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You Lost Your Job at 40 – Now What?

Six months previously

Financial services is often seen as a young person’s game. The cliché goes that banks suck in thousands of college graduates each year and spit out wealthy retirees in their mid-40s, or even earlier.

So what happens when you lose your job at 40+? Is that it? Only if you want to it to be.

What can you offer?

The first thing you need to do is to clarify what you can offer. What’s your value? Focus on what you can bring to a new employer which will make all the difference to their business. Define and articulate your experience in a way that is unique and will differentiate you from the competition.

Your resume

Your resume can reinforce the impression that you are "old." Don’t let it. Use adjectives throughout which emphasize energy, motivation, speed and creativity.

Ensure your resume design tells the reader most about your most recent role. Even if you have a lot of powerful stories about your achievements, taper them so that they become less detailed the further you go back in time. This design tip will subtly emphasize career build, implying you are constantly enhancing your value and have delivered most in your most recent role, thereby suggesting this is the minimum your next employer will get.

Don’t use resume headings like "career history" (perhaps "career to date" is smarter).

Remember that the resume is a marketing document, not a career history. Think about what goes in and what/how you say it. For example, if you were heavily involved in leading the infrastructure integration of a jobber into your then-employer during Big Bang, consider emphasizing the tasks involved and the positive outcome you delivered, rather than specifically time-stamping the activity as during Big Bang.

By this stage in your career, you should avoid reference to secondary education in a resume – people typically decide to interview based on what you did in the last three to five years, and then use earlier information you choose to provide to underpin this decision.

Your extracurricular activities

If you have interests beyond work, consider dropping these into conversations with your network (which will in time include the consultants at head hunters and/or recruiters). Particularly consider sharing interests that underpin your health – sports, etc.

What to say about your age

Don’t talk about age. Don’t ever raise it yourself. Don’t comment on or be drawn into conversations like “this city was better in the '90s or '80s, it was more fun,” etc. Always aim to look to the future.

Anti-ageism laws make it illegal to ask explicitly about your age in an interview, but you may get age-related questions whilst networking. Try to answer these by drawing attention to your experience and its value to a potential employer. You could even ignore the question altogether and draw attention to your experience instead – answering a slightly different question to that asked is the sort of thing politicians do all the time!  Then, move the conversation on seamlessly. It takes practice but can be a useful addition to your toolkit.

If you are ever specifically pushed on your age, don’t be defensive, do not apologize or appear embarrassed, just share it and immediately move to place it in context. Age means valuable experience, etc.


In all conversations, including formal or other interviews as well as when networking, be at your best. Demonstrate energy, enthusiasm and creativity. Be widely read and knowledgeable about your industry sector and trends. Be up to date and have opinions to raise and debate throughout your networking.

Look the part whenever you engage with your network (which includes friends and family), and be at your best. Dress well. Be well groomed. Even if it takes a while to land the next role, do not let standards slip.

Demographics, health and so many indicators point to people being able to make valuable work contributions way beyond traditional retirement ages. And this applies equally to traditional retirement ages in investment banking.

Julian Rye is Head of Consulting Services at Lee Hecht Harrison | DBM.

AUTHORJulian Rye Insider Comment
  • Ca
    3 March 2012

    This is excellent advice -- every point and every word in it. Recalling how much wrong-headed, counterproductive advice I have read on this same topic on a variety of sites over the years (occasionally even on eFC), it came as a very pleasant surprise to see Mr. Rye's views.

    He even taught me something new: "Don't use resume headings like 'career history' (perhaps 'career to date is smarter)." I will now make that tweak on my own resume.

    Jon Jacobs

  • ba
    29 February 2012

    The reason why they publicize lists top professionals under 40 in many industries (law, finance, etc) is that they are the exception in fields which are still dominated and run by those over 40. Give me a break regarding worrying about being 40 or 45 when you are unemployed in the broad banking field. From personal experience, I have yet to meet an experienced, job searching 40 year old on Wall Street who is not enthusiastic, extremely knowledgeable and well-networked. Avoid a resume that makes you seem "old"??? At 40?? Are you kidding me...

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