What Real Estate Can Teach Older Workers about Finding Great Jobs

Are you over fifty and worried about your chances of finding a good job is a bad economy?  While it’s challenging for anyone to job search these days, my observation is that your chances are as good as your younger competition if you position yourself strategically.

I like to compare the process to selling your older house in a down market.  While there is always a market for new construction, there are also buyers looking for – and willing to pay more for — well-preserved houses with character and curb appeal in established neighborhoods. 

Let’s look at the home-to-person comparison for each of these characteristics:

Well-preserved

Older houses that command top dollar have been consistently maintained; key systems have been updated or restored.  Everything works. Prospective buyers don’t have to wonder if they will need to replace the roof or plumbing systems after they stretch to afford the home price.  They can picture themselves opening the door and being comfortable living there right away.

As a prospective employee, you bring a package of skills to the table.  Are they current?  Have you kept up as your field evolves?  Can you apply your skills with all the new technological skills available?  Can you use LinkedIn and other professional bulletin boards to network and apply for jobs?  Have you kept up with the kinds of communications software used in your field?  All of these add up to make a prospective employer feel you’d be a great fit for their organization.

Character

Buyers remember and return to re-view(and bid on!) the hand-turned banisters, built-in book cases, cozy window seats, well-tended perennial garden; the things that set one house apart from the dozens of others they’ve seen.  If those things that the owner has customized speak to the prospective buyer, the property sells itself.

For a job candidate, it’s the “Wow” factor.  What sets you apart from the dozens of other candidates she’ll review this week is: how much care have you taken in applying for THIS position?  Do you know what your prospective employer does?  Are you up-to-date on the issues facing the field you are entering?  Can you describe succinctly how your skills and experience can help this employer solve his biggest problems or achieve her mission-driven goals.  If you’re changing fields, does your cover letter connect the dots between what the position requires and your unique skills and experience?  This is where your experience gives you the edge over less seasoned candidates IF you can prove how you can use it to help your new employer succeed.

Curb Appeal

Home sellers have learned from the design folks on HG TV the importance of the first impression.  Home stylists now advise desperate sellers on everything from their house’s color and front door style to the eliminating the clutter in their kitchen cabinets and softening the color of their drapes.  Staging has become big business because marketing gurus have demonstrated that prospective buyers have little imagination to see through to a home’s “great bones” if they’re obscured by personal clutter.  The singular message of these designers is you want no obstacles that prevent a would-be buyer from seeing that their stuff fits in your house.

Many older workers fixate on the image issue.  I’ve heard many folks obsessing on whether they look young and “with it” enough; whether their wardrobe is job hunt-worthy—even whether they need to invest in cosmetic surgery to look like they’ll fit in.  While it does matter that you make a great first impression if you interview, it’s important to remember you make several first impressions before you walk in the door, and you may not get to walk in the door if you blow them.  Here are a few tips with remedies you may not have considered:

  • Your resume needs to be impeccable—formatted perfectly: lots of white space, well-organized, no typos, no grammar glitches.  If you can’t do it yourself, find someone to help you.  Remember that there is so much competition right now that this is an easy disqualifier.
  • Do take the time to write a cover letter that specifically makes the connections between your experience and the skills that the employer is seeking.  Because not everyone does this, it helps your application stand out in the crowd.
  • Remember that there’s the impression you’re trying to make and the electronic image that’s in cyberspace already.  Employers can research you as well as you can research them. More and more companies are checking out job applicants on the internet before meeting them face to face.   Google yourself.  What comes up?  Is your professional profile current?  Not having one is not an advantage either, since it DOES date you!  At least, establish a LinkedIn page and get a few endorsements.   Is your Facebook presence something you’d be comfortable having the HR department review?    Younger candidates may worry more about indiscretions surfacing, but mature applicants need to pay attention as well.  Is there a vital, interesting adult there, or is your site a repository for grandchildren pictures and kitty videos? If it all seems pretty trite, change the privacy settings to restrict access.
  • Many employers use phone interviews prior to bringing in candidates for face-to-face interviews.  If you’re invited for a phone interview, make sure the time you set allows you quiet and privacy.  Your first impression phone-wise needs to be calm, focused and articulate.  Review the ad you responded to and any research you may have done on the company before you get on the phone. Have a copy of the resume and cover letter you sent in case there are specific questions about something you wrote.  Be sure to have one or two questions ready to ask your interviewer.

