.

Do this: Ask the question at an interview. It’s a way of exposing the truth about the position and the corporate culture.

2. Older people are often overqualified

A common excuse, when in fact someone may fit the profile of a perfect candidate, except for their age. However, there might be other reasons for an employer to say you have too much experience. They may think that you’re taking the job as a stop-gap, and that you’ll leave when you find something better. If they’re worried about you leaving after a year, you could offer yourself on a contract basis. Bring the objection into the open. Discuss it with the recruiter, and negotiate if possible.

Do this: Tone down your CV and make it relevant only to the position you’re applying for. If your CV is loaded with experience, you’re the one who has told them that you’re overqualified.

3. Older people lack energy

It’s a biological fact that we slow down as we age. But in the workplace, young people can waste a lot of energy. A mature person will often accomplish more in the same time frame, because the task is performed more efficiently. In the hare and tortoise story, the tortoise wins because he isn’t distracted, stays on track and completes the race with a slow, steady pace. He’s smarter than the hare; he knows his limits and works with them to succeed. He has also learned alternative ways of solving problems.

Do this: Show enthusiasm for the position. If you’ve recently run a marathon, completed a cycling race or climbed mountains, drop it into a conversation. But don’t worry if you haven’t. It’s the projection of energy and perception of health that matters.

4. Older workers have health problems

In order to be effective you must project confidence. Does your appearance say you’re not looking after yourself? You might need to seek advice. But keep in mind that, under the Equality Act 2010, employers can’t discriminate on health and disability grounds, and they cannot ask questions about your health prior to the job offer.

Even so, you need to first be honest with yourself and then, later, be prepared to be truthful with a potential employer about your general health.

Do this: Investing in your health and appearance will always count in your favour.

5. An older worker has money, so they don’t need the job

A recruiter may assume you aren’t as motivated or driven as someone younger because, for you, money is not an issue. Ironically, you may need the money more than a younger candidate. The mortgage still has to be paid, there’s university for the kids, and there may be the cost of caring for a parent. Countering this prejudice is tricky. Being too needy is always negative, yet appearing to be the opposite can also cost you an opportunity.

Mention reasons why you’re the best candidate: focus on personal fulfilment, a desire for new challenges and experiences, and your motivation for success, which can include financial rewards.

Do this: If you sense that this elephant is working against you, see if you can have a quiet word with the most senior person at the interview, or by private communication. Sometimes they will take a kinder view if they know your situation.

6. Older people are not mentally agile

Fluid intelligence is the capacity to think independently of acquired knowledge to apply logic to problem-solving. It includes inductive and deductive reasoning. There is evidence that, as we age, our fluid intelligence wanes. On this basis young people tend to perceive those who are older as slower, and therefore less mentally agile.

Crystallised intelligence is knowledge gained by experience, and includes verbal skills, general information and the ability to create analogies – it adds up to wisdom. Evidence shows that crystallised intelligence increases with age, remains stable, and doesn’t begin to diminish until after the age of 65. This effect varies greatly, with many people maintaining their crystallised intelligence to an advanced age.

As an excuse for not hiring an older person, this objection doesn’t have a foundation in science.

Do this: Prepare for interviews by memorising salient facts about your prospective employer and your industry. With current knowledge to hand, you’ll appear as bright and ready as a younger candidate.

7. Older workers can’t deal with change

Every stereotype has some basis in fact. Some employers may already have someone on their staff who is older and set in their ways. They might also project the characteristic on to every older person they meet. This could fairly be called a prejudice, one that is difficult to fight.

Mature people are often better than their younger counterparts at dealing with change in the workplace because they’ve already learned to adapt to variables of every sort. For example, the recent recession is the first one that many younger managers will have seen. Someone in their 40s or 50s will have lived through at least two downturns. Your experience in managing situations through tough times proves you know how to handle changes.

Do this: Search your history to find evidence of where you changed in order to achieve new goals. Have several stories prepared to support your claims.

I am co-author of Finding Work After 40, published by Bloomsbury. I am also Programme Leader at Room for Work, an employability course for skilled workers, managers and professionals who are over 45.


