Scene:  It’s a crisp February morning in a picturesque, mid-sized metropolitan U.S. city, and somewhere within the cozy confines of a professional-but-not-too-plush office, a career counselor and his client sit down together for an overdue chat…

Coach: “Good to see you again!  How goes the battle?”

Client:
“Not so hot.  I’ve been out there now for 14 months now, hunting for work, and it’s just bleak.  I feel like I’m sending out hundreds and hundreds of resumes and everything’s just going into one big black hole.”

Coach: “Yeah, a lot of people are feeling that way these days.  And until the economy bounces back, it’s probably safe to say that ALL professionals, employed and unemployed alike, are going to need to keep their seat belts fastened — since it’s going to continue to be a bumpy ride.  Just a supply and demand thing, I’m afraid.  There aren’t many new jobs getting created and employers are scared to death to add staff until they can feel more confident about the future.”

Client: “I suppose you’re right.  Maybe I should just give up.”

Coach: “Hmmmm.  I’m really not sure what that means, exactly.  I’m hoping you’re exaggerating for effect.  But if not, you might need to look into some counseling support or stress management classes, since those might help you stay positive and keep things in perspective.  But if you’re just blowing off steam and venting, no worries, I get it.  Keep in mind, though, that despite the temporary slowdown out there, there are still tons of people getting hired every week.  In fact, one recent report I saw on the Census Bureau website said that around 185,000 or so people are hired every quarter in the Puget Sound area alone — and that data was from the end of 2009, when the market was definitely worse off than it is now!”

Client: “That’s impossible.  I’m not seeing anywhere near that many jobs getting listed.  And it just doesn’t make logical sense, since the unemployment problem would be fixed in a heartbeat if we kept adding over 100,000 jobs a month.”

Coach: “Sorry, I should have been more clear.  That statistic reflected the number of folks that quarter who landed new jobs, but of course, there were an even greater number of people losing their jobs that quarter, as well, which isn’t encouraging.  But my point was that the job market isn’t static.  Due to turnover alone, thousands of jobs open up here around town each month, just waiting for the right person to come along and fill them.  And you just need one job, right?  I mean, if just one out of those 180,000 positions had your name on it, you’d be a pretty happy camper, right?”

Client: “Yeah, I guess.  But nobody hires old guys like me anymore.  I’m over 60 and companies seem to be practicing tons of age discrimination.  It’s much harder for people at my age to find work.”

Coach: “That’s true.  So what are you doing about it?”

Client: “What do you mean?”

Coach: “I mean, I don’t think any sane person is going to tell you that finding a job when you’re over 60 is easier than finding a job when you’re, let’s say, 32.  Some age bias will definitely get in the way.  Companies will fear that you’re overqualified and won’t be happy in a lower-level job, or that you’ll want more money than they can pay, or that you’ll have a hard time taking direction from a younger manager or some such thing.  But again, my question is what are you doing about it?  How are you adapting?”

Client: “Adapting?”

Coach: “Yeah, adapting.  What are you doing differently in your job search as a result of knowing that you’re facing this reality?”

Client: “I still don’t get your drift.”

Coach: “C’mon now.  Doesn’t your resume say that you’re a highly creative, resourceful professional?  Haven’t you faced numerous challenges throughout your career and found a way around them?  I mean, I’ve seen your resume, and you’ve done some pretty jaw-dropping stuff over the years, my friend!  Is this challenge really all that different?  You’ve got a problem on your hands.  Solve it.”

Client: “But what can I do?  The facts are the facts.  I’ve got 30 years of experience and while I’ve tried cutting all but 10 years off of my resume, it doesn’t seem to help.  They know I didn’t start my career as a Director of Finance.  They can guess how old I am, one way or another, at which point the party’s over.”