If you successfully jump these first impression hurdles, you’ve already provided two-thirds of your “curb appeal” test, without investing in Botox or a new wardrobe!

In deciding how to dress for an interview, the key criteria should be well-groomed, fitting and professional.  These never go out of style.  If an outfit fits well and feels comfortable you’re going to come across as relaxed and confident; timeless characteristics!  “Professional” means something different in different fields, but in general, you should dress slightly more formally for an interview than you would expect to dress on the job.  Unless you’re interviewing in the fashion industry, it shouldn’t be your outfit that sets you apart from other candidates.  Your clothes should be the neutral backdrop that allows your poise, personality and skills to shine through!

Established Neighborhood

We frequently hear “location, location, location” is key to real estate sales.  When folks buy a home, they want to know how it will help them fit into the community fabric.  A savvy real estate agent drives the prospective buyer through the neighborhood to highlight certain elements.  The families the kids will go to school with, the playgrounds and coffee shops and walking paths all add to the value of the property.  Community history, values and amenities can change the story buyers tell themselves about their potential to live “happily ever after” in a particular home.

As a mature worker, you too exist within a context that tells a story about how “happily ever after” you will make your employer.  The story you tell is through your work experience.  Unlike your less experienced competition, you have different ways you can tell your story beyond a straight chronological sequence.  You can tell the last 15 years of your history, if that’s where your most significant professional experience lies.  You can highlight those positions that relate directly to the job for which you are applying.

Knowing your resume only has a reviewer’s attention for 30-60 seconds, you want to focus on those elements that best qualify you for the job and paint that picture of your experience, so it can be quickly and easily grasped.  What you say about what you did and the roles you played will enhance your desirability or detract from it.  It isn’t enough to say, for instance, that you worked as a project manager at NASA—how did you contribute to the Mars landing?  Like Zelig, you want to show that you were “located” in the middle of the action and played a key role in achieving the success of the institution you served.  You want the skills you highlight to show the timeliness of your accomplishments and the perspective provided by your experience.

In summary:

Well-preserved = up-to-date skills maintained

Character = demonstrating how skills are custom-fit for this position

Curb appeal = crisp resume/cover letter appearance + professional web presence + calm, professional phone presence + well-groomed, fitting, professional appearance

Well-established neighborhood = making your experience tell your story in a way that makes the reviewer feel you’re accomplished and seasoned.

If you present yourself as the valuable property that you are—you might not just get a great job—you might set off a bidding war!

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Going from “What Now?” to “Now!”

I just came back from visiting my daughter in Texas and I want to share a career “aha” she taught me during this visit.  Since the birth of her twins 2 years ago, Sarah hasn’t worked outside the home.  After a decade in retail sales, four years of which she excelled as the manager of a large cosmetics counter, she knew she needed to do something, but  daycare for 2 infants wasn’t a cost she could take on.  Last year, she became  a mompreneur and began selling Discovery Toys and Scensey.  After a year, she isn’t where she wants to be in terms of profit.  Sarah’s pretty practical and so she had establishedsome goals  for herself, analyzed what the real costs of the business were, and decided it wasn’t just the growing pains of a new business that were holding her back.   She projected the sales increase she’d need to make her financial goal and determined it was time for a change.  When she told me this, I was pretty skeptical.  I thought she should give it more time.

“Now,” she told me, “I realize how the financial structure of the business impacts my ability to earn.  I didn’t know what the ins and outs were then.  I do now.” She took that confidence and her experience in selling cosmetics and is now an Arbonne consultant.  She held her first 2 parties at her home while I was visiting and sales seem to be going great guns.

sometimes you just know when it’s time to move forward.  My “aha” was the realization that in those situations, when you’re being led by heart or Spirit, cautiously taking it slow isn’t a virtue–it just saps your energy and blunts your resolve. Changing gears in our careers takes energy and boldness.  We need to capitalize on those moments of clarity and inspiration when we  experience them and use them to propel us from dissatisfaction to joy!

This doesn’t mean quitting our jobs today and becoming Marco Polo.  It does mean we need to stop contemplating and take a step – any step that our hearts tells us is right – toward something we’re dreaming about.  That step can be in any direction–right or wrong, we’ll learn something about making the dream come true.