Only two posts in one year. But I have a good excuse.  Image

Blogging fell by the wayside as I developed Room for Work, the employability course I deliver in Hampton Wick, KT1 4AL. Since we started in October 2012, we’ve helped 85 people improve their job search skills. At least 20 have found jobs. The others have reported a marked increase in skills and confidence. Which pleases me no end.

How do we do it? First, by giving job seekers their dignity — something that Jobcentre Plus and the DWP are very good at removing. As I mentioned in my last post, treating people like children is not the best way to get results. Especially when you want to help skilled workers, managers and professionals who actually want a job. The DWP’s usual approach is to treat people as if they are work shy, not work hungry.

We have experts on hand. For example: Kylie Taylor. Kylie is a LinkedIn expert who brings years of experience to the course, having developed a LinkedIn recruitment strategy for Added Value, a major marketing company. Kylie’s presentations are always pertinent — and entertaining too. And there’s Donna Williams, a senior executive with a no nonsense approach to hiring. Her tips on what employers look for are not to be missed if you’re looking for a job. Ges Ray joins us with his workshop on public speaking, an essential skill for interviews. Talking about yourself is crucial if you are to convince an employer of your worth. Garth Watkins helps us with interviews. He has interviewed hundreds of people in his long career with a major corporation. We’ve seen people get jobs within weeks of an interview practice with Garth.

The environment is businesslike yet friendly. I don’t enjoy a formal classroom where people are afraid to ask questions. At Room for Work everyone has their queries addressed. And we’re skill sharing now, with students helping each other. As a recent example, one of our members — a professional photographer — took free head shots for the group. Everyone was able to update their LinkedIn page with a smart looking photo, including yours truly.

We’re attracting volunteers. Our poster designs are done by Mark Palmer, a local designer. Data collection and reporting is delivered by Shelagh Laing, an ex-IBM executive. Katie Randerson is helping us with PR. Katie is a former brand manager from World Wildlife Fund. David Waine, a retired educator with years of public sector experience, has been with us from the beginning, acting as host and presenter on a variety of topics.

Room for Work is working. And it’s been keeping me rather busy.

Our next course commences January 7th, 2014 and runs to April 1st. To join us, register online at

Room for Work is Working

Shirkers Versus Workers

The Work Programme isn’t working, unless you belong in the band of jobseekers that need basic assistance with applications, CVs and interviews, and help with essential computer skills. Those who are experienced – and by this, I mean skilled workers, managers and professionals over 40 – are not helped much by government programmes.

Why? Because the approach is all wrong. Current programmes make the tacit assumption that an unemployed person doesn’t want to work – I refer to the recent “shirkers versus workers” statements made by our government. It’s nonsense – and dangerous nonsense too. Pitting the middle and working classes against the poor is a distraction from the huge problems our country faces. The Tories have directed a media campaign designed to make voters think the unemployed have created the debt problem when, in actuality, it is government policies that keep the economy in a moribund condition. And we have a faulty economic system that continues to be propped up by those who created the problem. I refer to the banksters and financial opportunists who are still getting richer in these dark times.

Mature workers who are in dire straits need mature help. They cannot be treated like children. If they say they’re looking for a job, they mean it. Even if they wanted to, counsellors at JobCentrePlus haven’t been trained to make recommendations for older skilled workers – and the Work Programme doesn’t offer genuine support either. So where is the help?

You will solve your problem if you are able to pay a career coach something between three and eight thousand pounds. There are plenty of good companies – and individual coaches – who are ready to take your money and assist with employment readiness. It’s a proven tactic.

But did I mention dark times? Older workers usually don’t have that kind of discretionary cash, especially when they’ve lost a job, often without a sweet redundancy package and probably without much outsourcing help – if any. Where can they turn?

Job clubs can help. The benefits are enormous: a place to go once a week where you can learn to improve your presentation skills and be with people who understand what you’re going through. A good club will be a combination of back-to-work course, social club and networking opportunity. This type of club is one of the best you could join, even if it means travelling some distance or having to pay.

Free job clubs for older, white-collar workers are thin on the ground – so scarce, I decided to start one in my neighbourhood. It’s called Room For Work and we began our sessions in mid-October, 2012. Since then, we’ve helped over 30 people, three of whom have found work and a half dozen more are now getting interviews. Our numbers grow every week and I can say that I haven’t met a single “shirker” since we started.

