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New Skills Got This BACK TO WORK 50+ Participant a Job She Loves

When COVID-19 put her job in limbo, Cynthia Fernandez turned to BACK TO WORK 50+ for help.


Cynthia Fernandez had been in the hospitality industry for 27 years when the pandemic hit. Furloughed from her job as an “At Your Service” agent with Marriott in March 2020, she applied for unemployment and waited to be called back to work in July.

“It’s just a little break,” she told herself, confident that she’d return to her job in a couple of months.

It wasn’t until June, when she learned that her furlough was extended until October, that she started to worry. “Are they going to call me back?” she wondered. “Or is this the end of my career with Marriott?” She realized she needed to act.

As the saying goes, membership has its privileges, and Cynthia took advantage of the resources available to her as an AARP member. She learned about AARP Foundation’s BACK TO WORK 50+ program on the AARP website and through AARP The Magazine, and signed up for a Seven Smart Strategies workshop.

Then Cynthia was told that her position at Marriott was being eliminated. Permanently. The news hit her hard.

“That was the final blow. That's when the panic set in,” she says now. Like so many people over 50 who lost their longtime jobs in the pandemic, she was forced into a tough job market that was especially grim for older adults. Through AARP, she had read about ageism; now, at the age of 60, she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to find employment.

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“I think it does exist,” Cynthia says of age discrimination. “And I thought, well, if I don’t get anything permanent, then that is going to be the end. I would have to do early retirement, which I really didn’t want to do.”

Through BACK TO WORK 50+, she had learned to include keywords in her résumé and how to do an engaging job interview. Now, the tips and support she received helped her maintain her job search, she says, especially the materials that “helped me present myself to employers.” In addition to BACK TO WORK 50+, she joined a job program that trained her to use Microsoft Outlook. She also downloaded and practiced using a variety of webinar platforms so she could do job interviews virtually. When her internet dropped out — which it often did — she joined interviews from her phone.

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In March 2021, after a full year out of work, Cynthia was hired as a COVID-19 health screener at a local hospital. Her role was to ask in-person visitors six COVID-19 screening questions before they could be cleared to visit patients. The health screener position was full-time, but temporary — and, although it paid $15.25 an hour, it didn’t come with benefits, which meant she was without health insurance. She decided to keep looking.

With the new skills she gained through BACK TO WORK 50+, Cynthia kept her personal marketing tools up to date, ready for any opportunity that might arise. She applied for a wide range of jobs, including one at the newly built Marriott Marquis in downtown Houston. It was the same kind of position she had held and loved for so many years with the company.

In June 2021, Cynthia sent an email to the BACK TO WORK 50+ team. “I just wanted to share the exciting news with you all,” she wrote. “I went to interview with Marriott Marquis today and … I GOT THE JOB!!!”  

Call 1-855-850-2525 or Register For BACK TO WORK 50+ Workshop for a free workshop with virtual interview tips, supportive coaching and a jobseeker guide hosted by AARP Foundation or by a community partner in your area.

Read more stories about how our programs have helped people find hope, and about the volunteers who give so much of themselves to help others. 


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