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Over 40? Looking For Work? Read On...

A Redwood City seminar gives advice, encouragement and hope for mature adults seeking new job opportunities.

"I’m fearful of the job search, because I just know there’s so many people out there, so many younger people who are willing to work for a lower salary, and have the latest skills."

Elaine Kauffman is not alone.  The public affairs director at a Bay Area non-profit for the past six years, Kauffman was told her hours were being reduced. Now, the part-time work will be terminated at the end of May; Elaine Kauffman will be without a job.

"It’s the sort of thing, unfortunately, with the economy, you know it’s a possibility, and try to think everything is fine, but it’s not that much of a surprise when it does happen," says Kauffman.

Recent economic uncertainty has been brutal for many people who worked throughout their lives. In January, the California unemployment rate was reported at 12.4 percent. Ten years ago, in 2001, the rate was 4.7 percent. Companies have downsized for several years, sometimes laying off older, more mature workers in favor of younger staff to improve their bottom line, to weather out the economic storm. But there may be clearing on the horizon.

"We see the trends from all businesses as so positive. You’ll see all companies are hiring more, going strong," says Dorene Fong, senior staffing manager for Accountemps, a temporary hiring agency in San Mateo.

Ms. Fong points out that in April, payrolls in the country increased by 244,000; the private sector added 268,000 jobs, and small and medium companies are hiring.  She says they're hiring at a much faster pace.

"The turn came the first part of the year," Fong reflects. "January 2, the phones (at Accountemps) were ringing off the hook. So many companies had lay-offs, perhaps the wrong level of employee, some of the ones in support, and they weren’t able to backfill those."

Enter Phase2Careers.  The non-profit organization on Tuesday in Redwood City provided about 50 work-seekers with advice on how to be a part of the upswing.

The stated mission of Phase2Careers is to "assist the 'Over 40' worker in the Bay Area with finding new career opportunities through job search/career development workshops, networking / recruitment events, and special career presentations."

Ron Visconti is the executive director of Phase2Careers. "I’ve been in the career development field for about 28 years.  What got me starting this group?  Tremendous need.  I saw a lot of gray hairs, a lot of people coming to job fairs I was putting on, a lot of over 40 workers, and I said ‘We’ve got to do something especially for that target.’"

Phase2 began about two years ago. "What is Phase2 is all about? It’s helping people have more tools, helping them re-think how they package themselves, it’s being able to network with people differently," Visconti said. "Just seeing how things can be done in different ways. It’s a combination of things."

Representatives from several Bay Area employers gathered Tuesday at the to share tips with attendees, sharing advise on how to connect and resume a work career.

Larry Diskin is the senior director of human resources for Second Harvest Food Bank. "The cover letter is so important. It indicates you know something about our organization and what our mission is, and it also explains how you feel you can contribute to our vision, whether you have exact skills or not."  Diskin continues, "If you have transferable skills that are applicable to the position in fulfilling our mission, that is going to get attention. Customize it to the job you are looking for."

Areena McLaughlin is a talent specialist for the San Mateo Credit Union. "While I think Facebook and LinkedIn are very valuable, I think the in-person networking is much more valuable. It could be networking groups, it could be Chamber of Commerce things, could be community events. You have to realize you are selling yourself all the time; never leave the house without a business card."

Mr. Visconti reiterates how important it is to get out and present yourself. "The biggest thing is people have to have structure, structure and support. And structure is: go to groups, go to networking groups, get out of your house, get energy. Energy is real key. And don’t be depressed. Volunteer if you can.

Visconti said that many people tend to lose motivation, even depressed. He said that this should be seen as a period for self-betterment.

"Take some classes, learn a little bit. Don’t remove yourself, and matter-of-fact, engage yourself. When people get depressed, they turn inwards and isolate themselves. I know a long time ago I did that.  And it should be the reverse process, you need energy, you need ideas."

Ms. Fong suggests an advocate. "You have to have a mentor, someone that’s going to take a look at how to present yourself, your interviewing skills, and I think if you have an advocate that knows you and helps critique you, it’s going to help you get back on your feet."

Elaine Kauffman still faces the reality of a layoff at the end of the month.  That's why she's attended several of the Phase2Careers seminars. "In one way, I really feel I’m a stronger person and I have more to offer, I know what I want to do, and know what I am good at as opposed to when I got out of college, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I really didn’t have the confidence and have the skills.  So right now I’m in a better place than before."

Mr. Visconti says ultimately, it comes down to the job seeker. "I just think the over 40 worker – we’re an untapped resource. As more and more employers know us, they’ll want to know more about us.  And I think more applicants need to be in touch with: Where’s the fit? You know, it’s not just a skill set, it’s not like ‘I have that skill,' it’s where do you fit? What makes sense for you?"

Phase2Careers will be holding its next workshop at 7pm Wednesday evening, May 11 at the Foster City Recreation Center, a program devoted to learning more about LinkedIn.  You can register here. The cost is $8 for members, $10 for non-members.

Workshops in San Mateo and Belmont are also scheduled for this month.  See the Phase2Careers website for more details.

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