Room For Work meets in south-west London. Find out more:

There’s another club in the Borough of Richmond

In Berkshire, there are five clubs:

I know of a good one in Colchester, Essex:

For a national list of job clubs click here (contact each one to determine suitability):

And if you are in the demographic I mention in the article above, you need my book: Finding Work After 40: Proven Strategies for Managers and Professionals (Bloomsbury)

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Public to Private: Can You Start Your Own Business?

“The private sector has not responded to public sector layoffs by rejoicing at the sight of a shrinking government and embarking on a hiring spree.”  Paul Krugman, Nobel prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist.

Self-employment may be the only option for those who can’t find a new job in the public sector or make a transition to private. If you set aside interim roles or consultancy – which may be suitable if you’re the right sort of person – a business start-up could be the answer. But do you have what it takes to make a go of it?

Ask an expert

I spoke with Hilary Farnworth, Manager of the Centre for Micro Enterprise (CME) at London Metropolitan Business School. The CME programme was designed to take absolute beginners and turn them into business owners. CME has helped over 700 women – many from the public sector – to start small businesses. Hilary says, “It takes strong determination and passion to succeed. Typically, someone will use expertise developed in their previous career, or they build a business based on a hobby or special interest.”

Hilary introduced me to Sue Scott-Horne, who is 62 years of age and an enthusiastic alumnus of CME. Sue credits Hilary Farnworth as her inspiration and the person who set her on the road to success.

How did she get started?

Sue had no start-up experience and she lacked confidence – two common problems for those in mid-life who have always had mainstream employment. Attending Hilary’s course was the beginning of Sue’s business education. At CME, she encountered other women in a similar situation and felt connected. With Hilary’s encouragement, Sue took additional business courses at the British Library, and she joined the British Association of Women Entrepreneurs which gave her the opportunity to meet Peter James. Over lunch, Peter listened to Sue’s business idea and convinced her she was on to something.

The big idea

With 25 years in education – 13 on the front line and 12 in senior management – Sue decided to use her knowledge and experience to start EGAR (Educational Games And Resources). The idea sprang from her concern about teenage murders in London. Sue felt she had to do something to make a difference, so she developed a series of 25 card games to help teenagers talk about issues ranging from sexuality to gang violence and knife crime. Suitable for educators, youth workers and parents, the games can also be used for one-to-one assessment and crisis intervention.

“Education is a difficult market,” says Sue, but she reckons she’s begun to crack it. EGAR will be in profit next year. Sue’s goal is to make the company the market leader in teenage education resources. At the moment, the main obstacle is funding for marketing. She is also seeking a mentor to help take her to the next level.

Sue Scott-Horne is a great example of someone who created a company based on passion and previous experience. She has huge amounts of determination and enthusiasm for her business. Her age, sex, and public sector background were not the impediments she thought she had when she started.

Look into it

What do you feel passionate about? If you think you have a business idea, ask yourself these questions: Who would buy your product or service? Why would they buy it from you?

The next step is to seek advice. Business courses are an excellent start.

Further info:

Starting in October 2012, The Centre for Micro Enterprise is offering a paid course for men and women, led by Hilary Farnworth:

“Business Start Up Success and Survival” with 8 x 2 hour sessions at London Metropolitan University.

For information and application details contact either Hilary Farnworth on 0207 320 1573 or or Lucy Timms on 0207133 3675

If you’re struggling with your decision, my book FINDING WORK AFTER 40 includes an excellent chapter on starting your own business.

Public to Private: Can You Make the Transition?

The numbers are frightening. To date, nearly 400,000 public sector jobs have been lost since 2010, with more to come. Unless things change the total is set to rise to 700,000 by 2017. The Chancellor’s prediction that the private sector would create replacement jobs has proven to be fantasy. So what are public sector workers – particularly those over 45 – doing to secure work? Are they making a transition to the private sector?

So far, my research has led me to believe two things are going on:

  1. Many people are staying in the public sector and taking lower pay under fixed-term contracts.
  2. Some are starting businesses.

