Thinking about a midlife career change? Here are the do’s and don’ts
As I sit here watching the World Cup with the rest of the globe, I am struck by how fun high-level soccer/futbol is yet, like many Americans, I don't follow it. It reminded me of how so many job search techniques are 'obvious' or 'no brainers', but so few people follow them. Below is what I have learned from personally going on over 200 job interviews. (Disclaimer: I realize that I am probably weird in that I LIKE job interviews, and go on many of them just for fun or research.)
1. Communication - can you clearly articulate what you want to do, who you want to work for, and why you would be good at it? Many people embark upon a job search with a vague sense of what they would like to do, such as 'finance', without ever articulating role, company size, or what they enjoy about data analysis. If you can't articulate it to yourself, how on earth are you going to communicate it to a hiring manager? When in doubt, write it down. Then look at what you wrote and say 'would I hire myself with this?' If yes, great. If no, get to work!
2. Preparation - today's job seekers are at a tremendous disadvantage. The internet makes it too easy to just visit a website, look up a company's value statement and spew off facts and figures. Today's job seekers must go beyond the website - reach out to colleagues or alumni to get a feel for the company's culture, read job reviews on Glassdoor, and really understand the role and required skills. Do a quick LinkedIn/web search for people with whom you will interview to learn more about their background, skills and any potential commonalities. Go beyond the website.
3. Network - more and more, it's about who you know as well as what you know. Since 80% of jobs are never advertised, most job seekers are competing for only 20% of the jobs. This makes online job applications even more competitive and the odds stacked against you. Also, when you network, you learn about opportunities BEFORE they are posted, glean important information not available on the company website, and have allies on the inside who can vouch for your candidacy. If you are not networking, you are likely not working.
4. Commitment - how interested are you in the job/role/company, really? If you are interested in management, do you have a subscription to Harvard Business Review? Have you created any valuation models if you are interested in corporate finance? If you are interested in Supply Chain, are you a member of your local APICS? What journals and industry websites do you follow? Have you joined an industry or city-specific LinkedIn group? Who have you reached out to in your LinkedIn or alumni network? Everyone who applies is interested. Very few can demonstrate commitment, and they tend to get hired.
5. Delivery - you need to convince the hiring manager why you are the right fit. This is not about why you want the job. It is about communicating how your skills and education transfer to the job (i.e. transferrable skills), and how you can add value. The hiring manager is not there to give you a job - it is to fill a need for the company. You can learn this by networking, informational interviewing and asking questions. Remember, your goal here is to tell them how you will add value and be part of the solution.
6. Sourcing - this goes back to the fact that 80% of jobs are never advertised. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people apply to the same job you saw, especially if it is with a brand name company. Most hiring managers use a computer to screen resumes - do you want to outsmart a computer or get hired? Referrals are the preferred method for hiring managers, who post online for EEOC laws or lack of immediately available candidates. This is referred to 'post and pray'. The way to learn about opportunities before they are posted? Network, network, network. This can include informational interviews with colleagues, alumni, interest groups, etc. A funny thing happens when you network - you learn about jobs, companies and roles that you never knew existed. So, before you spend hours online looking at job postings, remember to fish in the part of the pond where there are fewer boats!
None of the teams in the World Cup just 'got' there - they had a vision of what they wanted, put in the time and effort to get there, and wanted it more than their competition. The same is with a job search - there are no shortcuts. Articulate your vision, make the effort, put in the time, and demonstrate why you want it more than the other applicants. Then sit back and enjoy the thrill of who you meet and what opportunities present themselves!
Of all the job search topics out there, this seems to be the hardest for job seekers to embrace. Why? It is where the rubber meets the road in job search. It is just plain hard. It take time - a lot of it - and favors certain personality types or cultures. However, recognizing and understanding these barriers can reduce some of the resistance or fear.
Searching for a full-time job is a full-time job - on average, a successful job search or career change takes 40 hours/week. Add to the equation work (if you are currently employed), family obligations, transportation to and from interviews, school and a myriad of other demands on our day. Suddenly 40 hours/week becomes 80 hours/week. It is both exhausting and daunting. What to do? Prioritize. Some weeks will involve more time, others less. Can you carve out 30 minutes a day to do LinkedIn searches and outreach? Can you spare an hour to go to an industry networking group? How about 2 hours a week reading articles on company or industry news? Little bits and pieces can add up.
