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You've Lost Your Job. What's Next?

Take stock of assets, regroup and focus on finding employment

You've Lost Your Job. What's Next?

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Job loss for older workers is tough as it is. Here are some tips to regroup and refocus.

Unemployment is stressful for anyone. But for older workers, it can be especially devastating.

According to a 2015 AARP survey, many job seekers age 55 and up experience long-term unemployment (for six months or more); when they do end up finding work, it is for jobs with lower pay and limited benefits.

Everyone's circumstances are different. If you've been a long-standing employee earning a progressive salary and benefits, you may be eligible for a severance package and unemployment insurance, which you can file for online to avoid long lines. Together, these might give you the time and financial resources to stay on top of your bills until you land your next job.

If you've established an emergency fund covering at least six months of regular expenses, you may feel less anxious if you become unemployed. But for most, panic, understandably, is the obvious response to job loss.

Dealing with the shock

In addition to the financial strain, it can be psychologically stressful to lose a professional identity that provided status and feelings of accomplishment. Common responses include feverishly looking for new employment in an attempt to get back on track, accepting that one's career might be over and focusing on volunteer work instead, and resigning oneself to feeling hopeless or bitter.

To avoid that last outcome, it's important to keep a positive frame of mind, after you recover from the initial shock of unemployment. It's also important to acknowledge and grieve job loss as a major life trauma, especially if you've invested years in a company. But it's crucial to look at things rationally and begin to make a new career plan. Doing some form of physical exercise is a great way to channel your emotions.

Prepare for rainy days

If you know a layoff is coming, do your best to prepare. Update your résumé. Think about future work opportunities within and outside your current field. What's the growing industry in your area — do you have related skills or can you develop them? What about networking?

Don't wait until you're laid off to connect and network with potential links to your next job, and make sure to investigate the myriad approaches to job searches.

Also examine your bills and spending habits. Find ways to cut back and pay off as many debts as possible. If your children are grown and gone, consider downsizing and spending less on rent or mortgage. This may free up money to help with current expenses or future needs.

There's no "easy" button or guaranteed formula for recovering from job loss. Dealing with job loss, or planning for the possibility, calls for staying calm and focused while maintaining true grit and determination. These are critical factors for weathering the current tide of unemployment.

AARP is here to help with several resources for older workers, including Life Reimagined, an online platform that offers courses and coaching. Be sure to get the support that you need to get through this challenging time.