Coach: “Are you truly going to sit here and tell me that this is an impossible barrier to overcome?  And that NOBODY over the age of 50 or 60 ever gets hired anymore?  If that were truly the case, AARP would be leading a charge on Washington!  So obviously at least SOME older workers are finding a way around this issue.  They’re adapting.  They’re updating their skill sets.  Or relying much more on networking leads than resume submissions.  Or exercising, dying their hair, and upgrading their wardrobe to seem more in step with the times.  Or starting their own businesses, so that they don’t have to prove to somebody 20 years younger than them that they’ve still got what it takes.  In other words, they’re job hunting differently than a 30-year-old might.  That’s pretty much a no-brainer.”

Client: “Yeah, but it’s not like age is the only factor in play here.  I mean, every job opportunity I come across also seems to want a bloody computer wizard, not just a guy with a good head for finance.  I keep seeing all these jobs that interest me, but they ask for skills in things like Great Plains or SAP, which I don’t have.”

Coach: “So what are you doing about it?”

Client: “What do you mean?”

Coach: “I mean, I’m sorry to sound like a broken record, but if this truly is the case — which I don’t dispute — I’m just wondering if you’re actually doing anything about it.  Taking computer classes.  Reading books on SAP.  Hitting up your friends to see if anybody uses this system at work and can help you learn it.  Contacting the makers of Great Plains and seeing if they offer any discounted training for unemployed or older workers.  Or if they have a demo copy of their software you can download on your home computer.”

Client: “Do they have such a thing?”

Coach: “I have no idea.  I’m just saying it seems that those would be the logical actions to take, and the right questions to ask, if you truly realized you didn’t have a key skill that was required to compete in your field these days — and this was holding you back from getting a job.  You’d get resourceful, like you’ve done throughout your entire career, and find a solution.  I know it seems different, but when you step back, it’s pretty much the same drill.”

Client: “Yeah, well, I guess I could do that.  But that would take months.  And I really need a job NOW, since my unemployment benefits have run out and we’re barely able to make ends meet.  We’re in a world of hurt, financially.”

Coach: “So what are you doing about it?”

Client: “I’m going to punch you in the nose.  That’s what I’m going to do about it.”

Coach: “Please don’t.  I bleed easily and am wearing a white shirt today.  And while I know you think I’m being obnoxious, you come to me for advice, right?  Not just for me to pat you on the back, agree with you on how bad things are out there, and buy in to your self-fulfilling fantasy that all is lost and you’ll never work again?  I mean, if you want me to shut up and do that, I can, but that seems like an awfully silly thing for you to spend $150 an hour on.  So I’m going to stick to my guns.  If you’re in that much financial distress, have you actually done anything substantial to address this problem?”

Client: “Give me an example.”

Coach: “Have you gotten your family together and put everybody on a strict budget, to slow down your burn rate?  Or considered selling your home for a more affordable place?  Or considered taking in a roommate?  Or talked to a financial advisor about all of the different tax advantages and planning options that now exist that might help you free up some money, to get through all this?”

Client: “Well, sure, we’ve cut back a little, here and there.”

Coach: “Wait a minute.  You implied that you were in major financial distress.  Were you exaggerating?  Or are you telling me that you truly haven’t done much of anything in the past 14 months to address this problem, other than hoping you’ll get lucky, land a job, and the problem will suddenly go away?  I mean, I know one couple who agreed, as part of their game plan, that if one of them didn’t get a job in six months, they’d sell their house and move in with a relative, temporarily.  That’s not a step any of us want to have to take, but it definitely shows some adaptability on their part, don’t you think?”

(Editor’s Note: I know you all get the point by now — but one final quick burst of exchanges, for emphasis)

Client: “But I don’t know what I want to do next.  I might need to change careers.”

Coach: “Fine.  So what are you doing about it?”

Client: “But my network’s weak and I’ve lost touch with many of the people I’ve worked with over the years.”

Coach: “Yikes, that’s too bad.  So what are you doing about it?”

Client: “But my industry’s been hit even harder than most and those jobs aren’t ever coming back.”

Coach: “Yeah, that’s truly a shame.  So what are you doing about it?”

Client: “Okay, crap.  Fine.  You win.  I’ll try my best to think more positively and shape up my attitude.”