In the first case, Ray Anderson is someone who succeeded. His previous role at the London Development Agency was Project Appraisal Development Officer, testing project viability and designing business processes. After 18 months of hard searching (which included nine months of unemployment) he starts his new job in September as Business Analyst for Kingston Council. It’s a two year contract – now common with local authorities – and Ray will be earning 30 per cent less than he did in his previous position. He says, ‘I was prepared to take a cut, but I didn’t think it would be so large.’

The number is an average we reported in our book, Finding Work After 40. Older workers typically take home less pay after a mid-life redundancy. (Ray is 48.) Public sector budget cuts may also be a factor in his case.

I asked Ray if he had looked at the private sector. His reply: ‘I tried everything – public, private, third sector, you name it.’ He said he found the private sector to be more ageist that the public. One private sector firm rejected his application overnight, even though it was for a public sector contract and Ray was certain he met all of the criteria. But his age was apparent from his work experience and he believes it was the only reason he didn’t get an interview.

To succeed, Ray did the following:

  • Used the internet – a tried and true method with the public sector where all jobs are posted online;
  • Upgraded his skills by getting a Prince 2 qualification (paid for by the DWP through JobSeekers. Ray persuaded them to follow their own guidelines);
  • Read blogs to stay informed;
  • Updated his wardrobe to create a youthful appearance, and
  • Practised his interviewing technique.

Regarding LinkedIn, Ray thinks it’s important to be there as a point of reference but it didn’t offer any leads in his case. It’s well known that the private sector uses LinkedIn for recruitment and it’s also a valuable tool for networking, something that is crucial to obtain employment in the private sector where advertised jobs constitute only a small number of vacancies.

To transit to the private sector, public sector workers need to identify and describe their transferable skills (the two sectors speak a different language) and learn to write CVs that specify achievements rather than responsibilities (most public sector employers use application forms).

Private sector employers like people who are outcome-focussed, not process-focussed.  How can you add value to a company? If you can answer that question with confidence, backed up by numbers and percentages with stories that illustrate your case, then chances are you’ll be taken seriously and perhaps you’ll get the job.

Many public sector workers have skills the private sector needs, but are often not recognised, such as: large budget management; cost control; regulation compliance; risk management; personnel development and team-building; managing complex stakeholder relations; and knowledge of the inner workings of government organisations.  Private companies with government contracts understand this, while others do not.

Finding Work After 40 has more tips for public sector workers, with additional success stories.

Coming up next: New Businesses Started by Public Sector Workers.

The Power of ‘Thank You’

Networking is a hot topic, and for good reasons. There is anecdotal evidence that around 70 per cent of jobs are found through networking. My own work life bears witness to this: I have always found a job or a contract through someone I know, or via a friend of a friend. I’ve had interviews following replies to adverts, but I’ve never got the job. Some form of personal connection – however tenuous – has always led me to find work.

Even though I spent two years researching and writing FINDING WORK AFTER 40, with much time devoted to perfecting my co-author’s chapter on networking, I still discover new ways to apply networking principles. The one I’m about to describe is so simple I’m amazed that Liam and I didn’t think to mention it.

First: credit where credit is due. The idea came from Roger Smith, who leads the Richmond Borough Job Club every Monday morning in a meeting room at The Stoop, the Harlequin’s rugby ground.  Roger invited me for a visit last week. I found a well-run club in congenial surroundings, with members who were all (as far as I could tell) talented, educated and over 40. The meeting began with people sharing their recent experiences with job search, and offering advice and support to each other.

And then it was my turn. I mentioned issues and solutions for older workers as discussed in our book, and then went on to describe my own ideas for a job club I plan on starting in Hampton Wick. Roger thought his members could offer useful feedback, and they certainly did. As well as receiving affirmation for the concept of a learning module type of club – where members improve job search skills as well as providing support to each other – one person suggested a module I had clearly missed. I’ve now added “Changing Sectors” to my list.

The meeting continued with a discussion that came to rest on networking. I told the story of Phil, someone I’ve mentored. Phil had started his own business as an office designer. When we first met, he told me he didn’t know how to cost a job, therefore he couldn’t quote for new business. I suggested he search his network. Phil contacted someone he worked with 19 years ago (and hadn’t spoken to since) and that man was only too happy to help Phil with instructions. It’s my favourite networking story.