2. Where to Start
With so many job posting sites, company websites, LinkedIn and other social media outlets, getting started can be overwhelming. One way to begin is to create silos, with titles such as 'School/Alumni', 'Work Colleagues', 'LinkedIn Interest Groups', 'Church/Life', etc. Include colleagues from past jobs or at companies in which you are interested. Join groups that are specific to companies, industries or roles to mine for connections. Don't forget people who are in your own circle - relatives, your dentist, folks at church or at Little League. Ask for opinions or advice, and you will be surprised how eager people are to help out.
3. Personality Type
Networking can be particularly difficult for introverts. For those who are uncomfortable reaching out to others, using scripts can be a big help as it takes the 'randomness' out of the conversation. It also allows one to clearly deliver information and ask targeted questions. Interviewing for information is another tactic for those who may not feel comfortable at a networking event and prefer one-on-one interactions. Interviewing for information is really only asking someone for their advice, experiences and perspective - something that most people are happy to offer. Oh yes, and you can work from a script for this as well!
Does networking conjure up slick sales people glad-handing potential employers? How can the job search be fair if it rewards who you know, rather than what you know? Rightly or wrongly, networking favors those who do it and do it well. It also favors those who understand that networking is an informational transaction - you are asking to learn more about a role, company, or industry, as well as market trends. This is not a job-ask situation. It is a also a chance for you to demonstrate your interest and skills - thereby injecting 'merit' into the networking process and becoming a credible candidate with a potential referral.
Job search in the US is very different from other countries, where test scores, class, schooling, alma mater, nepotism and gender determine who can talk to whom, if anyone at all. For cultures in which patrimony dominates, approaching someone of higher rank is unthinkable. For others with a strong class system, nepotism skews networking opportunities. Common cultural barriers for international students or foreigners are: asking someone you do not know for a meeting, making eye contact, asking questions that could be perceived as inappropriate, or even talking about your achievements. A coach or career services office can help you overcome cultural differences.
Building a network takes time and effort. In a perfect world, we would build up our networks when we do not need them so that they will be in place when we need to call on them. Like most things in life, networking takes a back seat to other, more immediate priorities. Understanding what we do not like about networking can help us overcome the resistance. I will cover the 'how to' of networking in my next post. Until then, I have included some resources for you to explore and use:
Alex Freund has an exhaustive list of job search networking groups at www.landingexpert.com
Nick Corcodiles answers your questions at www.asktheheadhunter.com
Orville Pierson's "Highly Effective Networking" is a good go-to book on the subject.
Lindsey Honari is a seasoned career coach and advisor who works with individuals, organizations and career service offices. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I love what I do. I see all types of clients from different walks of life: mid-career professionals and career changers; first generation job seekers; spouses of expatriates seeking to work while on assignment. Recently one theme keeps coming up with clients and friends and, as is my tendency when I see a theme, I need to write about it.
It is the re-entry of women into the work force after an absence, usually to take care of family. I call this re-launch ‘Mom Ramping’. Just like an on ramp to a highway, Mom Ramps involve a lane change, having a sense of where you want to go, making sure everything around you is safe, signaling, merging into traffic and accelerating forward.
My typical ‘Mom Ramper’ sounds something like this, “I really love my kids and would never trade the time I had with them for anything. But………..” She then launches into how she misses the stimulation of work and interacting with colleagues, a detailed account of the time and effort that went into building her career, how she tried to make it all work balancing career with the first child, and then stepping off of the career track.
She is no longer part of her professional network, feels that her skills are not up-to-date, questions her ability to be successful and her confidence is low. Sound familiar? All of us who have stepped off of the career track to take care of family, whether children, parents or other loved one, experience at least one of the above examples. If not more. Including myself.
I left an exciting career in finance to spend time with my 3-year-old. Eventually, my family said they preferred me when I was working or, as my then 8-year-old put it, “Mommy, you are a lot happier when you have something to do. And also nicer.” Boy, was that a wake-up call!
I did eventually make it back into the work force, but it took a lot longer and was much more frustrating than it needed to be (see 200 Interviews, What I've Learned and Networking - Why We Hate It). What I would have loved back then was some sort of road map to get me back onto the career highway. Since I continue to see women (and some men!) struggle with the same situation, I humbly share what I call ‘Mom Ramping’ with you.