Coach: “That’s a start.  But honestly, attitude is a slightly different issue.  I’m talking more about action.  Sitting around thinking happy thoughts isn’t necessarily going to get you anywhere.  You need to actually get out of the house, pound the pavement, and try some creative new ways to tackle some of these problems, head on.  You know all the old sayings.  Action speaks louder than words.  Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going.   Yadda, yadda, yadda.”

Client: “Ha ha — yeah, I guess there’s some wisdom in those old cliches, isn’t there?  My personal favorite was the sign my last boss had on his desk.  It said “Here at Acme Company, we applaud effort.  But we reward success.’  Same sort of thing, right?”

Coach: “Yep, and keep in mind that employers are facing these exact same issues, themselves.  Many of them are every bit as challenged by this economy as job seekers are.  The ways in which they used to sell their products, or market their services, or generate revenues aren’t working as well any more.  They’re desperately looking for can-do people who can think outside of the box and help them adapt to some of these new dynamics.  So by showing a ton of innovation and adaptability in your job search, you’ll be demonstrating the exact skill set so many of them are looking for.  But it can’t just be lip service.  You can’t just say ‘I’m creative’ or ‘I’m results-oriented’ on your resume and then fail to demonstrate a shred of evidence, from your own job search, that backs these claims up.  They’re not that gullible.”

Client: “Okay, okay.  I get your point.  I guess I could try shaking up my routine and trying some new things.  God only knows the way I’ve been looking for work up until now isn’t working, so what do I really have to lose?”

Coach: “That’s right.  In fact, there’s a great book from a while back that talks all about this stuff.  It’s called ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ and it was written by Spencer Johnson.  Ever read it?”

Client: “Yeah, I think I did.  I forget the exact details, though.  Wasn’t it about a bunch of mice or something?”

Coach: “Yep, that’s the one.  Re-read it.  And think hard about what the book is saying and how it might apply to your career situation — not to mention the painfully outdated ways in which so many people are job hunting these days.  Like spending the majority of their time sending out resumes in response to want ads, which accounts for fewer than 15% of all hiring and is almost a complete waste of time for the many of us who don’t have the ‘perfect pedigree’ on paper.”

Client: “Will do.  Anything else you’d suggest?”

Coach: “Nope, that about covers it.  Adapt.  Empower yourself.  Take action.  Don’t fall prey to thinking that all of these challenges are insurmountable obstacles.  You’ll be amazed at how much more successful you’ll be if you just refuse to give in to the victim mentality and start doing what you’ve always done best as a professional — facing up to tough problems and solving them.  Sure, there will be days when you’ll need to avail yourself of a punching bag, or bawl your eyes out, but the people around you will at least notice that you’re taking some sort of proactive action to help yourself.  And they’ll step up to the plate and respond, accordingly.  That’s just the way it works.”

Client: “Yeah, I guess that’s what I always used to tell my finance team.  Don’t bring me a problem without a solution — or at least some ideas about how we might be able to solve it.  I wanted people to think for themselves, without counting on me to have all the answers, every time, and bail them out.”

Coach: “Bingo.  And as we walk out, let me leave you with an old joke that sums up this whole conversation we’ve had perfectly…”

A deeply religious man, whom we’ll call Jim, finds himself in dire financial trouble.  He prays earnestly to his God to help him out of his predicament. “God, I’m about to lose my car. Please help me. Let me win the lottery.”  Lottery night comes, but sadly, Jim is not the winner.  Things go from bad to worse.  Without a car to get to work, Jim loses his job.  Without a job, his mortgage is foreclosed on, and he loses his home.  Without a home, his wife leaves him, taking the kids.  After each horrible step in the mounting crisis, he pleads with God to let him win the lottery, but he never does.  Finally, broke, hungry, living on the street, he tries again. “God, please, my life is a wreck. I have no car, no home, no family. Please let me win the lottery just this once so that I can turn my life around. I beseech you.”  Suddenly, a flash of light rends the sky, and the voice of God echoes down from the heavens. “Jim, could you please at least meet me halfway, and buy a darn ticket?”