A good number of friends, former colleagues and clients of mine in their mid-50’s — all with previous career success — are unemployed and looking for a new job, and most of them have been in search mode for quite a while. Having listened to each of them about their job objective, pursuit approach AND consistent frustration, I’m struck by how seemingly out of touch many are with today’s job market reality. So, in an effort to help accelerate their search — and that of other Baby Boomers — back into the workforce, here’s my no-holds-barred view and advice.
First and foremost, you must recognize and embrace the notion that few employers really want to hire someone of our generation. I know that may sound unfair and even brutal, but it’s the plain, simple truth, and a common sentiment you can’t ignore. Think about it for a second. If you could find a younger, less expensive, more technologically-savvy — and currently employed! — individual with hunger and potential, who wouldn’t choose that individual? And the sooner you accept that fact, and adjust your job pursuit approach accordingly, you will have a better chance of landing that job…and doing so faster. Some attitude adjustment tips:
1. Park the career ego now. That means not pushing compensation requirements, title, reporting structure or common senior-level “perk” considerations such as signing bonus, extra vacation days or severance package. These types of demands are likely to swiftly convince a prospective employer to go in another candidate direction, and leads me to my second point.
2. Your singular focus should be to get the job OFFER. It’s less about the specific job terms and more about seizing greater control of your situation to get back into the workforce. And at this stage of your career, you have very little of that until someone formally commits to hiring you. From there you may be able to negotiate some aspects of the offer package and, in the end, you always have the option of turning it down. But better to be employed in a less-than-ideal situation while you continue to search for a more attractive gig — your marketability is infinitely better if you’re already employed, particularly now.
3. Stay engaged. This advice may sound obvious, but I’m talking about a thoughtful, multi-dimensional strategy.
(a) First and foremost, secure a freelance consulting project or busy yourself with volunteer work that highlights competencies relevant to your job search. Though it’s clearly not a full-time job, you will leave a stronger impression by showing your skills are in demand if you can refer to existing projects. What if you’re not good at selling or marketing your capabilities for freelance projects? There are a growing number of online marketplaces like Upwork that make it remarkably simple to present, promote, price, procure and administratively process such work, both cross-function and industry.
(b) Second, stay regularly connected with your network of relationships: personal and professional, and any professional affiliations/memberships you may have. And while some email, LinkedIn and other social media exchange is efficient and necessary, the personal, face-to-face contact and exchange is strongest, and a better way to develop new relationships that may help you.
(c) Third, don’t dismiss networking events and organizations specifically targeting those in transition because everybody else there is unemployed and looking for a job just like you. Good ones, such as NSENG in the greater Chicago metro area, provide an incredible support group and platform for sharing experiences and expert tips about the job search process, exchanging senior-level contacts, and securing introductions to job leads from prior employer relationships of others.
4. Push hard for continued learning and discovery. The work environment is changing at blinding speed today. Renowned education consultant Heather McGowan, with Work To Learn, may have summed up our current situation best in a recent New York Times article: “When work was predictable and the change rate was relatively predictable, preparation for work merely required the transfer of knowledge and pre-determined skills to create a stable and deployable workforce. Now that the velocity of change has accelerated, due to a combination of exponential growth in technology and globalization, learning can no longer be a set dose of education consumed in the first third of one’s life. The new killer skill set is an agile mindset that values learning over knowing.” And here’s the real rub, research has shown for years that, as we age, we lose some of our learning capacity, and career ambition also takes a hit. This is exacerbated by a drop in the ability and speed to grasp more complex matters, decreasing motivation levels and, of course, memory decline. You need to consciously combat all of these factors by keeping your mind stimulated.
5. Above all else, be authentic. Eliminating dates from your job positions and educational degrees on your resume doesn’t disguise your age; it only magnifies and raises the issue further with their absence. At this stage, it’s really about simply wanting/needing to work, and irrespective of the compensation or status, doing so in an attractive cultural environment that allows you to apply your work passion and skills to make a meaningful difference for an organization. Just be honest and tell that to the interviewer.
Last month I gave this same advice to two dear former colleagues, seemingly at the end of their rope after several months without a serious job lead. While neither has landed just yet, each is now formally interviewing for three open positions. I am confident both will be touching down soon.