From Layoff At Age 50 To A Career Change And Promotion Within Three Months

This past May, Melinda Chu started as Account Director at IW Group, a marketing agency focused on the Asian-American and multicultural demographics and part of the Interpublic Group of companies. Announcing a new Account Director would normally belong in a press release among advertising firms, but it lands in this career column because it is an unexpected, positive career story: Chu wasn’t in marketing prior to this role; she wasn’t at the Director level in her previous career; and she was unemployed at age 50 before landing this career change. Chu’s successful job search exemplifies several encouraging points for other job seekers:

  • You can bounce back from a layoff
  • You can land a job quickly
  • You can change careers at any age
  • You don’t need to take a pay cut or a step back to change careers

Up until March of this year, Chu was a paralegal at Time Inc for 18 years when she was among the hundreds laid off when Meredith acquired her employer. Longtime active in Asian-American causes, Melinda was on the Board with the Asian Women’s Giving Circle and was a volunteer administrator to the Asian Affinity Roundtable, a collective of employee resource groups serving Asian-American employees of ~60 companies, including Time Inc. She hoped to continue her volunteer work, while looking for her next role.

However, the Asian Affinity Roundtable was for current employees, so Chu figured she would have to step down from the group. She emailed her fellow administrators and offered to stay on. Not only was the group supportive, but several members offered to help Chu in her search. One member introduced Chu to his employer, IW Group, and less than three months from being laid off, Chu has started her new career as Account Director, a promotion and significant salary increase (despite unemployed job-seekers often getting lower job offers) from her previous role.

I networked my way into this job, but I didn’t know it at the time – Melinda Chu

Networking certainly played a pivotal role in Chu’s career change, and this is something all job seekers can do to help their search progress. Here are six more things you can swipe from Chu’s successful job search:

1 – Build your network before you need it

Chu was active in her community and in professional associations, so her network was varied and independent of her current employer. How can you get more involved outside of your immediate area?

2 – Stay active after a layoff

I know other job seekers who isolate themselves after a lay off. If you’re down and need to take some time off, absolutely do so, but you will get more help (and probably feel better) when you’re interacting with others. Chu stayed in touch with her professional groups after her layoff. Who can you reach out to during your job search?

3 – Focus on adding value

Chu did not email her list asking for help, but instead offered her help to the group. Being generous is the best way to demonstrate your value. How can you be helpful to your network?

4 – Start your career change before it’s official

Chu is passionate about working with the Asian-American community, which guided her volunteer and after-workday commitments. This made her a natural fit for the Account Director role, and now even her day job is focused on her interests. If your day job is not (yet!) focused on your passion, how can you incorporate these interests in other ways?

5 – Use your unique skills and expertise in your job search

Chu is a researcher by background and knows the Asian-American demographic from her outside commitments. She tapped her research skill and existing expertise during the long series of interviews. She didn’t just expect her warm introduction to carry her all the way to the offer. How can you bring your unique value to your job search? Are you practicing and preparing throughout the interview process?

6 – Negotiate based on the new role, not your old one

Too many job seekers look at their current salary, add a small amount on top, and use that as the anchor for their next salary negotiation. In the case of a career change, your old salary is not related to your new one, so you risk completing missing your market. Instead, Chu researched salaries for the new role and at the Director level and was confident enough to ask for a salary based on her new market. Do not assume you have to take a pay cut or a step back to change careers. Are you carrying assumptions from your old career to your new one? Have you researched the compensation and career path of your new target career?