Seven Steps to Finding Your Niche

Wow! It’s been an amazingly busy week, but I promised the folks who attended my workshop I’d get to these tips before the week was out– and it’s out!  These are self-evident, but not the first things folks think about when they start their search for a wonderful new career– or a wonderful new volunteer position — that will give them the sense of creative fulfillment and soul-satisfying purpose that eludes so many of us.

For each one, I’ll explain a bit about the step and suggest an action step you can take. Practically, the action steps take time, so I’ll do 3 now and 4 more later.

1.  Know your passion and what you have you offer

Notice this doesn’t start with “see what’s available, and settle for the least disagreeable alternative.”  Even in this crazy, terrible economy, there are opportunities, but there are fewer good ones if we wait for others to define them for us.  When someone posts a want ad, they’ve already narrowed our possibilities.  If we know both what we are excited and passionate about doing– what we would even do for free, if someone would just let us, our energy and enthusiasm and fire can be very persuasive.  If we add to that a real confidence in our skills and what we have to offer, based on a proven track record, we become pretty desirable.  (More about that when we get to #7.)

To start, we need to assess specifically what we want and what our skills and knowledge bases are.  This assessment gives us the ability to be articulate, flexible and elegant in how we market ourselves

Action: Take some time to fully assess yourself.  Write down your accomplishments and specifically what you did to be successful.  Brainstorm your skills.  Look eyond the roles you’ve played at work.  Take in all of your life’s accomplishments.  Ask friends and colleagues what they think your skills are.  Let that fire inside ignite!  Use that excitement to energize your search and help you be more proactive in finding the opportunities that promise more “AHH”  than “BLAH”

2.  Talk to people who are doing what you want to do. 

We tend to keep these dreams to ourselves and this doesn’t serve us well.  One of the first steps to finding ways to “road test” your dream is to ask people who are doing what you’d like to do how they got there — and what the real ups and downs of it are.  If you could sit down with someone who epitomizes what you want to do, and you had 20 minutes to pick their brain, with no pride, no ego, no defensiveness or competition to concern you, what would you like to know?  This makes many of us cringe, I know!   It exposes our tender dream to potential ridicule.  It points out that we’re not in the club yet.  We imagine that the insiders will jealously guard the real story to prevent us from competing with them.  But the secret is, most folks are amazingly generous when asked to provide information and perspective!  If they love what they do, they love to talk about it.  Most truly smart people know that their fields need to encourage new professionals and they’re flattered to be asked.

Action:  Once you have 3-6 good, meaty questions, figure out who in your city or town does work close to your dream work, and call and ask for a few minutes of their time.  It can be an in-person interview or over the phone.  Make it clear that you’re doing some research and that you’re looking for information.  This is not a sneaky way to get a job interview– you need to focus on people doing the work you want to do–not necessarily the executives who make hiring decisions.  Make sure you talk to at least 3-5 people who do some version of your dream position in different arenas or settings, so you get a wide perspective.

3.  Find a way to “test drive” your skills in the environment you want to work in

This might be volunteering, or interning or doing temp work, but it’s really helpful to have some real work experience– either using your strong suit skills in an new field or using new skills ina familiar environment —  before you start your search in earnest.

Action:  This might be one of your informational interview questions for #2!  It’s also helpful to talk to lots of peopple–friends, family, colleagues– and let them know you’re looking for the opportunity to test out your interest in a particular field or organization.  Say it more than once,  Practice saying it clearly and concisely and specifically ask them if they have any suggestions of who you might talk to or where you might look for these opportunities.

What’s the biggest challenge in taking these 3 actions?  What keeps you from finding your perfect niche?

When is a Boomer Like an Albatross-3

“I don’t believe one grows older. I think that what happens early on in life is that at a certain age one stands still and stagnates.” – T.S. Eliot


More than a few organizations are confronting volunteer and job applicants with decades of wisdom and nowhere to put it. They worry that highly enthusiastic boomers may lead them headlong into the 20th century. One nonprofit tech firm executive visited the local Small Business Administration, staffed by retired executives who told her in no uncertain terms that virtual employees couldn’t be adequately supervised because you couldn’t watch them. Another hired a boomer project manager who needed extra file cabinets for the print copies of all her e-mails. Aside from technology, many worry about our keeping pace and ability to learn new systems quickly. Stereotypes about our limitations frequently trump organizations’ need for smart and reliable professionals when opportunities to become personally acquainted are not available. So the push-me-pull-you escalates; “Contribute. Work—but not here.” Is the message boomers frequently confront.

