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Posts Tagged ‘Advantages of older workers’

Writing a Killer 50+ Resume

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Crafting an effective resume when you’re over 50 has extra challenges. If you get it right, the whole world knows you’re good at what you do.  If you don’t, nothing happens.

One of the benefits of experience is that you can make difficult things look easy.  That’s a problem if you end up needing to convince someone new that you’re the right person for the job.   People who’ve been effective over the long haul often lose track of what it’s like to not be that effective.   That leads you to talk in terms of the job instead of how you did it.  Working from that perspective presents you as a plain vanilla anybody.  So before you write one word of that resume you really needed to have done yesterday, think through these questions.

What makes you a uniquely valuable hire?  The vast majority of us have an extremely difficult time putting this into words.  That may be because you’ve been taught not to brag or it may be a case of assuming everyone can do what you’re good at.  Either way, your next employer isn’t going to know that you have exactly what she needs until you get the information out there where she can see it.  Your first shot in that effort is with your resume.

The current jargon for what you need here is “personal brand.”  Knowing what makes you a valuable employee and being able to put that in five to ten words is important in a job search.  Ideally, you will have practiced these words enough that you come up with them as if on autopilot when needed, even in an unexpected place like at your kid’s basketball game or in line at the grocery store.   Having the first few words come out automatically makes it easier to deal with the rest of the conversation effectively.

What’s a resume for?  A resume is a marketing tool.  This is not the place to tell your life story or to go on at length about the minutia of what you did in each job you ever held.  Those of us with a lot of experience can easily shoot ourselves in the foot on this. The stereoype of aging that our culture holds associates longwindedness with mental decline.  Use only what’s important and be concise.

What does my next employer need to know most about me?  You will be way ahead of the competition if you write your resume so that it addresses how you can solve the hiring manager’s problem.  The best way to do that is to highlight how you’ve helped your previous employers get what they needed done.  Just mentioning that you served as the liaison with the Building Department is nowhere near as compelling as saying that you developed solid relationships with them and got permitting accomplished quickly.

What are the differences between the job description and how YOU performed the job?  Quite often, these two things get confused by resume writers.   Talking about the job instead of your performance obscures the value of your experience.  The duties of the job are what’s written on a formal job description.  It might be something like “handles walk in customer traffic.”  How you did the job probably goes beyond that in some unique way.   Were you effective at helping people figure out what they needed?  At dealing with irate complaints?  At keeping track of clients’s preferences so they felt like they were “family” and became loyal to your place of business?

There’s a place for the job description language–in the experience section right under the company and job title listed.   Use no more than two lines for that description.  The rest of the space you allot for that job experience needs to focus on what you did particularly well.

How can I avoid being ignored because of my age?  The first step in this is to be sure you’re not setting yourself up with your own thinking. Are you making excuses for not learning new things (including technology!) because you are “too old?”  Are you telling yourself you don’t have the stamina you need for what you want to do next?  Neither of these things is a given consequence of getting older.  Change you lifestyle and stop telling yourself that you’re old.

In your resume,  pay close attention to your choice of words. Use action verbs and short phrases to project energy.  Consider an initial section that speaks in current terms–what you can do NOW–rather than putting everything in the past tense a chronological resume requires.  Avoid as many adjectives and adverbs as you can–they bog the writing down.

Having experience is a plus that has somehow become devalued in today’s job market.   You can’t expect to be valued for the seniority you had at another company.  But you can create momentum to propell yourself into your next job by projecting energy and making a clear case for how you can help the next company better than those who’ve had less of a chance to learn how to get things done.


An Adventure in “Customer Service”

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Today I dealt first hand with why the US is not doing as well as we want in the global economy.  We push for “volume” and “efficiency” and “lower cost per unit” and forget the point of doing anything in the first place–serving a customer.  This time around, it was UPS.  Tomorrow it may be Safeway.  (Come to think of it, a year ago it was Safeway.)

This situation occurred because the second print run of Supercharged Retirement had a problem with the cover.  Everything was shifted off center and looked incredibly amateur.

I let my publisher know and they were great about taking responsibility for getting the problem resolved.  The next step was for me to overnight them the copy I had reviewed so we were sure they were looking at the same thing I had.  They gave me their UPS account number to use for the transaction.

Piece of cake, right?  There’s a UPS Store eight blocks from my house.  I was there five minutes later.  When I explained what I was trying to do to the woman behind the counter, things started to unravel.  “We’re not allowed to generate shipping documents for specific accounts.  You have to do it online.”

So I drove home and went online.  Not so fast.  You need the ID and password to get into the account online.  Great.  I called the 800 number listed on the website.  After mashing the “0” persistently, I finally got to a human–Robert, who had a heavy hispanic accent.  When I asked bluntly where he was located, he told me “Central America” quite proudly.  Robert had no clue was what going on in Tacoma, Washington, but he was supposed to “help” me.

He advised me to go to the nearest drop box for the shipping document I needed and gave me the location and the name of the bank at which it was located–except that bank does not exist anymore.

I found the drop box in front of what is now a Wells Fargo branch and searched the shelves that held shipping supplies.  Lots of “2nd Day Air” forms but just one that said “express” (among other things).  I needed to get it to the publisher overnight, so I took the form that was not “2nd Day Air. It looked like it had been there since 1997.

