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.
“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!”
Through networking with William and Lynden, she got connected with the National Older Workers Career Center, and through NOWCC she got a full-time position in public relations with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Once more, she’s working in an area that matches two of her passions: writing and the natural world.
Part of her new job involves writing stories about farmers who have adopted conservation techniques, stories about their successes. Along the way, she’s written her own success story of getting back to work.
So Lillian now belongs to a much happier group of older adults: those who have found their way back into the workforce. She gives lots of credit to BACK TO WORK 50+ and her two wonderful coaches. The networking they helped her with “was huge, but also being able to ask questions and knowing you’re not alone in this mess.”
Lillian has spread the word about BACK TO WORK 50+ in her own networks. “I’ve recommended the program probably 100 times already,” she says. “And William and Lynden were so great to work with. After job searching for so long, it was hard to stay positive. They helped me regain my confidence.”
Call 1-855-850-2525 or click the button below to register 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.