FA Career Planner

Over 55 and out of work? It's time to reinvent yourself

Jennifer Woods, special to CNBC.com

Getting laid off is scary. If you're past your prime hiring years but not yet able to retire, it can be downright terrifying.

Data have shown that people over age 55 are reemployed at a substantially lower rate than those 54 years old and younger. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of January 2014, the reemployment rate for 55- to 64-year-olds was 53 percent, compared with 68 percent for 25- to 54-year-olds. For the 65-plus crowd, the rate was just 23 percent.

To make matters worse, if you're over 55, there's a good chance you may also be helping your children with tuition or other expenses, financially supporting aging parents or possibly dealing with medical costs of your own. Or possibly, all of the above.

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"There's no way around it. [Being unemployed later in life] is a difficult place to be in," said Kathryn Hauer, a certified financial planner with Wilson David Investment Advisors.

Hauer added that, in theory, everyone should plan ahead for a financial catastrophe, but in actuality, there are realities in life that keep you from doing what a financial planner would tell you to do.

Yet even though landing a new job may be a bit tougher at this age, don't lose hope. Experts say there are various strategies that can help in securing a new gig — but it's going to take work and, possibly, take you out of your comfort zone.

The first step is to make a game plan, said Larry Rosenthal, a CFP and president of Rosenthal Wealth Management Group.

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"Look at all of your resources and figure out what kind of offensive play you're going to make," he said. For instance, is there a different role at work that you could fill? Could you sign on to do some contract work?

While some people may be hesitant to take a pay cut or a position that's a step back, that's preferable to being unemployed, said CFP Jon Ten Haagen, founder of Ten Haagen Financial Group.

"It's easier to get a job when you already have a job … so take something right now so you can say you're employed," he said.

If you're asked about that decision on an interview, Ten Haagen said, be truthful.

"Admit you took a job below your pay grade," he noted. "It shows initiative that you were able to keep your cash flow coming until you get the job you were looking for."

If you're in your 50s, a lot of people don't feel equal to the task of learning something new and starting over. But you have to — you still have bills to pay.
Kathryn Hauer
certified financial planner with Wilson David Investment Advisors

For some, getting laid off is actually an opportunity.

"You always have the opportunity to start your own business, [so] take the years of experience you have to call upon your expertise," said Rosenthal of Rosenthal Wealth Management Group. However, that is a path that's easier for some than others.

"Some people may be able to walk into a situation of being self-employed and easily acquire clients and contracts," he added. "But others aren't in that position. So you have to weigh the risk."

You also need to take a look at your assets to determine whether it's financially feasible.

"I'm a big believer in not tapping into your retirement savings; when you do, that puts you at risk down the road," Rosenthal said. Instead, consider other resources, such as a home equity loan, a line of credit or a business loan.

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"If there are no other resources [to use], you have to make a decision on whether you're willing to take the risk [using retirement savings] in the hopes that your business will take off."

If you have no immediate job options and going solo isn't for you, it's time to move on to Plan B — making new connections and making yourself more marketable.

"Networking is a major thing. … It isn't about handing out as many business cards as you can, but listening to other people and finding out what they do, " said Ten Haagen, adding you should be willing to help other people out, as that could benefit you in the end.

Some good networking resources include events at your local chamber of commerce or at service organizations and associations related to your type of work.

Networking website LinkedIn is also a great way to make new connections in many industries. Ten Haagen advises finding executives who work in businesses where you want to apply. Then, determine whether you have mutual friends and, if you do, get in touch with them to see if they could make an inétroduction.

Hauer at Wilson David Investment Advisors said the unemployment office is also a good source of information. "It's assumed it's only for people collecting unemployment," she said. "But it's a resource for everyone."

Additionally, libraries (particularly college ones) also have good career areas that can be helpful.

If you're still having a hard time getting a new gig, you may need to broaden your horizons by going back to school, changing industries or physically relocating.

Hauer acknowledged that it may be hard to get your head around the idea of starting over, but sometimes it's the move you need to take.

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"If you're 30, it's easier to move or go back to school, but if you're in your 50s, a lot of people don't feel equal to the task of learning something new and starting over," she said. "But you have to — you still have bills to pay."

Examine your skills to see whether they are translatable to another job or field.

"For example, if you are an editor and can't find a job editing, you can use your skills as a technical writer, in business development or sometimes as an English teacher, depending on what your degree entailed," noted Hauer. "You may have to take some extra training or classes and brush up your résumé to highlight how your skills will translate, but you open lots of new doors."

Internships for older workers are another trend that's been catching on and could be a good way to gain experience in different fields if you're considering a career change, she said.

— By Jennifer Woods, special to CNBC.com