It’s a risk to suggest to anyone over 40 that they need to change how they look, act and interact with people. All people at all stages of their career life can get stuck in a career rut. They can become dispirited with their current job, lose a job and lose out on opportunities to advance. Everything in this career life remains dynamic. Everything can change in a moment. Nothing stays the same. For the sake of this argument let me use over 40 as my example. As you get into your 40s most career climbers possess most of the skills they feel they need to succeed in the marketplace. Usually by 40 you went back to get your MBA, started having a family and know your career path. So it’s especially hard on people who get laid off, fired, downsized and not hired after you reach the over 40 mark.
Unfortunately the over 40 crowd can self destruct their career options by thinking, acting and doing things that hurt themselves as they ambitiously pursue their next career opportunity. Many of these items should be classified in the correctable, unforced error column. Remember people in their 20’s probably think just about anyone over 40 suffers from Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, looks old, acts old, isn’t cool and they probably don’t want to hang out with you. It’s true. So there is a built in animosity whether we want to admit it or not. But do not let the young guns of the workplace add to your potential, career damaging discontent. I cannot begin to explore the extent of career damaging decisions and thought processes for the over 40 crowd but I have at least three.
1. Unkept or Dated Physical Appearance. I know just about every commercial on television shows people with short beards, rugged featured male models who are usually eating and drinking whatever they want. I know even the over 40 actor who portray the leering eye Viagra or Cialis men certain have the cool but rugged, unkept look. The sad truth is many over 40 executive jobseekers don’t look good in shaggy, rugged looks. Without investing in high dollar business casual or business formal suits many executives wear baggy fitting clothes. They have dandruff on the shoulders. They don’t worry about their breath post breakfast or lunch. This is a problem. Here is why. Post 40 you just do not look as cool as you did in your 20s. You don’t get away with anything. Just dine out and have a big meal. Doesn’t it seem like you used to be able to eat anything and now it goes to your gut (guys) or your waist/hips (ladies). We get away with nothing post 40 so get used to it.
Possible Solution: Take nothing for granted. Wear fitted clothing no matter your budget. Don’t be afraid to ask questions on latest styles / trends that are appropriate for your age. Be extra diligent about your oral care routines, your appearance and your scent (or smell). Ask people in their 20s what message you send by your appearance and be ready for brutal honesty. Ask others what your look, smell and attitude says about you. Become actionable.
2. Be Averse to Technology and Change. One of the most noticeable ways you can “act old” is to almost always object to new technology. It’s a way to show you are resistant to change, to new learning and to the new world of work. At all stages of the career game your ability to adapt to change will dictate parts of your progress in the market. I applaud any over 40 sets who hunger for new certifications, education and change. When I taught in college my favorite, most focused students were people coming back to school as adults. They focused on a purpose and their drive was unmatched by their younger counterparts who were into all the other things often that college provides. Unfortunately I hear older workers complain about a myriad of technology, software, social media and change in general.
Possible Solution: Embrace change. Hire someone part-time to tutor you on new software. Take extra classes that will allow you to get comfortable with the latest technology, presentation software or hardware that you may need to know. Find out from 20 somethings what they are doing on social media as it relates to careers, research and more. Don’t carry your anti-technology bent on your sleeve because it makes you sound old! Carry a “first adopter” mentality and talk about change by saying things like:
“That interests me and I want to learn more about how this technology works. Can you teach me?”
“Why are people wasting so much time on social media?” And having an adverse to technology attitude.
3. The “I Deserve” Syndrome. In working with executive men and women in career transition part of my job is to calculate their perceived potential value to future employers and to future career opportunities. I can do this even though the companies or the market make the final decision. Even if it is not spoken what happens to many executives and really anyone pursuing career opportunities post 40 is that they want to talk about and rightly so market their past. It’s technically an advantage over a younger competitor for a job. What can happen is that older workers don’t think they need to prove anything to a younger recruiter or have a thin skin when a recruiter starts asking them questions. In the last month clients and connects of mine who are over 40 have said this to me:
“I don’t need to prove myself to someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about when it comes to finance”
“Why don’t recruiters call me back? It’s rude.”
On the surface this anxiety and these regular complaints look pretty understandable to me. But as I looked deeper the client was essentially saying they didn’t want to have to prove their value to someone who has not done what they have done.
Well, yes you do.
Just because you held a position, a title or status does not mean the world of work or younger recruiters or just about anyone holds respect for that past position. Organizational Behaviorist Tayla Bauer and Berrin Erdogan suggest the following trends and changes for 2014 labor force age progression:
Possible Solution: Realize respect, professionalism and mature etiquette may not be the monikers of the job market. No one can or should give you a job because you deserve it; they need to perceive you are qualified, fit their culture and can immediately bring results. Realize you must prove yourself again and again even to younger, less competent recruiters and possibly younger, less competent hiring managers and bosses.
How can you remedy most problems when your are over 40 and looking for a job? It’s not easy. A lot of issues exist that were not touched here. But the things you can control are your attitude, your actions and to some degree your personal appearance. Start here then consider adding powerful documents, communication strategy, branding, new ideas, interview skills and more to your portfolio that will show others how contemporary your ideas are and how relevant you really will be when you work with them and potentially lead them.
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