Offering Hand Up : Middle-Age Executives Who Need a Job Find Support at Forty Plus


After his employer, a Santa Ana commercial mortgage brokerage, cut his executive job on New Year’s Eve, Frank Schiendler hit the streets looking for work.

He expected setbacks because of the economy, but the Laguna Hills resident wasn’t prepared for the months of dejection and discouragement that followed.

“I knew I was qualified, I knew I could do the job, and I knew it wasn’t my age,” said Schiendler, 51, who had lost a job paying more than $50,000 a year. “But I also knew something was missing. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I had to make a change if I wanted to make it back.”


To make that change, Schiendler in April sought the help of Forty Plus, a nonprofit organization that gives middle-age, unemployed executives a refresher in job-hunting skills. Those helped by the Laguna Hills branch of the organization, who are referred to as clients or members, are at least 40 and have left jobs with annual salaries of $40,000 or more.

“I came here, and everything changed,” Schiendler said. “When I came here, I didn’t have focus and the days were just going by; I wasn’t getting anything done.”

Schiendler, who is still seeking a job similar to his last post, said the interview-polishing techniques he learned from the all-volunteer staff at Forty Plus have taken much of the awkwardness out of approaching potential employers. He also said the amenities at the organization’s office--which include a library, an answering service, 24-hour access to personal computers, a laser printer and a fax machine--have made it easier organize his job hunt.

“It’s allowed me to treat it like a job,” he said. “I get up and I have a place to go, a place to work where I’m surrounded by business people. It’s like a group of professionals helping each other restore some of their self-worth and self-esteem. I’m confident now that I will find a job.”

Besides emotional support, Forty Plus clients help each other in more tangible ways, said Lynn Van Mullem, vice president of operations. Classes are held to assist with writing technique, salary negotiation and ways to keep a new job. After three weeks of seminars, on topics from resume preparation to computer literacy, the clients “graduate” and are then required to contribute some of their time as trainers for the next crop of job-seekers.

“There are no paid employees here, every job is done by volunteers,” Van Mullem said. Along with a $495 sign-up fee and $60 a month that goes toward operating expenses, each client also agrees to work 16 hours each week in the Forty Plus office. Van Mullem, who herself is seeking another job in sales and marketing, said most jobless executives stay involved with 40 Plus for three to four months before finding work.


The cost and commitment pale in comparison to the benefits, said Roy Colquhoun, who also lost his job in a business retrenchment. A former general manager at a Tustin electronics stamping company, Colquhoun was at Forty Plus seven weeks and four days before one of the nearly 100 letters he prepared with the program’s guidance led to a new job.

“I really needed this place,” a beaming Colquhoun told a dozen prospective members, most dressed in blue suits and sporting tinges of gray at their temples. Earlier that same morning he had received the call offering him his new position as a vice president at a Santa Ana manufacturing company.

“I was out of work for four months, and I was staying home a lot, and it was hard to get going in the mornings,” Colquhoun said. “I would run errands or something, and before I knew it, it was late afternoon. I was losing my days.”

In addition to the focused work environment, Colquhoun lauded the program’s mock job interviews, which are videotaped and critiqued, and the networking with peers, which he considers the strengths of Forty Plus.

“This, all of this, gave me the turnaround I needed,” he said.

Despite a strong placement percentage--of the Laguna Hills branch’s 65 clients signed up so far this year, 37 have received full-time jobs--treasurer Dennis Faulkner said the organization is surprisingly unknown. Forty Plus began in New York 54 years ago and has been in Southern California since 1955, but is still operating as a relatively well-kept secret.