by Marg Penn & Nancy Burke
“It’s been many years since I had to interview for a job, and I’ve lost my confidence.”
Joan had been with her organization for almost 15 years. Although she liked much of the actual work and many of her colleagues, recent leadership changes were creating a stressful environment. Coupled with a significant increase in demands (but no increase in salary) Joan felt it was time to move on. As she pondered the next 5-10 years of her working life, she realized she could no longer remain in the organization, and after giving the appropriate notice, left her job.
Unexpectedly, just as she was leaving, Joan learned of a job for which she had many of the qualifications and experience. However, as she anticipated the interview or perhaps series of interviews, she was anxious. “I haven’t interviewed for a job for 15 years and I really don’t know how the world of work has changed”, she commented. And “I don’t know how to effectively sell myself. I don’t want to sound as though I’m bragging and yet I believe I have a lot of experience that would be relevant in this position.”
Joan’s feelings and experience are not unusual for people over 50. Frequently, people have stayed in jobs for the security and because at one time there was a good fit. But as was the case with Joan, changes in the organization, particularly at the leadership level can reduce job satisfaction. Many 50+people lose confidence and question whether a new organization will see value in the skills and experience they bring to the table.
So how does someone effectively sell themselves during an interview? First, it is essential to do a thorough inventory of your skills — both personal (such as written and oral communication) and professional (technical writing). The next step is to review the job description to determine what skills the organization is seeking in the position. Then you can create succinct stories that illustrate how you have demonstrated the skills in real life. Providing a brief outline of the situation, the challenge or task, the actions you took and the result will give the interviewer a clear picture of your skills and strengths. This format can even be used when you are asked “tell me about your strengths”. In response you can say, “let me give you an example”. Preparing well in advance of the interview and writing out your answers can help to increase your confidence and reduce your nervousness. And seeing in writing all of the examples can remind you that you indeed have a lot to offer — a good confidence builder!
And although Joan did not get the position, she was one of two finalist candidates and was seen as a serious contender. While she was certainly disappointed in not being selected, she nevertheless felt that she was able to present herself effectively and when the next interview occurs, will be much more confident in handling the challenge.
Finding a new job can be challenging at any age but for people over 50 there may be some unique challenges. For those who haven’t recently looked for work there can be a whole new world to learn: how to target companies and industries; how to create a LinkedIn™ profile; how to build a contact network on LinkedIn; how to create a modern resume and perhaps how to effectively interview. But as daunting as these may initially appear, they can all be mastered and put to good use in a job search. Most of our clients have used these tools to find new and satisfying new positions.
But just when you breathe a sigh of relief and think – “the work I’ve done has paid off and I am happily situated in my new job” you are surprised to learn your part of the organization has been sold or the function is being outsourced and your job will be eliminated. This has happened to more than one of our clients – some have made two or three changes after landing the job they thought they’d have for years.
After the shock and disappointment wears off, you find yourself thinking – “does this mean I have to start from scratch again?” The good news is no, especially if you’ve maintained your network! All of the tools you developed and the skills you learned during your first search can be revived and used again, except this time you can build on both the experience and confidence you gained in your first search. You now know a lot more about how the process works and, if you’ve stayed in touch with your network, you are much more comfortable contacting them to gain new information and learn about potential opportunities. While still challenging, the process is not nearly as formidable the second time around!
Here are some things to do to be ready for changes that may come in that new position:
- Communicate with your entire network when you start your new position and tell them you want to keep in touch and offer to be available if they should need help (then BE available).
- Select 20+ relationships in that network that you want to nurture and deepen over the next year. Make sure that you connect with them at least twice in the next year (for ideas on how to do this, see Power Your Career: The Art of Tactful Self-Promotion at Work by Nancy Burke and Richard Dodson).
- Start to build your network within your new organization: who are people at your level and higher whom you should know and who should know you?
- For every meeting you attend internally, schedule one externally
- Have one breakfast a week with internal or external contacts, or people you want to get to know.
- Join at least one professional organization and get involved, and join a LinkedIn group and participate.
If you can do these things (which don’t have to take a lot of time) you will find that, the next time you need your network, you will have a strong one waiting for you.
WE LOVE WHAT WE DO …and we hope it shows!
We are nearing the five year mark for our business together. We have had a ball helping a wide range of people over 50 who are:
- Still wanting to climb the career ladder and take on more responsibility, but don’t want to do it where they currently are working, or
- Wanting to make a change in either their career area or their industry and may be interested in scaling back on the level of responsibility, or
- Returning to the work world after an extended time off for family reasons, or
- Planning their “retirement” or their encore career – either for pay or not – and want to be ready when the time comes to leave their fulltime career.
Each client has brought a unique set of questions and challenges, and we have enjoyed working with every one of them – and we get feedback that we are helping them, as well.
We’d like to acknowledge the crew at Minnesota Good Age – Sarah Jackson, Julie Kendrick, Micah Edel, and Tracy Walsh – for the great story and pictures about Burke&Penn in their September issue. And we want to thank AARP Minnesota and the Pollen Group for recognizing us with a 50 over 50 award in 2017; without that recognition, we would not have been found by Minnesota Good Age!