J.T. O’Donnell, Influencer
CEO, CAREEREALISM Media & CareerHMO | Employment Branding | Career & Job Search
I was chatting with our Community Manager this week and she commented on the significant increase in emails and calls she was getting from people in their fifties and sixties who were struggling to find work. Each one starts with, “let me tell you my story…” and ends with, “it never used to be this hard to find a job.”
While their stories are intensely personal to them, and heart-breaking for us to hear, the truth is, they all say roughly the same thing.
Every story goes something like this:
1) In the early years, I climbed the career ladder, but didn’t truly love what I was doing.
2) When I reached a certain point, I had ‘golden handcuffs’ and decided to just do the job because it paid decently, I was good at it, and I could focus on other areas of my life that needed attention (i.e. family, etc.).
3) Then suddenly, the market changed, I got laid-off (or fired), and now nobody wants to talk to me. I think I’m being discriminated against because of my age.
Looking back, it’s easy to see where they went wrong…
As the saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20” – and for these folks, it’s not hard to see where they went off-course in their career journey. The sad part is, they were doing what they were told to do: make peace with your career and take care of the other areas of your life. Sounds like good advice, but in reality, not focusing on the career that gives you financial security and a sense of identity can come back to haunt you. Especially these days, when the average length of a job assignment is two years and changing jobs frequently is the ‘new normal’ in career development.
Don’t want this to be your future? Do these three things:
For those of you brave enough to read this post, here’s what you should do:
1) Don’t mentally put the career on hold. Life naturally gets busier as we age (i.e. you buy a house, get married, have kids, take care of sick parents, etc.), and that can make us want to put the career on auto-pilot for a bit. We justify it by saying, “I’ve worked hard to get where I am, I can take the gas off the pedal for a bit.” But in reality, you can never, ever stop learning and growing in your career. The moment you chose to slow down, you are putting yourself in a category of people who are seen as on the down-trend in their careers. Employers hire rising stars, not falling ones.
2) Figure out your specialty. As we get seasoned in our careers, employers expect us to bring more value in the form of a specialty. We are the aspirin to their pain. The more we can prove we will alleviate their bigger headaches, the more they’ll pay. Job security is about building up an expertise that is in-demand. It’s up to us to follow the emerging trends in our field and to build up our skills so they can help employers solve the pressing problems they face. There’s nothing worse than waking up one day and realizing your skills aren’t valuable to an employer. Your earning potential immediately plummets – as does your job security.
3) Network consistently. As we move along in our careers, it’s easy to say, “I have enough professional contacts, I don’t need any more.” This couldn’t be more wrong. Just ask anyone who has tried to get references from retired managers or companies that are out of business. Your network ages out of the marketplace if you don’t focus on acquiring new contacts to backfill the ones that fall out. That means reaching out to people your age or YOUNGER, to build partnerships and stay connected in the industry. Not to mention, it helps you to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and can instill you with the youthful energy and excitement for your industry that may have long since left you.
Blaming employers won’t help.
I’m sure some of you reading this feel employers should take responsibility for all the older workers they laid-off and are no longer looking to hire. I often get asked, “Where’s the loyalty?” However, neither you nor I can change the way business is going right now. The fact is, employers are no longer offering full-time long-term employment to anybody. The rate of change in business today makes it impossible for them to make that of employment promise. In fact, studies show 1 out of 2 professionals in the workforce are expected to be Independent Contractors by 2020. The trend towards “every professional for themselves” is part of the re-defining of the employee-employer relationship. Getting mad won’t fix it. Finding a way to leverage it is the only way to get what you want.
NOTE: Disruptive life events are a different story.
For those of you that had a major life event derail their career (i.e. illness, long gap of unemployment), your situation is different and will require a different approach. Employers want to know you are back on track. There’s an entire branding process you should go through (which I will discuss in a future post), in order to get hiring managers to consider you. Do that first, and then you can focus on re-building the career trajectory.
If you made these career mistakes, it’s not too late.
If you can recognize and accept what’s happened, you can make changes and get back in the game. You’ll need tools and resources to help you re-brand and market yourself properly, but it can be done. Seek any and all information on the new realities of job search. [You can start here with a video tutorial series called, “8 Ways Job Seekers are Shut Out of the Hiring Process.”]
Henry Ford should be our inspiration.
I find myself using this famous phrase by Henry Ford a lot lately, “If you think you can or you can’t – you’re right!” In this case, you must believe that you can get back on track. It’s up to you to make the effort to adjust your perceptions and close your gap in knowledge, but if you want it bad enough, don’t give up.
I wish job seekers of all ages the best. You are a business-of-one who needs to invest in your success. Believe in yourself. It’s the only way to win!