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Posted: February 03, 2011

Wandering in the unemployment wilderness

The challenge is finding a path out

Mark McCloud

Having been lost in the unemployment wilderness for over two years, I am still searching for the trail that isn't on the map. As a matter of fact, there's not even a map of the wilderness.

After 35 years in the real estate profession as an agent, a manager and as a state-certified real estate instructor, I found myself reaching the burned-out stage just as the market was collapsing.
So the first step was to create a resume, seems like a simple step - but over time I learned that the skills which had served me well in the past may not be as marketable as I thought:

- Persistence
- Ability to identify a prospect's needs
- Negotiating and mediation
- Public speaking and teaching
- Development, implementation, and monitoring of marketing plans
- Hiring and training sales teams for large, multi-use projects
- Knowledge of sales/marketing techniques
- Ability to work independently or as part of a team
- Writing = ability to translate complex legal and technical subject matter into laymens terms for class approval by state regulatory agencies
- Management and organizational skills
- Recruiting
- Detail-oriented.

I know what I'm good at - managing and motivating people, organization, training, preparing and delivering presentations, writing, teaching, negotiating, mediating, conflict resolution, public speaking, selling ("don't sell the product, sell the benefit"). Besides a Bachelors degree from college, my professional designations are those earned and related to real estate.

I hired a "resume coach" and talked to several human resource managers, and came up with a resume that I distributed wherever and whenever possible: on-line, networking, door-to-door, employment offices (private and government). It was then that the echoes started - it was like hollering across a great divide and the only thing coming back was the echo of my own voice. Very few employers even bothered to respond, let alone offered an invitation for an interview.

Living on unemployment and drawing early Social Security, I next decided to research what appeared to be recession-proof industries. The reason being that real estate is always the "first in and last out" during periods of economic downturns.

"What do people have to have, regardless of economic conditions?" Answers I came up with are: energy, food, insurance, health care. Energy jobs and health care require some kind of specialized education and degree, food industry is either in the science realm or service arena - which left insurance. So I got a health insurance license and quickly learned that insurance companies aren't too interested in paying an initial salary, which by this time is urgently needed.

And the echoes keep bouncing back - "..you're too old; you're overqualified; you're underqualified; you don't have the right degree; we'd have to pay you too much."

The downward financial spiral during all this accelerates, and very quickly you find yourself behind on your mortgage, credit card bills, etc., etc. One feels like Gulliver in reverse - you're a midget being ensnared by more and more ropes from large financial giants - mortgage companies, credit card companies, collection agencies, all of which are faceless and do not care one bit about what their actions are doing to people; destroying lives, marriages and families. They won't work with you, they are faceless monoliths caring only about their bottom-line.

 It's not that I am denying my financial responsibilities, I always have in the past - but now I need help and some consideration until I get back on my feet financially. The fear factor keeps ratcheting up and it takes self-control to stay out of panic mode. Bankruptcy is just around the corner.

Next I decided to do a self-examination - what would my ideal career and ideal location to live be? What would be my passion? What do I enjoy doing? Having lived in Denver in 1974-75 it has always been my desire to get back to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and the dream job would be working in a national park or a resort/dude ranch in the mountains; working with wildlife; working with horses (Western style - intermediate skill level rider); or a combination thereof. I enjoy the outdoors - fishing, hunting, and hiking. But what skills have I acquired over the years qualify for a career in any of these?

To be in this condition - financial, emotional, and personal - at this stage of life can be depressing if one doesn't keep a positive attitude and doesn't keep trying. It is embarrassing and demeaning to admit that you're in such a desperate situation, but it is what it is.

If you have a job now - get on your knees every day and thank God, even if you hate the job. You're a lot better off than millions of your fellow Americans. If you are an employer - please don't neglect the potential employee who may be older, those of us looking for meaningful work aren't demanding high salaries, we know the value of loyalty, persistence and a strong work ethic - it's the way we were brought up.

We are not looking for a hand out, only a hand up.
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Mark McCloud is the owner of McCloud Seminars, a sales and management training/consulting company. He has over thirty-five years experience in real estate sales, marketing, management and providing educational services. He is a published author and public speaker, recognized for his insight and common-sense approach. He is available for training, consulting, and public speaking engagements. He can be reached at: 360/281-2086, mccloudseminars@comcast.net.