Many of us go back and forth between returning to work or staying home until we come to some point that tells us it is time to change lanes. It might be that a child is old enough to go into an after school program or financial necessity requires two working parents. Regardless, the journey of returning to work begins with a shift inside – one that eventually outweighs staying at home or with the status quo. It also requires the ability to delegate (or in my case, surrender) some everyday tasks to others, as well as redefine what type of work one wants to do. Priorities shift over time, and what we were willing to do in our single 20’s could be a deal-breaker in our parenting 30’s and 40’s. Work is no longer only about salary or title. It now includes flexible schedules, intellectual stimulation, making a difference, and a host of other factors.
Know Where You Want to Go
One common mistake is not defining where we want to go. Sure, we want to have meaningful work, but we also want to have the flexibility to pick up the kids, not work evenings or weekends, or some other need. What Mom Rampers need to do is create a road map of their needs (must haves) wants (nice to haves) and deal-breakers (oh 'hell' no). This will vary from person to person. But knowing what is and is not acceptable (commutes over 1 hour long, not being able to work from home when your child is ill, required travel, etc.) will help you eliminate opportunities that can distract or disrupt you from your job search process. To help you with this, I have uploaded a very basic Personal Career Road Map to my LinkedIn page to help you navigate your path.
Look Out for Obstacles
Before re-entering the workforce, returning moms need to check for obstacles that might keep or have kept them from merging back into the working world. Let’s face it – working mothers have three jobs: childcare and child rearing; maintaining a household; and working outside of the home. Oprah Winfrey said it best, “You can have it all, just not all at once.” Arrangements need to be made, whether it is someone to pick your child up from school and take them to ballet, a housekeeper one more day a week, a partner who can pick up some of the slack, a home-cooked meal twice a week instead of five, or all of the above.
Some new services are available today that were not around when I re-entered the work force. Care.com and Nextdoor.com for childcare, pet care and elder care, InstaCart for grocery shopping and delivery (a godsend when one has a toddler) and TaskRabbit for those annoying, time-intensive errands, are just a few ‘outsourcing’ services to make our lives easier. Of course, the ability to delegate is crucial to creating the time necessary to insert work as part of your daily or weekly schedule. Many clients realize that ‘good enough’ is a fine substitute for ‘perfect’ or ‘doing it all myself’.
Use Your Turn Signal
Once a decision to return to work and arrangements have been made, returning mothers need to let others know they are ready to re-enter the work force. Learning how to tell their story, understand what they are looking for, and getting the word out are all part of signaling, and coincide nicely with information gathering (also known as networking). Incorporate taking time out to raise a family as part of your overall career arc. Avoid downplaying one’s time at home or out of the office. Instead, focus on your transferable skills, which come both from work and from staying home. Planned a school fundraiser? That is budget management and leadership. Oversaw a move or a renovation? Planning and implementation. Cared for an aging parent? Negotiating complex situations and bureaucracies. Attach numbers to your transferable skills – increased parent participation by 25%, raised a record number of money for the school PTO. One thing is for sure – mothers are the ultimate multi-taskers! Finally, if no one knows you are ready to enter the workforce or what you can do, how can they help spread the word?
Merge into Traffic
Start merging back into the work force by looking for opportunities. This involves networking and interviewing (notice I did NOT mention filling out applications – see my article Breakfast as Job Search Wisdom). Use informational meetings and formal interviews to understand culture, work scope and expectations, and match them to your own road map of needs and expectations. Do you remember being a teen-aged driver merging onto a highway for the first time? Re-entering the workforce can also be white-knuckled at first. It takes practice to figure out how to present yourself, know your boundaries and narrow your focus. As with most things in life, it gets better and easier with practice.
Once you have successfully merged into job-search traffic, start accelerating by speaking to as many people as possible. This is signaling combined with confidence and intensity. Use LinkedIn and LinkedIn Groups, Meet-ups, lunches, casual conversations and informational meetings to get the word out and create interviews. Many jobs are not advertised (a.k.a. The Hidden Job Market), and often an introduction from an acquaintance or friend can put you to the front of the line in terms of applicants.