Roger had his own favourite story. He once emailed someone he wanted to speak to and thanked them for something they’d done many years previously. The header read: “THANK YOU”. Of course the email was read – everyone likes to be thanked and respected – and Roger re-established a useful contact. Brilliant.

Many people have trouble thinking of ways to re-connect via email or telephone. If you share this problem, consider who you might thank. For my part, I’m saying a great big “THANK YOU” to Roger and the members of the Richmond Borough Job Club.

(Richmond Borough Job Club is part of the GB Job Clubs network. For a national list of job clubs click here: )

Self-Promotion Part 3: Introduce Yourself with Confidence

When you’re networking, it’s critical to have a rehearsed elevator pitch, a brief but engaging spoken introduction about you and what you have to offer. In our book FINDING WORK AFTER 40 we call it a TMAY, which is an acronym for Tell Me About Yourself.

People want to know why they should talk to you now or see you again.  That’s the purpose of a TMAY. Don’t tell your life story. You have a few precious minutes – or seconds – to give them a reason. Keep it short: two minutes is the maximum length.

Here are our top seven tips on creating and improving your TMAY:

 1. Prepare it. You’ll need three types: a one or two-line version for quick exchanges; a social version for informal gatherings when you want to amuse as well as engage and impress; and a formal version for use when you have one or two minutes of uninterrupted speaking time.

Prepare your one-liner first. Here is mine: “I’m an author, speaker and workshop leader, and I help older workers find employment.” My TMAY invites questions, such as What books have you written? and How do you help people find a job? Create a statement about yourself that encourages a dialogue.

 2. Have a structure. As with any speech, a longer TMAY should have an impactful opening: something that grabs the listener’s attention, a salient fact about you or your industry. Then your content must get your message across. Talk about relevant achievements from your work history that support the claim made in your opening line, then build towards a closing call-to-action. What is it you want from this person? Are you interested in meeting members of their network, obtaining advice, or exploring what the listener knows about your industry? (Remember the Golden Rule of Networking: Never ask for a job.)   

Here’s an example of a structured TMAY: [Opening] I’m an international tax advisory specialist with 15 years experience in merger and acquisitions at [company name(s)]. [Content] The projects I have worked on are… I managed teams in 23 countries and helped clients achieve tax savings of, typically… I have a reputation for … [Close and call-to-action] At the moment I’m looking to expand my portfolio of private clients and I wonder if you have any contacts at local companies with overseas subsidiaries looking to optimise their tax position.

 3. Be factual and specific. Talk about project budgets, sales revenues, numbers of people you managed, industry specialities and qualifications you hold. If you are talking about employers, mention company names or give an indication of the size of the company if it is not a name the listener will recognise.

 4. Keep it relevant. The type of event, the background of the listener and the amount of time you have will determine which of your TMAY versions to use. At one end of the scale is the networking event where everyone has a two-minute slot to introduce themselves – this calls for a mini-speech with a structure as mentioned in No.2 above. Alternatively, you might be asked your TMAY at a chance encounter or at a social event, where a one-line response is more appropriate. You must be the judge, and only practise will make you good at this.

 5. Practise, practise, practise (and get feedback). Try speaking it in front of a mirror, or recording it on video and playing it back to see what you look and sound like. Find situations (like a job club, or with a friend) where you can get feedback in a safe environment. Every time you use your TMAY, it will get better – the more you speak, the more natural it becomes.

 6. Remember it’s a mini-speech. A TMAY is not a reading of your CV. Smile and make eye contact, use rhetoric and be passionate where appropriate. If you’re talking about work you loved, inspiring people you have met, and successes you are proud of, make sure your body movements and facial expressions match your words.

 7. Engage the listener. Are they showing signs of interest? Are they actively listening? If not, why not? Ask a question to check for comprehension. Adapt the content to their level of understanding. Remember you are aiming to stimulate interest.

If a constructive conversation develops, or it engenders further questions, your TMAY is successful. A whole new world of contacts opens up when you introduce yourself effectively and in a professional manner.

