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Setback at work? Here's how to regain your confidence

Young businesswoman upset at work

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In her 30s, Barbara Moses had such a terrible boss, working for him left her self-confidence shattered. She eventually had to quit the job and pick up the pieces of her career.

Most people will have some sort of negative work experience during their careers. Whether it's an abusive manager, a job loss or an embarrassment at work, it can lead to what Ms. Moses calls a "crippling crisis of self-confidence."

Ms. Moses joined Globe Careers readers for an online discussion about how to deal with bad work experiences that cause people to lose confidence at work. Ms. Moses, president of BBM Human Resource Consultants Inc., is a work-life expert, a regular contributor to The Globe and Mail's Careers section, and author of several best-selling books, including her latest, Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships and the Rest of Life.

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You can replay the discussion in the box below.


Globe Careers: Thanks for joining Globe Careers for a one-hour discussion with work-life expert Barbara Moses. Barbara will begin answering questions at noon (ET), and you can submit your questions for her now.


Comment From Barbara Moses

Thanks for having me. I am looking forward to hearing readers' concerns.


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Comment From mini

How do I best explain a 1 yearr gap on my resume spent job hunting?


Barbara Moses: It is very common today, especially for mid life and older workers, to be between jobs for more than a year. If you are talking about how to explain it on your resume, I would simply not address it. It will be obvious that you lost your job. However if you took courses during period or did an occasional consulting assignment, you should definitely show them. ...


Barbara Moses: In an interview simply indicate you were actively job searching. Nothing to be ashamed of- employers understand.

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Globe Careers:  [Comment From Guest: ]

I'm 50 and the Academic I've work for for the last 19 years is getting close to retiring! Should I retrain or try and stay focused on a lateral move. FYI, I work in basic research!


Barbara Moses: That depends entirely on what you do for a living and how transferable your skills are. As a general rule, people who retrain at an older age are less successful in making a full career transition than younger conterparts. You might be better off leveraging skills you already have in your repertoire and re-packaging them in new ways.


Comment From Kingkaid

I was wondering how best to transition between careers. I used to work in a small company where my title sounded bad, however the work experience I gained was much greater. What is the best way to have people see past the title?


Barbara Moses: Some people actually give themselves a title which better captures what they actually did, or describe your work with a generic heading such as Managed ABC unit


Comment From Guest

Hello, in the IT industry will they even give a help desk position for an overqualified 40 year old? Heard ageism is rampant in that industry.


Barbara Moses: I am not an expert on that industry, but I can't imagine why they would be different than others. I know several older workers who were downsized from big jobs and took call centre jobs. What they care about is reliability and being intelligently responsive.


Comment From mark

I am 57 , male, fired for cause (political and economic) with a wrongful dismissal suit after 21 years of solid performance in a healthcare management position and when I am interviewing for new management positions feel anxious about the health of the future team and the true management style of the future senior leadership. Notwithstanding some PTSD from being fired how can one get a good assessment of the management culture and team health? If I am asking this question would this be a sign it is too early for this kind of position?


Barbara Moses: Once burnt, twice shy. Employers respect candidates who do their due diligence- asking questions about culture shows an awareness of your desire to have a good fit with your employer- which is important to the employer.


Barbara Moses: Be careful how you phrase these questions. You don't want to come across as obnoxious or arrogant. But simply as some-one who is interested.


Globe Careers: Barbara, can you comment on this reader's remarks:

When you are demoted it means that the company wants you to leave and will make your life miserable until you take the hint. It's not about being lucky to have a job. I have seen people bullied out of the workplace by being given horrible jobs like on-call 24/7 with no overtime pay for e.g.


Barbara Moses: Sometimes what you say is true, but not always. But if this happens to you or some-one you know, I would advise them to start looking for another job rather than take abuse. No job is worth it in terms of the price you pay to psychological well-being.


Globe Careers: When does age discrimination start to set in? What is mid-life?


Barbara Moses: It depends on the industry sector, how you look, and how you present yourself. Some people experience it as early as their early 40s. For most it kicks in in late 40s or 50s. Why? Because employers sometimes think they can hire someone younger and cheaper who has more of what is called "run-way"(if the company invests in them they will reap rewards for a longer time.)


Globe Careers: How can people overcome age discrimination in the workplace?


Barbara Moses: By making yourself a valued commodity. If you display bitterness or start to share old war stories, people may not want to work with you. On the other hand, if you are talented, support the development of younger workers, and act as a mentor- you will be more likely to be appreciated.