Organizations that want us frequently lack the challenging tasks and flexibility that we envision. Despite more than 10 years of discussion, community organizations still believe they can use retired CEO’s to stuff envelopes, and push library carts. Individualized work plans for volunteers or flexible schedules for part-time employees are deemed too labor intensive for our lean and mean culture. The perceived mismatch between available person-power, skills and societal needs persists. As long as elders appear to offer no edge, no advantage, institutions have no reason to dig deeper to accommodate us.

“The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything: the young know everything. — Oscar Wilde

How did we come to this? In my career, I’ve learned that whenever we create divisions, some group falls into the crevasse and we all hover shakily at the fault line.
When we were young, we exalted the beauty, the cleverness and the superiority of our youth. We touted distrust of anyone over 30. We created the culture that sucked young people into the economy and shoveled out the old. We were at the forefront of a generation that advocated that respect for elders was passé. Irrelevant. We revved up success and achievement. We broke with tradition. We were the generation of “the times they are a changin’”.  And now, we’re having trouble finding places to contribute to the new order. Surprise!

We’re unwilling to see ourselves as the old guard. We reject the label “senior.” We’re whitening our teeth, botoxing our wrinkles, boflexing our weary bodies and scurrying into as many social media networks as our kids can set up for us with the hope that we can mainstream with the young—or at least the unclassified middle—for a while longer. The deal we make with the devil is as old as the portrait in Dorian Grey’s attic. If we can avoid the label of “old,” we won’t claim our roles as elders. It’s a role that’s devalued, after all. We should know—we devalued it.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the young people who resist supporting us for the next 30 years of their lives don’t see any benefit to derive from the burden. As things stand, there is none. What the next generation sees is oldsters who over-spend, over-use, and over-extend to satisfy our sense of entitlement. In large part, they don’t see the ways in which we give back –or the potential for us to contribute powerfully to a wide variety of enterprises. We gave them no example of respect for the generation that came before us.   Our parents migrated to Florida and Arizona and lived out their lives in segregated communities. We cleared them out of progress’ path. With few exceptions, we didn’t mine their experience to create the future. Families were dispersed. Our children didn’t see a positive role for elders in their personal lives and seldom had mentors in their work lives.

In US culture, ageism is one of the discriminations we still tacitly permit. We create performance measures and budget realignments that allow us to say our oldest (and most highly paid) employees are less valuable than their younger (cheaper) colleagues. The average number of age discrimination complaints filed with EEO has burgeoned to 23,541 – a 26% increase between 2008-2010, when compared with 2005-2007. And incidentally it is “we” who do this to “us”. In most US industry, boomers still hold key leadership positions. We could save each other, but we can’t risk reminding the young that we’re part of the same generation, so we turn our heads while members of our cohort are shown the door.

Reviewing this sorry tale, recalled to me “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. The metaphor is simple and apt. Initially, an albatross that followed a ship was good luck. As societies that honor and make meaningful roles for elders have always believed, there are blessings in multi-generational life. We have played a significant role in killing the albatross by segregating our own elders and devaluing their contribution. We created this discrediting societal norm which is now threatening our own viability. The curse that comes from killing the albatross is felt by the whole crew of the ship just as the enormous financial burden is shouldered by the next generation in meeting the needs of the boomers. The mariner wore the albatross around his neck until death as a reminder of the harm his actions had caused. We are the albatross society will have to carry because we have wasted our elders, and we are the mariner who will drag around this useless weight because we won’t assume the elder’s role that we left in tatters.

“We have before us breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.” – John Gardner

Organizations’ and businesses’ reluctance to extend our useful roles in innovative ways coupled with our ambivalence about embracing new life purposes has brought us to what the media call “boomergeddon”. The good news is the next chapter is still to be written. The declining birth rate may force US businesses and nonprofits to seek out older workers to fill their vacancies. But we can’t wait for that. Many boomers are still debating their encore careers second chapter activities. Everyone will gain by us stepping up.