Self-Promotion Part 2: Tell a Positive Story

In my last blog I discussed three types of stories commonly told by those who have experienced involuntary redundancy. To recap, they are:

  1. Temporary derailment
  2. End of the line
  3. Moratorium

These are internal stories, in that the truth they contain is personal. As I mentioned previously, they’re called coping narratives, and they’re used to explain your situation to yourself and to manage a difficult time. They are not usually made public, although your nearest and dearest will likely know the story you tell yourself about what happened and what it means to you.

You won’t relate your coping narrative to those outside your inner circle, unless it will help you find work. For example, it’s relatively easy to tell a temporary derailment story (No. 1 above) if redundancy has simply knocked you off track and you believe you’ll be welcomed back in a similar (or better) position with enough effort. I’ve seen people assess their situation, analyse their shortcomings in today’s market, upgrade their skills as required, and return to employment within a few months.

However, that’s not an easy task if you’re still feeling deeply wounded, or you simply don’t know what to do next. You wouldn’t want to say this to a useful person in your network: “Well, it’s all over for me. No point in looking for anything else. Besides, the recession is killing all opportunities” (No. 2) and if you are seeking work, publicly stating that, “I just need some time to sort myself out. I’m not sure what I want to do next”, (No.3) won’t gain you any ground.

In our culture, work and identity are intertwined. When you were working you had a ready answer for this question: “And what do you do?” Even if you didn’t like your job, your place in the world was established, both for yourself and the questioner. If you’re unemployed, your response to the question is likely to be something along the lines of: “I’ve recently been made redundant”, or “I’m looking for work”. Describing yourself as an unfortunate or needy person immediately puts you on the back foot. In our book, Finding Work After 40, we suggest you give another answer, one that is framed in positive terms and is actually a more truthful comment: “My role was made redundant. I’m looking at new opportunities.” This statement works for everyone, unless you really believe you’ve hit the end of the line.

You’re not responsible for the business structures in which we operate. Unless you’ve been grossly incompetent or you’ve embezzled money, it’s unlikely that your redundancy has been entirely your fault. In today’s economy, a no-fault redundancy is completely believable. So tell everyone your role was made redundant, and acknowledge that you as a person are valuable and able to contribute.

Once you’ve reframed your position in positive terms you’re ready to develop your story. I’ll offer suggestions on how to do that in my next blog.



Self-Promotion Part 1: What’s Your Story?

Redundancy is traumatic – it’s generally recognised as one of the worst things that can happen to a person, right up there with a death in the family. Dealing with it is personal. There are no prescriptive methods that work for everyone. But one thing is certain: you will have a story about what happened. It’s an innate human characteristic. We tell stories to explain our circumstances and console ourselves in times of tragedy. To prepare for re-entry into work – either a job or self-employment – it’s essential to get your story straight. In this blog I discuss the first and most important story: the one inside your head, your private tale that will influence everything you do in your efforts to get back to work.

I met recently with David E. Gray, Professor of Management Learning and Director of The Leadership Academy at the University of Surrey. Gray is recognised as one of the UK’s leading academics researching the theory and practice of coaching. He’s had many books and articles published, including one he shared with me, a paper he co-authored with Yiannis Gabriel and Harshita Goregaokor, titled Temporary Derailment or the End of the Line – Unemployed Managers at 50 (Organization Studies, 5/05/2010)

The paper is based on research conducted with a dozen older managers and professionals who were made redundant in the latter part of 2008. Each of them had a story about the event and what it meant in their lives. The authors determined that the stories fell into three main categories:

1) Temporary derailment – a problem that can be fixed by taking an appropriate action that will lead back to normality.

2) End of the line – the result of unjust and cruel circumstances, with no chance of resuming a meaningful   career.

3) Moratorium – an opportunity to re-think career options, and perhaps begin a new chapter in life.

These narrative strategies are part of a quest for meaning that follows a traumatic incident. The authors use the term ‘narrative coping’ to describe the process whereby a story explains the situation, offers consolation, and enables a person to move on from trauma “without being defined by it”.