Comment From Elizabeth

Hi Barbara, I also work in academia and have recently been demoted and reassigned, although my pay rate was unaffected. I've also been told that I should stop volunteering for committee work etc. in order to give younger staff more opportunities for development. Other colleagues of similar age report they have received subtle & not-so subtle messages they should consider retirement or leaving, so there seems to be a systemic "cleaning house" mentality. What coping strategies would you suggest for us?


Barbara Moses: You should modify, but not completely withdraw, from volunteer activities. Show how you can be an asset to younger colleagues. Show how you want to make room for them but that you still have a career and a role to play and something to offer.


Comment From Guest

I am a former director at a high tech firm who, following severe layoffs, found a government job with less senior responsibilities however also with half the pay. Stability is important to me as I have a young family. Am I kidding myself that any job is stable? The environment now is much healthier as is my work-life balance. However, I sometimes wonder if I should pursue a higher paying job in the tech industry which would undoubtedly come with a price tag in terms of quality of life.


Barbara Moses: I think you have demonstrated an awareness of the issues and your own personal needs. Every job and opportunity provides rewards and trade-offs. If you can afford your current lifestyle, and are happy to have your family needs and stability desires met, why would you leave?

Comment From Lin

I was restructured out of my position, high pressure, long days, BBerry tied to the hip, What is the best way to express during an interview that I do not wish to be at the top of the totem pole any longer and life-work balance is more important than the


Barbara Moses: You expressed it quite poetically here. I was sold!


Barbara Moses: Employers understand that not everyone wants to pay the price for the brass ring. And many employers will welcome your honesty, as long as you communicate that you care about your work and being engaged.


Globe Careers: What factors should people consider if they've been demoted later in life?


Barbara Moses: I would look at what opportunities this demotion liberates. For example, many who have taken a demotion talk about having more time for family and welcome being liberated from concerns about staffers' egos, time pressures, lack of resources. Your challenge is to not ct like you have swallowed a bitter pill and rue the unfairness. Obviously money may be an issue, but I have found that people often over-estimate how much money they really need, and once they get over the shock and do a realistic assessment of current financial requirements realize that with some small adjustments in lifestyle spending that they are not being hugely disadvantaged. Remember, many older workers have few financial commitment in terms of mortgages and kids' tuition than they did when they were younger. Unfortunately many don't take the time to actually look at current financial needs, instead operating from an ossified script of previous needs....


Barbara Moses: You also need to come to terms with the loss of status, being a "formerly important person" as some have described The good news is that if people age gracefully they usually don't have the same ego and status needs. Instead of measuring worth in terms of job title or stock options, they evaluate their happiness in terms of giving back or doing work in tune with values.


Comment From J Henry

There is a real emphasis on the CEO being youthful now too which pushes the age issue. And an emphasis on the 'Best under 40' etc. Why not just value the best period?


Barbara Moses: I agree! Unfortunately everyone seems to be having a love affair with youth which makes many older workers feel shabby .


Comment From Lesley

How do I explain a demotion at my last job to a prospective employer?


Barbara Moses: The wording of your question implies that it is something shameful. And if you believe this and act that way, it is something shameful.


Barbara Moses: But in fact there is nothing to be ashamed. People take demotions for many reasons. Everyone understand that times are tough. But some people actually choose demotions in order to free up head space to devote to things which are important to them. For example, in my last book many very accomplished women said they chose smaller jobs so they could pursue hobbies, volunteer activities, look after relatives, and so on. Not only did they not regret these decisions, they were extremely proud of them.


Comment From Louisa M.

My demotion has left me so demoralized I've considered throwing in the towel. Your advice would be appreciated.


Barbara Moses: Why has it left you so demoralized? List the reasons- shame in front of colleagues/friends? Feeling you disappointed a parent? Loss of status? Drill down to identify the real reasons. And then counter those self-statements- People will think less of me, for example- with a more truthful statement. For example, How do you know people will think less of you? Do you want to be liked because of your job?...


Barbara Moses: If these feeling of depression persist, I suggest you consult a counsellor who can help you work through the issues and come to terms with them. Good luck.


Comment From TD

Barbara, would going the contract route be a means of mitigating the effects of ageism and potentially overcoming the effects of a demotion? I ask this because the company should then be evaluating you on the basis of what you can bring to them for that contract period and they don't have to take into consideration other aspects which would go along with being a full time employee. Also, a demotion does not necessarily have to be indicated if you are selling your skills and not your position. Thoughts on this? Thanks.


Barbara Moses: I agree with you. many feel that contract wok gives them an opportunity to say, "I am renting my skills. I will show how good they are." From the company point of view, there is less investment and concern about your "run way" potential. This can be win win, in other words.


