“People tell me all the time that I don’t seem 62. I guess it’s because I have so much energy.”
Wanda Larosiliere is a self-described force of nature who, in her 60s, found herself looking for a new job. “I needed a change. I’m one of those perpetual third-career people.”
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Until that point, Wanda Larosiliere had had a long and varied employment history. She’d written software and worked in quality assurance. She was a defense contractor and a contractor at NASA. She sold real estate, drove a school bus, taught in a classroom, tried a desk job (“It just didn’t work for me. I’m more active than that.”). She went to work for a community nonprofit, running their summer enrichment program. “It was very rewarding, but not gainful,” she says. “I still need gainful work.”
At 62, she embarked on a job hunt, but soon found out that the employment market was radically different from the one she remembered. “Looking for work in your 60s, where do you start?” she muses. “You think you’re kind of with-it, that you’ll know what to do, but I wasn’t as prepared as I thought. The field is so full, and you’re competing with a huge age range.”
A cousin in California suggested that she look into AARP for help with her job search, but Wanda was skeptical. “I didn’t know AARP did more than newsletters, consumer discounts and a bit of high-level advocacy.” A few days later, while surfing her local community college website, she came across an announcement for AARP Foundation BACK TO WORK 50+ (BTW50+) and decided to attend the program’s “7 Smart Strategies for 50+ Jobseekers” workshops.
She wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but as she looked through the materials, she realized just how much she didn’t know about conducting a job search in 2018.
“Here I was thinking I was tech-savvy, but I didn’t even know about LinkedIn. They didn’t have that last time I was looking for a job,” she says.
“At the workshop they told me, ‘We don’t see a lot of people with your background.’ OK, I said, but I’m still out of work.” She continues, “Once you hit your 50s, you have lots of education and experience, so how do you navigate finding a job that suits you? Do employers want someone young and fresh out of school, or someone my age?”
After the BTW50+ workshops, Wanda went to a job fair in Tuscaloosa armed with “focus and my newly tweaked résumé.” She was interested in the auto industry and hoped to find a job in quality assurance. There were several organizations at the job fair — including Alabama Works!, a network of interconnected providers of workforce services that matches job seekers with employers. Employers use Alabama Works! to request résumés and find employees.
A representative for one such company was interested to learn that Wanda had submitted a résumé online but hadn’t received a response. He invited her to begin what would prove to be an extensive series of tests as part of the company’s hiring process. In the end, Wanda was hired to start on the production line. She was daunted, but she also says, “I was jazzed! I passed all those tests and got a job at 62.”
The work on the factory floor was physically demanding. “I got so buff!” she says. “We were running all over the place to retrieve parts, running back to install them.” Her trainers supported and encouraged her, but ultimately, she couldn’t keep up. She went to her trainer and reluctantly told her she had to quit. “I can’t stay in a job if I’m not making a contribution. That’s very important to me.”
A contractor from another company who was working at the same site noticed her and her work ethic. He suggested that she use him as a reference when looking for her next position. When a new opportunity came up, she did just that — and got the job.
Wanda says BTW50+ taught her several things that changed her outlook on job hunting later in life. She got comfortable with the concept of the “transition job” — that the next job didn’t have to be perfect, didn’t have to be forever. She also says that participating with other people in the same demographic was encouraging and eye-opening. “I can’t tell you how many classmates from the program were feeling really positive about following it. We talked about it all the time.”
The program also taught her about self-care. “They say to make sure there’s time and resources for self-care. You can’t just work yourself into the ground.”