Going back to work is not a decision made lightly. It involves some difficult choices about what you can and cannot do for your family. It also takes time - sometimes longer than we had planned - and the support of spouses, family and friends. Often, a career coach can be the objective third-party to help you figure out what you want to do and how to make that happen. Once the decision is made, do as much as you can to set yourself up for success. Prepare your Personal Career Road Map, know your obstacles, signal, merge and accelerate.
I look forward to your comments and learning from your experiences!
What is holding you back may surprise you.
Fear of failure is often what keeps us up at night. When it comes to our careers trying something new can be daunting. But what if that fear was not about failure, but about success and the change it will bring?
As strange as it may seem, many are stymied by the fear of success just as much as the fear of failure. Entrepreneurs, corporate executives, artists, and the self-employed are all subject to under-reaching or self-sabotage due to the fear of success. Why is this so?
According to Somatic Psychologist Susanne Babbel, PhD, feelings of excitement can be too similar to sensations experienced during a traumatic event, such as a thumping heart, rapid breathing or tingly palms (Psychology Today, Jan. 3 2011). As a result, some of us can literally feel uncomfortable when we think about or approach success.
On a psychological level, fear of success is connected to what I unscientifically refer to as The Four Fears: Fear of the Unknown, Loss of Time, Loss of Identity and the Impostor Syndrome. As you read each one, I welcome your thoughts about your own experiences, any ‘a-ha’ moments, and whether you feel these affect women and men equally or differently.
Fear of the Unknown
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Thich Nhat Hanh
What will success look like? Often times we hold ourselves back from success because the future is unknown and we make assumptions about it. A funny thing about assumptions – we almost always assume them to be negative. If we are comfortable enough with the present, why risk the unknown? Success might lead to something completely new and different – new possibilities, new responsibilities, new roles (that we may or may not feel prepared for), and new ways to be vulnerable or criticized. Fear is a natural instinct. Taking time to understand the root of this fear, delineate between the real and perceived risks, and visualize what success looks and feels like can take some of the power out of this fear and put it towards the future.
Loss of Time
“There is never enough time, unless you are serving it.” Malcolm Forbes
Another fear related to success is the time commitment required to start or grow a business, get a promotion, move into an executive role, go back to school or return to work. Our time is a limited resource and success, particularly in the beginning, may require more time away from family, friends and, importantly, self-care. We have children, families, pets, hobbies - and time is finite. The question to ask is whether we are okay with spending our time as things are (and that is completely okay) or, if not, how to get creative with time to make the investment in a successful endeavor. Can we carve out an extra hour of your day? Can someone else handle a task or responsibility? Is there another way to pool ‘time resources’ with others? Realize that the amount of time we “have” changes as we move through life. Time for a 20-something can look very different for someone in his or her early forties. What may not be possible today in terms of time may be possible in one, three or five years. If the time is not available now, how can we best use the interim years to prepare ourselves to meet that opportunity down the line?
Loss of Identity
“I don’t know who I am anymore.”
Feelings of identity loss and alienation are very real, especially if success carries with it the possibility of leaving the familiar such as family, community or even social class. Thoughts such as, “If I am successful, what happens to my relationships?” can plague even the most determined among us. We are social beings and losing our identity – loyal spouse, good parent, dutiful child, caregiver, struggling artist – can be frightening. Success most likely will change relationships with those around us, as does moving away from home, getting married or becoming a parent. Recognizing that relationships are dynamic and change over time can help, as can working with a therapist or coach to ease the transition. As we move into and through success, we have to consider how we will strive to maintain our identities and follow the words of Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
The Impostor Syndrome
“I don’t belong here.”
Do you feel like a fraud? That you don’t measure up to or deserve your success? Or will someone discover you are more lucky than smart? Welcome to the phenomenon known as Impostor Syndrome – an inability to internalize accomplishments despite evidence of achievement and ability. Feelings of inadequacy can stymie the most talented or hard working among us. Melody Wilding, LSCW, in her January 2016 article for The Muse, highlights the work of Impostor Syndrome Expert Valerie Young, who described five types of The Impostor. You can find the article here – and decide if any of the five apply to you. Incidentally, this syndrome is particularly common in high-achieving women and minorities. Exploring the internalized feedback that causes us to feel that we do not deserve or are incapable of success is the first step to changing the inner dialogue. Stacey Lastoe of The Muse conveniently offers advice from various career coaches on how to work around and through feelings of inadequacy and lack of confidence. Dr. Robert Hicks, clinical professor of organization behavior and the founder of the Executive and Professional Coaching Program at UT Dallas, eloquently states that small steps in thought and action lead to big changes.