I had always thought we define ourselves by what we do and what happens to us, which is why the loss of work is so disturbing. Gray’s paper suggests that we define ourselves through narrative. The authors quote Anthony Giddens: “… a person’s identity is not to be found in behaviour, nor – important though it is – the reactions of others, but in the capacity to keep a particular narrative going…” (Modernity and self-identity, Stanford University Press, 1991)

What is your coping narrative? Are you a proud survivor who has had a temporary setback, or are you an angry victim who’s reached the end of line? Perhaps you’re a troubled sufferer who is re-considering life’s options. Whether you are seeking a new job or starting a new business, it’s important to know what you want, why you want it, and how it fits in your personal narrative. To achieve your goal you’ll need a convincing story, one that others will buy into. And it won’t be credible unless you believe it yourself.

In the next part, I’ll explain how you tell your story.

Don’t Give Up — Blog Your Way to a Job

Gillian Roberts has endured the worst effects of the current recession. (And it is a recession as far as employment is concerned. Let’s not be too fussed about technicalities – we have 2.57 million out of work, and those aged 50-64 have the highest percentage of long-term unemployment.) She’s had to go on benefit – something she is very much ashamed of – and she’s suffered the indignity of being rejected many times by interviewers half her age with far less experience (she’s now 52). Living on limited means isn’t easy, and hearing the word ‘underclass’ applied to herself – something that would never have occurred to her previously – gave a further knock to her self-confidence. How, she wonders, does having valuable skills combined with a willingness to work, make someone part of an underclass? And why does being over 50 make you ‘over the hill’?

Dancing was her first career. Gillian showed an early talent and earned money to pay for ballet and tap lessons. Her last public performance was given at the age of 27. Gillian says it was a good thing her mother made sure there was something to fall back on: from the age of 11 onwards Gillian was groomed to be a secretary.

She’s worked since the age of 15, first as an office junior then as a bank clerk, and she’s had stints as a secretary with an architect and several finance companies, with time spent as an insurance loss adjuster. Gillian says, “In those days, you were expected to change jobs every two years – if you didn’t it showed a lack of ambition.” In 1987 she took a sales role, specialising in car finance. She was good at sales, and would have stayed had she not taken maternity leave, only to return and find the business in trouble. Gillian moved on and worked as a loss adjuster again, but a health crisis forced her to take time off, resulting in redundancy.

With health problems and a young child to care for, life became more difficult. For eight years Gilliam temped as a single mum, upgrading her skills as she went along, finally becoming a first-class, all-around secretary. When her daughter was older, she took a permanent position with a plumbing company but again, health issues meant she had to leave and return to temping.

Then Gillian found her dream job. On a fixed contract from August 2003 to July 2004 she was secretary to the supervisor for the re-fit of RFA Argos, based in Falmouth. She liked the team, the high-performance expectations and her position as what she terms, “a proper PA, with access to technical and confidential information.” When her contract ended, she had the confidence to start her own business as a counsellor and empowerment coach. After several good years, she was forced to close the business following the recession of 2008.

Once again, Gillian had to take any work she could get, but this time her biggest obstacle was ageism. “Nobody admits to it, but it’s very real,” she says. “Employers ask for dates on your qualifications, so even if you haven’t told them your age, they can easily find out.”

When we first spoke several months back, I was impressed by Gillian’s dogged determination. She had started her own website and blog, partly out of frustration and partly to convince prospective employers she’s not ‘over the hill’.

Last month, I asked how she landed her new secretary job after nearly two years of unemployment. She told me she took CV courses and learned to write a hybrid CV (we tell you how to do that in FINDING WORK AFTER 40). Gillian says it helped that she applied to a small company – only nine employees – and so she was interviewed by a company director and the Chief Executive, both older men who valued experience (we recommend looking at SMEs for this reason). She kept her LinkedIn profile up-to-date (essential) and sure enough, her prospective employers googled her and discovered her blog. They liked Gillian’s sense of humour and personality. They thought she would fit in their organisation. She’d half won them over before the interview where she impressed them again by addressing an ‘elephant in the room’: “Can you do this job after being unemployed for so long?” Her response: “I’ve kept my skills up-to-date, but it may take a week or two to get up and running.” Honesty combined with practicality – a winning combination in her case. She was open about her health issues as well.

Gillian continues to maintain her social concerns about the benefit system and age prejudice. Visit  for some excellent CV tips and her personal insight into the problems older workers face with regards to JSA and the recently launched Welfare to Work scheme. Gillian’s blog,, is a humorous look at her life. We all need a laugh, something to stop us from crying in these difficult times.