Older, Unemployed, and Landing the Job

I was laid off four times in my career before I turned 50. But when it happened again two years ago, I had just turned 59. Getting laid off at that age is a different ballgame. I knew I could bring value to a company, but in moments of frustration during the job hunt, I wondered how long it would take to find another job, and there was always the chance I wouldn’t be able to find one.

In 2011, I was an account executive with Scor Global Life Americas Reinsurance Company, in Plano, Tex., near where I live. When Scor acquired Transamerica Reinsurance, I was laid off along with several other people that October.

At that point I called Mike Pado, a former colleague at Scor who had left the company several months earlier for a job as president and C.E.O. of Aurigen USA Holdings. Aurigen is based in Bermuda, and Mike had been hired to look at starting a life reinsurance company in the United States.

Mike, who works out of Red Bank, N.J., was still in the planning stages for the new venture when I spoke to him. He said that at some point he’d need a person who knew the reinsurance industry and its top executives and could contact them for a snapshot of the United States market. He knew I fit that bill. But he was hoping that the person he hired would also be an actuary. I’m familiar with risk assessment and risk management in that field, but I’m not an actuary. So besides my age, I was worried about that.

I had done a good job at Scor for 12 years, and I was disappointed that I had been laid off. My level of anxiety was fairly high. The Aurigen venture sounded like a great opportunity if it worked out. But the business world often has certain misperceptions about workers 55 and older. Some people think we’re set in our ways, we don’t have the energy we used to have, or that we’ve lost our drive. They may worry about offering us a lower salary than we earned previously. I knew I’d have to address these concerns when job-hunting.

I told Mike I was interested in working for him, and we left it that we’d stay in touch while he continued to develop a business plan and consider a staff for the United States company. In the meantime, I sent out 300 résumés. I heard back from about a third of the companies and had about 12 or 15 interviews, but no luck.

By June 2012, eight months after Mike and I first talked, I still hadn’t found a job. Then Mike called and said he could offer me a three-month position as a marketing consultant, and that we’d see what happened after that. I was excited, but a consulting job was not ideal for me. I told him I would do the best job I could for him but would continue looking for a staff job with benefits, and he understood.

Consulting works well for people who like short-term projects and freedom, but I’ve always liked having a staff job. I like the feeling of belonging, and benefits are important.

I started talking to executives right away to gather the information Mike wanted and help him determine whether there was room for another entrant in the United States life reinsurance industry. I spoke to a vice chairman, 11 company presidents, 25 chief actuaries and 30 life underwriters and sent Aurigen’s annual report to customers and others, sometimes with a handwritten note.

My work helped Mike make a case to his board that another United States life reinsurance company could do well. In October I got the news that Mike’s proposal had been accepted. He was finally able to hire me as an account executive on staff for his new-business development team. I was able to stay in Texas for my new job at Aurigen.

Right after hiring me, Mike had me join him and the Aurigen pricing team at the October 2012 conference of the Society of Actuaries in Washington. Many industry executives attend, and I’d help sell prospective clients on the benefits of working with the new venture.

When word got out that I’d been hired, my former colleagues gave me a warm reception, which was nice. Several welcomed me back to the industry, and one asked about my sales territories. It felt great to know that I hadn’t been forgotten.

Rather than start a new company from scratch, Mike began looking at United States insurance companies to buy, choosing one that Aurigen closed on and renamed this past spring.

Some people might have no problem retiring after being laid off at 59. Maybe they tell themselves it’s not what they would have wanted, but they make the best of it. Or maybe they are ready to retire, so it turned out to be perfect timing. I’ll be 61 in September, but I want to keep working, so getting a chance at this job worked out well for me.

It’s easy to get depressed about being an older job seeker. You have to keep your eyes open, stay focused, and be open to possibilities. You never know when and how an opportunity may come along.

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