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Readers Respond

Mark, like Erika, Herb and others, I admire your courage o write this very poignant and relevant commentary. It is well-written and as one of the longes-term unemployed in CO, I couldn't agree more with what you wrote. There are millions (tens of thousands in CO) who desperately need a hand up - and frankly, don't even qualify for a hand-out. I (we) are receiving a clear message from Washington and from the bulk of our society that those who were left behind in this recession we are expendable and not worth the cost or the effort to help restore opportunity toagain pursue our once successful middle-class indepdendence & lifestyle. Denver Unemployment Examiner By Kelly Wiedemer on 2011 02 15
Thank you to everyone who commented on my article - your thoughts and recommendations are appreciated. Mark By Mark McCloud on 2011 02 08
Oh, and...if you're in a lousy job...don't get on your knees and thank God that you're just employed. Many of my clients have successfully changed OUT of lousy jobs into great jobs. Folks, it isn't the economy. It is knowing WHERE to find the hidden jobs and HOW to get them. Look, I understand that things are tough out there. But they aren't hopeless. And thinking (or writing or saying) that they are only makes it worse. Yes, the nature of work is changing. But there are many things that people can successfully do to make money and keep from watching Springer on TV. If my CoBizMag readers want me to, I'm happy to do a free seminar (or webinar) if you all prefer on some of this stuff. Let me know at jheckers@heckersdev.com, and I'll do what I can to help. And if you're stuck in unemployment, write me for a networking meeting. I'll make the time to see you or talk to you by phone, personally. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 02 04
The "odds of getting employed if you're over 55" are NOT, repeat NOT slim!!! My clients are mostly aged 45+, with some of them having been as old as 71. They are landing, and landing pretty rapidly. It isn't age. It is having the right network and knowing how to leverage it. A resume is useless. People don't hire people on resumes. They hire people based on people. Mark, the people who will hire you aren't faceless automatons. Those people (aka H.R.) can only tell you "no." But someone WILL hire you. However, you have to know the correct skills. I will make two offers to you, Mark. First, please write me at jheckers@heckersdev.com and give me your contact info and we'll set up a networking appointment within the next 2 weeks. I promise not to try to sell you ANYTHING. Second, I will GIVE you, free of charge, my books/DVD series "Getting Employed" at that meeting. Let's see if we can turn things around for you. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 02 04
Mark, I do agree with Erika's friend that many of us have not kept up with the latest technologies, but the truth is, it wouldn't really matter. The odds of getting employed even if you HAVE all the latest techno-skills after age 55 are slim right now unless you happen to be in a very specialized field where there are not many YOUNG employees to compete with. I've been where you are and know EXACTLY what you have gone through. I'm 61 and was laid off from a great job, with great pay and good benefits to end up with THREE part time jobs with no benefits, making less then 1/2 what I did previously, and utilizing a 10th of my talents and skills (I downplayed ALL of abilities and skills in order to get these jobs!). But, I decided to take those jobs, even though they paid so little and were not jobs I would have even considered years ago. I figured it was the best chance I had in this economy of earning ANY kind of wage, and I knew that if I wanted to keep looking for better employment, that I needed to be able to show I was still 'employed' in some capacity (since many employers don't like seeing unemployment 'gaps' on your resumes) I also did it to keep from becoming too depressed from the constant rejections of the jobs I knew I was perfect for but denied because they hired someone 1/2 my age! - I knew this for certain, because I'd go back several weeks later to hand deliver a 'thank you for the interview, etc.' letter so I could SEE for myself who they hired. Anyway, the long and short of this is that one of these part time jobs turned into something much better - My YOUNG boss quit, I inherited her job, now make better pay, am able to utilize all the talents they didn't know I had and could not only do HER job, but the job I was hired to do, PLUS one other employee that left... Now THAT'S what we old timers are capable of!!! If only the hiring staff at these companies understood that! By Annie on 2011 02 04
Mark, as a middle age boomer I'm in your shoes. Cannot tell you how many times I've been on an interview and the moment the employer see's that I'm pass 55 (I'm 58) the interest level is gone. I've upgraded my computer skills, have become quite skilled at social networking (but hate twitter) and gone back to school to learn new skills. As my retirement funds disappear to keep my mortgage company happy I'm becoming quite scared. Keep the faith baby cause it’s about all we have. By Herb Thomas on 2011 02 03
I really admire the courage to come out and write this article. I know that it speaks to so many of us of the "ageless" generation. However, isn't it possible that we of the older workforce have not really kept up with the new technologies? A young (40's) friend of mine put it this way upon the reading of this piece: "I think he nailed...but didn't go far enough in describing the present day valued skills... coding, developing creative algorithms for a faceless economy, creative financing, and creating bubbles." I know that I personal value relationships - and I have many - but dealing with a "faceless" economy isn't really something I enjoy. But it all makes me realize - once again - that it's really my network of relationships that will support me as I move into my older phases of life. By erika hanson brown on 2011 02 03

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