Design For Life

I’m in my 50s and stressed about finding a new job, what should I do?

This week, communications expert Sarah Geraghty advises a reader who is feeling anxious about trying to find a new job in the wake of the pandemic

Re-entering the job market can be an intimidating experience for many, especially those over 50. Illustration: Getty

Dear Expert,

I lost my job due to Covid. Now I’m feeling extreme anxiety about the prospect of trying to get back into the workplace. I hadn’t realised it, but I took my job very much for granted. I’d been doing it on auto-pilot for years, and I’m not trained up to deal with newer software or some of the challenges that my younger colleagues found very easy. I have three children and I can’t afford to sit on my hands for too long. But I also feel a deep sense of despair about what I’m going to do. I’m male and in my late 50s.

Dear Reader,

While sympathy won’t help, it’s clear you’re having a bad time. Any career change, whatever the cause, can be stressful. But a job loss combined with a vague sense of guilt and a sharp sense of responsibility is mega-stressful.

The good news is that 40 per cent more vacancies are listed on the job website than before the pandemic, according to Ibec’s Quarterly Economic Outlook. This is down to two factors. First, total employment in Ireland is at a record high of 2.5 million people, with significant numbers of new positions being created. Second, there is increased movement between jobs, creating vacancies particularly in the technology, finance and scientific sectors.

It’s natural to be concerned about skills you don’t have. But consider the ones you do have, and add the neuroscientific fact that we retain an ability to learn throughout our entire lives. You might assume it’s easier for your younger colleagues to master certain tasks without much effort. But I guarantee you, from the hundreds of people at all ages and stages that I help to prepare for job interviews, they have to worry about learning new skills too.

No employer expects a fully-trained employee to arrive in the door on the first day of a new job. What companies do expect is someone prepared to learn, someone who is open to their own development, no matter how experienced they are.

You need to get to the point where you can demonstrate this to a potential employer. Before then, however, you must shift your mindset and regard your job search as a full-time position. Managing your time is now vital. Make a plan, break down your day, and allocate dedicated hours to focusing on the areas needed to confidently sell yourself.

Do your research. Check out job listings online, including LinkedIn. But also think outside the box – scan the business pages of newspapers to keep up to date on new companies landing in Ireland and who’s hiring where. Meet people within your network and let them know you’re on the lookout. Study the job specs of roles you’re interested in, and take a highlighter to the experience and qualifications needed.

At this stage, you’ve undoubtedly developed useful, transferable skills such as communication, organisation and teamwork. Note all of these down with vivid examples to show how well you’ve employed and adapted those skills in previous work situations.

Then look at what you don’t have. Springboard, a government initiative that offers free and subsidised higher education courses in areas where there are job opportunities, is an excellent way to upskill. I’ve worked with people in similar situations to you who have done Springboard courses such as Data Analytics or Financial Services and added a whole new range of options to their careers.

Now get to work on your CV. Imagine a time-poor hiring manager speed reading it. How can you help them to see in 30 seconds that you have what they need? Start with a snappy, relevant personal profile – your pitch for the job in five evidence-based bullet points.

Avoid making your CV a dull list of tasks you carried out day-to-day in your previous role. Focus on demonstrable successes that you’ve had throughout your career, achievements you’re proud of in the relevant areas. For example, excellent leadership you displayed when motivating a team to achieve completion of a project ahead of deadline and under budget.

Some people think that once they have completed their CV, they can fire the same generic version out to 20 different companies. Wrong – and disrespectful to each of the 20. You must prove that you are crystal clear on what’s required for the role based on the job spec and any research you’ve done on the business. Tailoring your CV accordingly shows that you’ve taken the time to adjust your experience and skill set to what this particular company needs.

All of this preparation is essential groundwork for the interview itself. Don’t waste your energy despairing about finding a job. Instead, focus systematically on all of the tasks that will help you to get one. Good luck.

About Sarah Geraghty

Sarah Geraghty is head of careers with the Communications Clinic, where she designs and delivers courses in job interview and interview panel training, pitch and presentation skills, media preparation and leadership training. She has been a regular contributor and columnist for national print and online titles. She was previously an assistant editor with The Gloss magazine and press attaché at the French embassy in Ireland.

Got a problem or something you’d like advice on? Email anonymously by contacting us here and we’ll match your query with the best expert we can find on the subject. You can also drop an email in confidence to