When is a Boomer Like an Albatross -2

OK –See I’m bad at this part 1 and 2 stuff-I’ve gotten busy with my workshop and forgot to post the rest of my essay–here’s a few more bites!!

“For the unlearned, old age is winter;
for the learned it is the season of the harvest.”

The Talmud

Not all of us leave the workplace
licking our wounds.  Many of us have played the game long and hard with the tacit understanding that if we did it all right, the pay-off was we could STOP.   We have many avocations that we have been looking forward to pursuing.  For awhile, we may be content in the whirl of long-delayed pleasures and deferred family needs we now have time to fulfill.  Some Boomers find, however, that the novelty of an open schedule and pleasurable activities— like a steady diet of nothing but ice cream – becomes boring.  We become nostalgic for the social interaction of our working lives.  We miss being depended upon and recognized for our talent.  We become acutely aware that our e-mail boxes are empty and our phones ring less frequently. While we may not miss our work, we miss our roles.

Boomers came of age amidst the idealistic calls for change, revolution, equality, social justice.  There may be issues we’ve spent a career or a lifetime advocating and supporting.  Or our careers may have left us passive bystanders to our most  passionate causes.  Retirement can re-kindle old passions.  We tentatively scan the volunteeropportunities available.  We might even glance at the want ads.  Maybe now’s the time we can create change, leave our mark, we think.  In our hearts, there is the little voice that nibbles away at our idealism: “did I work long and hard to ultimately be saddled with time and energy commitments again?”  Our ambivalence may end our quest.

We start our retirement journey with mixed emotions about our identities and what we have to offer, some of us discouraged, others supremely confident.  Some of us are content to withdraw.  Others seek paid or volunteer work that has meaning; that feeds our passion to make a difference, but doesn’t consume all of our time.  We don’t want the worry and responsibility we once had, but we want assignments that use our unique skills.  If we imagined we’d be welcomed with open arms by the community loathe to support us, we may have a rude awakening.

When is a Boomer like an Albatross?

I have been stewing with some thoughts and observations about being a “boomer” for months now–finally found an essay contest to help me focus my thoughts–it’s a little long, so I’ll share it in sections.  Wonder if others feel this way too–

Isn’t it funny how we don’t call ourselves “Boomers” but everyone else puts us in that slot? Actually, to read about us in the media, I increasingly feel that I’m an albatross. Whether we’re a curse or blessing depends, as our community organizer heroes used to say, on “who is asked what by whom”.

To the next generation, we are the economic albatross; the weight they carry, trying to meet the promises government made to seniors in radically different times. Living longer, we ravage the Social Security system, leaving our children to fend for themselves with a murky future dependent upon their private investments. Actuaries predict our health care needs will bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid, leaving onerous specters of an aged apocalypse. The refrain we hear from the doomsday chorus: “they didn’t save enough. They expect the government to cover for their lack of planning.” Many see us as the antithesis of our parents, “The Greatest Generation,” whose stolid frugality and self-sacrifice paved the way for our feelings of entitlement. Some in the media have even labeled us the “Greedy Generation”.

Whether or not we feel especially greedy, we do threaten to consume the lion’s share of available resources. According to the US Census, our over-65 population will grow from 35 million now to 70 million between 2020 and 2030. Based on actuarial tables, for those individuals who live to age 65, more than half, 53%, of single females and 41% of single males will still be alive at age 85. For married couples, 72% will have at least one spouse alive at age 85. If 75% percent of workers file for Social Security at 65, many of us will need resources for 20 years of retirement. How can any culture afford to support 21% of its adult population for 20 years?

Clinicians have had to redefine categories of aging: the young-old (65-74), the old-old (75-84) and the oldest-old (85+). Although this redefinition is two decades old, we have been slow to re-define roles for ourselves for these stages of life. Yet, clearly the old roles either “working” or “retired”, don’t serve us well. The lack of defined usefulness to society that comes with the “retirement” mantle creates a schism between us and younger generations.

The financial experts’ battle cry “Work longer, retire later” is hard to hear. The current system is set up to let us go and many of us are more than ready to leave.  In past generations, elders were a blessing to their societies.  How do we again become a blessing to our society?