For many older adults who have been out of work, six months represents a tipping point — that moment when you really start to worry: Will I ever find work again? Is there even the slightest chance I’ll find a job I love?
That’s how it was for Lillian Shupe, who found herself in her early 50s entering a category no one ever wants to belong to: the long-term unemployed, defined by the government as people who have been out of work for more than 27 weeks.
But Lillian wasn’t about to let that category define her. She had confidence in her ability as a writer and a journalist, able to get to the bottom of a story by doing her homework. So she set her mind to doing her homework on finding a job. And that’s where the AARP Foundation BACK TO WORK 50+ program comes into Lillian’s story.
Lillian had spent most of her career as a newspaper reporter for syndicated local papers in New Jersey and then Pennsylvania, eventually landing a gig with the monthly newspaper Horse News — a job that indulged her passion for both animals and agriculture. “When I was a kid, I always thought I was born into the wrong family,” Lillian says, “because I should have been a farmer.” So Horse News was right up her alley.
But as the newspapers and magazines she worked for got sold, Lillian’s position was eliminated.
For a while she “tried the entrepreneurial route and bought into a franchise,” but it wasn’t a natural fit, and she was barely getting by. “After two years, I was basically breaking even … and working 40 hours a week. My profit was like $1.67 a month — not sustainable.”
Because of her skills as a writer, she tried freelancing while continuing to look for something full-time. She tried job search tools, a recruiter, and cruising a whole bunch of websites. “Then the pandemic hit,” she says, “which made it even harder to get any kind of freelance work.”
She’d resisted posting about her job search on social media, but finally she shared that she was looking for work. And that’s when a promotion for AARP Foundation BACK TO WORK 50+ popped up in her feed. “How about that?” she says.
She signed up for the free webinar and then the workshop, and she began customizing her résumé to suit the particular jobs she was applying for. She had learned about the importance of customizing but hadn’t really understood how to go about it. The BACK TO WORK 50+ program walked her through exactly how to proceed, with great help from two job search coaches, William Craig and Lynden Kidd. And that made all the difference.
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“One day we might talk about how to do your LinkedIn, how to do the résumé, each week with a different topic,” she remembers. “A couple of times we did interview practice with some of the other participants.” In Lillian’s mind, the coaching was the key to her eventual success. “You can ask them any kind of question, and they have the answers. And they’re both a lot of fun!”