Comment From Denise

Barbara, what's your advice to those of us who are mid-life and haven't made it to the management level? I've put my family and work-life balance first, am now in my late-30s, and I'm wondering whether it's too late to show the dedication and enthusiasm that's required to be noticed as a star employee. It seems the company only wants to provide development opportunities to those who have been labelled high achievers.


Barbara Moses: I know many women who devoted their late twenties and thirties to family, and then turned around and said, "It's my time now." They went back and did indeed climb the ladder. You need to communicate to your boss that that is your wish. If your organization does not accept that, it may be time for you to look for another employer. Savvy employers recognize increasingly that many women cycle in and out of intense career engagement.


Comment From J Henry

Was going to add an idea might be to find cos that don't subscribe to the latest management fads and have older CEOs, hence likely an older management structure. Also I think a boss only 10 yrs younger works ok. It is the first time managers at 30 who have no clue about anything. They only want to hire younger employees as they fear an older employee might be more knowledgeable and a threat. They also want to be able to showcase the management skills they learned in school on 20-somethings supposedly developing mercurial superstars. Right. Work is all about empire building not employee development or proper utilization.


Barbara Moses: You certainly have a jaundiced view of the work world. I think as in anything else, there are jerks. But overall i don't agree with your assessment.


Globe Careers: Are there gender differences in terms of who is most likely to be demoted?


Barbara Moses: I would answer this with a more general statement- I think men are more disadvantaged than women are. many recruiters have told me, off the record, that if they had a choice between an older man and woman, all things being equal they would lean towards the woman...


Barbara Moses: Why? They said men do not demonstrate the same charm and emotional intelligence. For example, one said that when a man is fired he tends to present as being bitter. When a woman is fired, she tends to present as being thoughtful but ultimately more accepting. Less bitterness in other words, because men's sense of self is more tied to their work identity, while women tend to define themselves more broadly in terms of family, community, hobbies, friends, and so on.

Comment From Will

At what point do you throw in the towel, take a step back? Are there tell-tale signs that your time in the spotlight is over?


Barbara Moses: I don't know what you mean by throw in the towel. Just because your time in the limelight is over, it doesn't mean you should pack your bags. This may be a good time to reflect on how you want to design your next life chapter. Many learn when they do a rigorous self-assessment that being "IT" is no longer very rewarding, and they actually don't particularly care about that any more.


Comment From Will

What I mean is, at what point should you take a hint and stop trying to be the top dog?


Barbara Moses: I guess when others no longer see you as the top dog, or you don't want to be the top dog. In terms of the former- you can't fight reality. If for various reasons you star has fallen, you need to take note, and ask yourself: Now what? Fighting back will just make you bitter but won't solve anything.


Comment From Lin.

I'm interested in finding out why a woman being at an advantage? I would have assume the other way around based on my past employer's practices? Which seem to have more of the female workforce being let go or re-organized.


Barbara Moses: Well it certainly depends on the sector. If you are in a male-dominated sector such as engineering or manufacturing, investment banking, men may be at an advantage. But women tend to show greater interpersonal poise and their interest in others are strong selling points....


Barbara Moses: When an company is hiring a leader they are looking for someone who is emotionally generous, has less ego stake, and wants to develop younger workers. Women tend to excel on those dimensions.


Comment From mark

Can you suggest a rigorous self-assessment tool that would get one closer to the truth.i.e. top ten questions to ask oneself or by a job coach?


Barbara Moses: Ummm- this is a tough one, because I have written a book which does that and I also have an online career tool. That said, anything which provokes thought and provides you with an economical way of describing your strengths, values, work preferences, best/work environments, key work themes, and so on will do the trick.


Globe Careers: Barbara, what do you think about this reader's comments:

The consensus of opinion is, by 50 you have gone as far as your going to go in the corporate world. You either are in very senior position, or on the list to see the door. Little is in between.


Barbara Moses: I think it is true that you have likely gone as far as you can with your employer unless you are in a very senior role. But I don't think it is true that you are on the list to leave if you haven't attained that. Employers recognize and value smart competent self-managing people. they need people who are not necessarily stars but who can do a great job.


Globe Careers: That's all the time we have for questions today. Barbara, is there anything you'd like to add?


Barbara Moses: There are some tough realities today which can be a bitter pill to swallow, but these realities can also open up opportunities. Define your broadly and independently of your job titles. you play many roles in life- derive satisfaction from them.


Barbara Moses: Thank you for having me, and thank you readers for your great questions.


Globe Careers: Barbara, thank you for your time and insightful answers today. You can find columns by Barbara Moses on

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