Moving Into Success
Understanding the Four Fears prepares us to counter self-sabotaging behaviors, allowing us to move through the fear of success and towards our goal. For some, this is enough; for others, professional development coaching or working with a trained therapist will help move past the limitations and towards a desired outcome or career.
Do I sometimes fear success? Absolutely. Do I occasionally feel like an Impostor? You bet. But I also recognize that both of these feelings do not serve my family, my colleagues, or myself. For me, it was waiting until family obligations were not as pressing, and then, deepening my coaching knowledge through study and coursework. Awareness and action go a long way in overcoming the fear of success. Dark chocolate, deep friendships and good wine helped me a lot as well!
What is YOUR experience with fear of success, and how have you decided to deal with it? I want to hear from you!
As we head into the homestretch of 2017, I am wrapping up an intense, yearlong Executive and Professional Coaching program. I decided to do this program so that I would gain additional tools for my coaching and consulting practice. This year has stretched me in ways I could not have imagined. A key takeaway is in order to become a better coach, I have to ‘unlearn’ some of the skills I rely on. I take pride in being a career and job-search subject matter expert. I expected the coaching program to enhance my skills. What ended up happening was one of the most professionally and personally challenging growth experiences of my adult years. I share what I learned below:
It’s all in the asking, not in the telling.
My work as a consultant required me to lecture, present, train, analyze and advise. Helping clients, friends, and family – even strangers - achieve their goal or solve a dilemma is what gets me up in the morning. It is in my DNA. Imagine being a life-long advice giver, then being told I serve my clients better if I ask more and tell less? That I am less effective if I advise someone? Sit with that a moment. When you ask instead of tell, it fosters awareness and ownership, two conditions that have a much higher probability for change. Think of the last time someone ‘told’ you what to do. Did you do it? If yes, out of obligation or motivation? Which one do you believe has the more lasting impact? Asking powerful, open-ended questions promotes awareness. It is from this awareness that action – self-motivated and intuitive – arises.
Listening is not hearing.
'Hearing' is the physical activity of sound falling on the ears and the biological processes involved in its perception. 'Listening' is the ability to pay attention to what the sounds means and understand it. We hear noise, but we listen to music.
The greatest gift we can give someone is to listen. Listen with your full attention. Put down your smartphone. Step away from the computer. Turn towards the speaker. When we fully focus on listening to another person, they have a chance to be understood. Acknowledged. It is one of our fundamental needs as human beings – to matter. When was the last time someone really listened to you? Got you. Understood you. How did that make you feel? How did you feel towards that person? My greatest struggle as a life-long advice giver is to listen without the urge to respond. Most of us are already thinking of our answer before the speaker even finishes. Guess what happens when we do that? We stop listening. The next time you have the opportunity, listen. To your child. To your partner. To your co-worker. You may be surprised by what you 'hear'.
Don’t just give advice. Ask for permission.
We give advice at the drop of a hat. A coworker, friend, or family member will come to us with a situation. More often than not, we respond without a thought. Think about what I just wrote – without a thought. Giving advice is often about telling the other person what they should do. We “know” and we are “sure”. But what would happen if we asked what the other person needed instead? Sometimes it is not advice they seek but the ability to talk it out or to be heard. Or, through the process of asking, you can allow the other person to get specific about the assistance they seek from you. How much richer and more helpful would our advice be? When you ask permission to give advice not only do you allow the other person to decide whether they want the information, but the advice you do give is often more helpful.
My Unlearning Project has been painfully humbling. Learning to suppress and redirect my urge to tell, advise or have the right answer has brought me frustration, doubt and (even) tears. It has been so worth it. Coaching is a profound endeavor that is simple in concept and difficult to do well. My fellow coaching students have watched me with compassion and humor as I stumbled to improve my skills. Asking instead of telling. Listening deeply. Becoming the “Guide on the Side” rather than the “Sage on the Stage.” I am excited for what 2018 will bring – getting my certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching, receiving International Coaching Federation certification, and passing a Professional Certified Coach-level oral examination. Most of all, I am eager to serve and help my clients find career satisfaction and advancement in the coming year. Happy New Year, everyone!