Imagine this: You’re 47, recently divorced, and living in an empty nest in what most Americans would consider, literally, a tundra.
It was this predicament that caused Alaska’s Janette Thornton to consider making a drastic move. With a background in social work and experience as a small-business owner of four national fast-food franchises, she gazed 3,600 miles south to the dry red expanse of Tucson, Arizona where two of her three grown children had already replanted themselves.
It wasn’t at all clear what she would do down there in the desert, but it was clear that life as she knew it wasn’t coming back.
“My husband and I had divorced, and my two sons had left Alaska and both moved to Phoenix to go to college,” she says. “They told me, ‘Mom, we’re not moving back to Alaska. We loved it, we were raised there, but we’re not going back.’ And my daughter was down in Austin.”
With her retirement savings already battered by our volatile and chaotic economy, Janette planned to apply for work at the University of Arizona, on the basis of her previous experience working at the University of Alaska.
However, she was discouraged to find that the competition was much stiffer – and younger – down south. “In Alaska, I didn’t have much problem getting the positions I wanted, and I guess I thought the whole world was that way,” she says. “I found my skills were a little rusty compared to the people I was competing with.”
She settled for a $10 an hour job at Target, working the floor, restocking shelves, and straightening up the fitting rooms. Over the next eight months, she sent out over 100 resumes to jobs that fit her existing skill set. The job market seemed to be as dry as Tucson’s air.
Then one day she spotted an ad for an AARP Foundation program designed to help unemployed people over the age of 50 get back on their feet and into the job market. The Back to Work 50+ program had already helped tens of thousands of people like Janette across the country, by funding scholarships and providing job retraining and career coaching programs at local community colleges and workforce centers.
“I saw the ad and said, ‘Hey, that’s what I need,’” she says.
While still working at Target, Janette enrolled in the program’s 21-week Medical Office Specialist class. She received financial assistance from her county’s workforce retraining program, as well as a grant from AARP Foundation’s Back to Work 50+ program.
As she learned the medical terminology and billing codes she would need to work in a medical setting, she also came to see what she had previously been doing wrong in her job search. “I had sent out over 100 resumes, but what I did was I sent out 100 bad, bad, bad resumes,” she says, with a laugh. “When I hooked up with AARP [Foundation], they red-slashed that thing all over the place. The old-style resume, you wrote down every single skill you ever had. That’s not really what they’re looking for anymore.”
The Back to Work 50+ job coaches helped her see the bigger picture of what she had to offer, and what today’s job market requires. “They’re looking for processes you managed or ways you improved your previous workplace. They’re more looking at what your capabilities are, not just your skill set – they want to know how you apply your skill set,” she says. “Sure, you can type X words a minute, but they want to know what you can say.”
By graduation, she had lined up a $36,000 temporary job doing administrative work for the University of Arizona’s animal science department – almost exactly where she had hoped to work when she left Alaska.
But she wasn’t finished yet. While the temp work at the university was a step up from the Target floor, she was still hoping for permanent work, and something with more direct contact with people, instead of animals.
She spotted an ad for a confidential social services job with the State of Arizona. The position gives her the opportunity to combine her background of social work and customer service with her newly refined computer skills. “I feel like I just now, at age 57, fell into my perfect job,” she says. “I wouldn’t have even had the confidence to apply without the updated computer skills from the Back to Work program. I honestly didn’t think I would get hired, but I did, and I was really grateful.”
Call 855-220-9731 today to order AARP Foundation’s free job search guide and find out if there’s a Smart Strategies for 50+ Jobseekers Workshop near you.
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