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 Jumping Back Into the Job Market

by Pamela Stone

Patricia had it made. Her husband, a dentist, was admired professionally in the community. Her children attended private schools. She volunteered for charity functions. And she frequently cruised to the Bahamas on vacation. But, when her husband died suddenly of a heart attack, all this came to an abrupt end.

Patricia, 58, was stunned to learn that her husband, Charles, was in debt, great debt. He had borrowed extensively on his life insurance, leaving her with much less than expected. She also discovered that there was a $40,000 lien on her home, due to a business loss. Not wanting to lose her home, she was forced to earn extra money to pay off the lien. In a few months, she began renting rooms in her four-bedroom home, to help pay the mortgage. She also told her children that they'd have to pay their own way through college. In a panic, she took a low-paying job at a friend's medical office. This friend had once invited Patricia and Charles to many lavish parties.

"This was difficult for me," said Patricia. "I enjoyed the status of being a doctor's wife. It was demeaning because I worked for someone with whom I used to attend social events. Suddenly, I was doing clerical work for this person."

Patricia is not alone. With the high divorce rate and the fact that women outlive their spouses by seven to twelve years, many of us will find ourselves in Patricia's situation.

In "A Woman's Guide to Living Alone: 10 Ways to Survive Grief and Be Happy," (Taylor Publishing, 2001) author Pamela Stone offers help and hope (with a humorous slant) to women who are learning to live alone at a later stage in their lives. In a chapter titled Starting From Scratch, she advises women after a divorce or death to access all resources. "After you discover what you can do, start talking to others and use all your connections," she says. "If you attend church, mosque or synagogue, have you done a good job heading a committee or teaching a class? Can someone there vouch for your character?" When it comes to finding a job, it's not what you know, it's often who you know.

Her book cites a National Center for Health Statistics report that of women married before 1974, at least 50 percent have experienced death or widowhood. A three-year study by columnists Jan Warner and Jan Collins Stucker, authors of a column for divorced, separated or widowed women, also concludes that:

- Only 21 percent of the women respondents knew the family's financial status before divorce.
- 95 percent of those women felt unprepared to deal with the economics of divorce.
- 81 percent of women interviewed were concerned about educating themselves to enter or reenter the workplace.

According to Pamela Stone, women who have read her book ask the following questions about returning to work:

Q - My husband just died and I need to go back to work. Between the cost of paying for his medical and funeral expenses, I am overwhelmed. I know I need to return to work, but when and where do I start?

A - First, allow yourself time to grieve. Then, when you're ready, network, network, network. Let everyone you know that you're interested in finding a job. Pretend you are a detective looking for clues, and don't be afraid to ask others to join in your job search. Budget your time wisely. During working hours, don't rewrite your resume. Save that for evening hours. Spend time making calls and contacts or attending professional meetings. Call friends, friends of friends, or former co-workers and relatives, business acquaintances, job search firms, career counselors and professional organizations. If you can't reach them by phone or email, arrange face-to-face meetings. Don't leave a stone unturned. Seek everyone's help. Remember, this is a numbers game, the more people you contact, the better your chance of landing a job. Did you know that most people find a job through people they know?

Q- Although I had a position in the telecommunications field, I haven't worked outside the home since my husband became ill. I'm having a hard time working up the nerve to interview. What do I do about this?

A - Try the informational interview. Ask an employer if you could visit for an informational interview. This allows you to identify potential positions not filled through search firms. These interviews allow you to ask an employer all about their company, so you can see if your skills match their needs. It also allows you to be in control of the interview. You ask the questions which the employer answers. It's an easier way to see if you'd be a good match for the firm, as well as allowing the employer to get to know you in a less formal setting.

Q - I have a ten-year gap in my resume where I worked part-time and stayed home with my children. How should I handle this?

A - Don't be shy. Mention achievements in your past and don't be afraid to describe volunteer work. Did you raise $10,000 for the PTA? Did you edit a non-profit newsletter, or head the local drive for muscular dystrophy? Have you worked in a political campaign? Or, did you assist in special education classes or give a speech at your grandchild's school? All these efforts illustrate your organizational and performance skills. Don't feel like you have to tell your whole life history. Concentrate on the last five years. And, in the meantime, update your computer skills and research and read professional journals in your field. Also, don't apologize for staying out of the workforce. Be proud of your time spent home caring for your family.

Q - How do I position myself in the marketplace, so I can appropriately sell my skills?

A - Once you identify your marketable skills, ask yourself which skills you most enjoy and how they could support you financially. Remember, your marketable skills can be transferable skills. For instance, volunteer work is a perfect match for the non-profit sector, which may enable you to move into an position in a non-profit area.

Q- I'm suddenly single after a divorce. Although I'm employed, I realize that my mortgage requires two paychecks, so I need to look for a new job that pays more. But I'm so stressed with paying bills on time and caring for my own emotional needs, that I find it difficult to begin the job search. What should I do?

A - Get together with individuals who have successfully overcome adversity in their lives. Select an old friend, someone you know and someone you don't know. Meet with them once a week and tell them your plans. Ask them to hold you accountable for your goals and expectations - and not to let you off the hook.

Q - I live in a small, rural area andI think I need to move in order to find a better job. Should I relocate?

A - Investigate the employment marketplace in your area to determine if there are enough job openings. If you are offered a position in another locale, examine salary, benefits, moving costs and cost of living expenses. Be cautious in making your evaluation. Did you know that renting a moving van will not be your only cost? Ask yourself if your furniture fits into your new house or apartment. What about adequate shopping centers, schools, hospitals or safe neighborhoods? Determine the resale value of your new home. If you were forced to move again, could you sell it at a profit?

Q - After the death of my husband due to a long illness, I want a change, any change. If I decide to relocate, how will I know if I'm prepared for that change?

A - After a divorce or death, you may feel as though you're spinning out of control. But before you make any major decisions about moving or finances, think out things rationally. Women over 65 may have a more difficult time moving than younger women. Remaining near what's familiar may prove beneficial, like a weekly bridge game, or your neighborhood, cleaners, beauty shop or house of worship. While looking for a job, you may need more money in order to look for that new position. If this is your situation, consider selling your home. According to experts, single women have a difficult time holding onto their house with only one paycheck. Selling and liquidating the capital may free you up.

Q - I've just lost my husband, and I'm in a rush to get my finances in order. In fact, I feel like I need a job now! What should I do?

A - Take your time. Allow at least a year before you make any serious financial decisions. Don't let his death force you into a job prematurely. Did you know that the average job hunt is about 4.5 months -- and it's not unusual for a job hunt to last about 9 months, depending on the salary you expect? How are you going to survive for months without work?

Here are some things you can do: If you're divorcing, request necessary funds in the divorce decree to cover your job hunting costs, which are also tax deductible. If your husband just died, rely on his social security (for which you should apply immediately upon his death).

In addition, try temporary work. This can provide great training for women returning to the work force. You can often select your own hours, as well as choose what type of work you prefer. Also, temporary work allows you to 'try out a company,' giving you the opportunity to see if you'd like to work there permanently. Temporary work is great for retirees too. Some temp companies also provide insurance and health benefits.

SIDEBAR: JOB-HUNTING TIPS >>


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