Suffering a job loss and weathering the emotional storm that follows can be especially challenging for those who didn’t necessarily see themselves working past age 65.

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Once upon a time, turning 65 was a near-guaranteed ticket to retirement. The modern-day version of the workers’ fairy tale is slightly different, and possibly more challenging.

Since the late 1990s, the 55-plus age group is the only one with increasing labor-force participation nationally, according to Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist with the Employment Security Department. “There may very well be a cultural shift going on,” says Vance-Sherman, where baby boomers “stick with their job longer than other generations may have.”

She notes, too, that retirement funds are hit hard during recessions, causing some to remain in, or rejoin, the labor force. “Underneath the surface of these statistics, there are a lot of different things going on,” she says. “I have yet to meet the perfectly average person.”

It’s this human factor that can also make the job search an emotionally taxing affair. Seventy-year-old Vashon Island resident Claire Denise agrees. Laid off from her job of eight years as a corporate health and wellness coach in 2015, Denise suddenly needed to self-administer her coaching skills. Despite scoring several interviews for positions nearly identical to her previous role, none resulted in an employment offer.

It left Denise feeling she’d bumped up against age discrimination, and that employers may be overlooking skills of the older set, such as responsibility and follow-through. Her initial assumption had been that she would get another job right away. When she didn’t, her self-worth suffered. “I can understand why people give up,” she says.

Claire Denise now works as a health coach at a Redmond naturopathic clinic. (Courtesy of Claire Denise)
Claire Denise now works as a health coach at a Redmond naturopathic clinic. (Courtesy of Claire Denise)

To get through it, Denise recommends a routine where you “get up and become productive for your day,” mirroring a former work schedule. “Make a list of things to do that day that will help you feel like you’re moving forward.”

In addition to reconnecting with acquaintances in her field, Denise had her résumé professionally reviewed, something she deems as worthwhile. “The format I was using was a little outdated,” she says, adding that her new résumé includes quantifiable measurements of previous accomplishments. In March, Denise landed part-time employment as a health coach at a Redmond naturopathic clinic.

Regretting a rash decision

Judy Dowling, of Bellevue, was 66 when she lost her job as a residential property manager after 15 years. Though it happened during the recession, in 2009, she didn’t see it coming and wasn’t prepared, financially or emotionally.

Like Denise, Dowling found it difficult to hold her head up and carry on with the job search. She conducted hers poorly, she says, taking the first part-time gig offered without really thinking about what she wanted. She ended up hating it so much that she quit, and unwittingly lost her unemployment benefits.

To turn things around, Dowling, who holds a bachelor of science from Washington State University, registered for community college classes that taught job-search essentials like social media, networking and elevator pitches. She also completed a neurolinguistic programming (NLP) course, which helped her secure the part-time job at Weight Watchers she’s held since 2011.

“Any [classes] I took, I took because I wanted the knowledge, and it’s a way to network and to find people,” Dowling says. “Anything that helps with communication or people skills, helps with your life.”

Getting in front of people

Michael Menk, 61, of North Bend, found himself in a similar position to Denise and Dowling in May, when Xerox closed its Redmond customer-service center and he lost his tech-support job.

The first thing Menk did was post his résumé on job-search websites — like jobs.seattletimes.com and Indeed — and set up alerts so new postings went straight to his email inbox.

He also utilized WorkSource’s employment services, which included non-mandatory networking meetings, though he wasn’t always motivated to go. “Networking is probably one of the most important things you can do, but it’s also the hardest,” he says.

The meetings didn’t lead directly to a job, but Menk says he found them psychologically useful. “Using the discipline to go is something people need to do, rather than just sit in front of their computer.”

That said, Menk’s online efforts recently generated an offer for a full-time contract position.

As for age dynamics in the workplace, he says they don’t register with him. “I kind of look at the total environment. How are you going to fit in? Are you going to be happy with it?”