If you, like me, are a baby boomer, there must be days when you look around the room and start to feel like you are surrounded by kids. There are more of them, and less of us, with each passing month. And it is only going to accelerate – it will never slow down – so if you are over 50 and are out there looking for a new job, be prepared. This is not your father’s job market. It isn’t the job market you grew up in either.
What it is is a whole new ball game. And if you play by yesterday’s rules, you are going to be left in the dust. But don’t despair. You can still navigate your career, still make changes and still transition and transform your professional life — as long as you change your approach.
It isn’t about sending out resumes. If you are going to try to explore a career transition, you need to create a go-to-market plan and then you need to go out and execute it. Consider the following strategies:
• Start by developing an understanding of what you are a master of. A master is a subject matter expert and SME is the holy grail of hiring. Back when we started, a generalist was a wonderful luxury. You could run accounting and also do HR. How incredible. What a value. It’s a deal. But today, that isn’t how the hiring manager reads things. A generalist is a specialist at nothing. So understand what you are an expert in and craft an approach that celebrates that expertise.
• You need to link that expertise to either an increase in top-line revenues or bottom-line profitability. It is all about ROI — not what you did, but the impact that you made. If you are a CFO, don’t just list “negotiates bank lines of credit” on your resume. List “negotiates below-market lines of credit resulting in interest savings of over $250,000 per year.” That is a celebration of expertise and mastery.
• It isn’t how old you are. It is how old you come across. I don’t believe that there is truly age discrimination out there. There is, however, discrimination against low levels of energy. If you are over 50 and all you do is yawn, you may be too tired for the job. But if you engage with passion and energy and they have a hard time keeping up with your facile mind, then you can still blow them away.
• Dress for success. What does that mean? Don’t look old. Don’t wear a tie that your kid bought you when he was in third grade and he is now 34. That tie may just be a bit dated no matter how great the sentimental attachment. While you are at it, don’t wear a tie at all, or a suit. Find out what the expected attire is. But don’t dress like you are 24 either — no jeans or T-shirts. Dress with respect. Wear a pair of dockers and a dress shirt and a sports coat. If you are a woman, that is a more complex zone to explore, but for men, this is fairly simple.
• You are who you are. Don’t try to become a millennial at this point. It isn’t going to happen. Leaving out the first 15 years of your career and your college graduation date isn’t going to fool anyone once they meet you, so why try? There was a time in your career when you were the boy or girl wonder, but those days have passed and you can’t sell yourself as the rising star anymore. But you can sell yourself as the voice of experience, with the gray hair and scars of battle having taught you more than your millennial peers can hope to understand.
• You are who you are (part 2). It may sound romantic to completely reinvent yourself at this late stage of your professional career, and you certainly are allowed to do whatever you want. But remember that your value is a product of experience, expertise and your ability to make an impact. If you are going to reinvent yourself, be prepared to either take a huge cut in pay and start at the bottom again, or you need to be able to demonstrate how the skills you have mastered are applicable directly to the situation you are pursuing.
• Yes, you need a resume. But you also need a vibrant presentation of all of the above on LinkedIn. When all is said and done, understand that the resume and the LinkedIn profile are just window dressing. You have to sell you. Interviewing is a sales sport. And you are more likely to get interviews by networking than you are responding to all the LinkedIn opportunities in the universe. Use your network. Get it to open doors, identify needs and position you as an expert.
The ball game isn’t really all that different after all. You just need to spin your approach and you can still find a new job, make a bigger impact and make changes. Don’t be shy. Use your experience and your wisdom that differentiates you from the younger set. You may still strike out a couple of times, but hone your approach and get ready to swing for the fences when you truly connect.
Don Zinn is a baby boomer who transformed his career at age 50, moving from being an entrepreneur in the tech space to becoming an executive search consultant. He is a vice president—executive search with StevenDouglas, a national recruiting boutique executive search and interim resources firm with 15 offices nationally including one in Tarrytown. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.