Just to be sure I returned to my local UPS Store to confirm I had the right form.  Nope.  She had no idea where to get one and suggested I call the “800” number again.  Back to Central America.  This time “Sheila” told me I needed to go to a UPS Customer Service Center.  The counter clerk had no idea they existed.  The nearest one is ten miles from where I live.

If I had simply wanted to be done with the task, I would have just put it on my own account with FedEx and considered the cost worth the avoided brain damage.  But I was curious.  How ridiculous would this get before I actually got it accomplished?

I drove to the Customer Service Center and, ta dah!  They had the right form, and they knew how to use it.  I got the package shipped with no further hassle.  (The clerk also suggested a glass of wine might make the whole experience seem a bit funnier. )

This is not a unique experience.  You can probably regale me with horror stories far worse.  The reason I write about it is because this is all we have to look forward to until companies start to recognize that using people who can only answer questions from a cheat sheet aren’t a satisfying resource when the problem isn’t a cookie cutter one.  And having people staffing your retail outlets who don’t have a clue about how to solve a problem is even more ineffective.

This time around, I was only sending one book overnight express.  But I never know what I’m going to be dabbling in next.  I may invent some kind of exotic dirt that has me shipping tons of stuff, literally.  I promise it won’t be via UPS.  I also described this adventure in detail to the the publishing house.  Their reply:  “The whole point of these account codes is to avoid all the run-around!”  Perhaps they will ship all the stuff they send out everyday a different way, too.  That would be just.

Why do I write about this here?  Because the superstars of customer service are the boomers.  We grew up engaged with people rather than texting to the friend standing 3 feet away.  If UPS…and Safeway and others…want to get this right, they should be looking at older workers who understand what “customer service” is really about to staff those positions.


AGEISM: How Long Can We Afford It?

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

We’re setting ourselves–and the country–up by relegating anyone over 60 to the “discard pile.”  How long are we going to keep doing this same dumb thing?

Why are we setting these people adrift instead of using what they know and what they are good at?  As the population bulge that is the Baby Boom moves into the “retirement” phase of life, the cost of this folly will skyrocket.  Is that what we want our grandkids paying for?

The current assumption is that as you age, you become inept, but research doesn’t support that. Seventy percent of what we blame on aging is the result of lousy lifestyle choices.  And a lot of what we assume to be so about the marauding ineptitude of aging is just plain baloney.

The prevailing wisdom is that those who can afford to want to retire.  But in a 2005 study of over 3000 baby boomers, the Merrill Lynch Foundation found that only 17% wanted that lifestyle.

Every time we “retire” someone, we lose their expertise.  Younger workers could be a lot better at what they do a lot faster if the “old pros” were serving as mentors.   We lose senior members’ understanding of the context in which the work got done, too–and the resulting problem-solving, negotiating, and customer support advantages.   We lose a ton of information about what works and what doesn’t across the spectrum of the jobs that older workers are retiring from–which is most of them.

The system we have in place, assumes our most experienced, skilled workers want and need to “disappear”  at a specific age.  We pay them to do so.   What’s the benefit of that?

Even worse, the consequences  of not having a purpose in life are dire. So we set those same capable people up for a downward spiral would could avoid just be asking them to use what they know how to do.  People who have a reason to get up in the morning stay a lot healthier and live longer.  It’s a double whammy for the country–first we pay them not to work and then we pay for healthcare they may not have even needed if they were working.

Worst of all though, we are each setting ourselves up for this same frustrating decline into perceived uselessness by letting the system continue as is.

There a few things we need to accept:

  • Every person in society deserves a purpose and needs to be encouraged to claim it.
  • Not all important jobs are full time.  Some aren’t even paid.
  • “Old” is not a disease.   Wrinkles don’t erase competence.
  • Things don’t improve by having capable people sitting around doing nothing.

The idea that youth and progress are the only things that have value  has been around since the Second Great Awakening that began around 1825.  It’s time to let go of this outdated thinking and grab onto something more innovative. The challenge is not in chosing between young and old. The true test of our mettle as a nation, as business entities, and as individuals is in becoming a culture that values–and uses–both the freshness of its youth and the wisdom of its elders.


Keeping Your Job….

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Staying employed is as much about attitude as talent.

Virtually all of us have been affected by the current unemployment situation. If we haven’t personally lost a job, taken a pay cut, or ended up on reduced hours, we have friends and family members who are dealing with any and all of that. Keeping a job has become a far more serious concern of late. Be sure you aren’t setting yourself up to loss yours with your attitude.  Here are three things to think about:

Are you excusing yourself from doing the work?  Yes, all this doom and gloom is demoralizing, but that doesn’t give you a free pass.  The longer you are in a job, the easier it is to tell yourself “I’ve done this a long time, I deserve to throttle back a little.”   You don’t have to go full bore all the time, but you do have to do the work.

One of the most frustrating comments I hear from employers about older workers is that “they don’t want to work.”  We’re talking real estate professionals and scientists with graduate degrees here–at least in terms of where I’ve heard the comments lately.  Deciding that you’ve earned the right to slow down is okay of you take less pay to slow down.  But if you are still holding the same job and claiming the same salary, that “right” you think you deserve could land you in the unemployment line.

Are you part of the solution?  It makes no difference if you are eighteen or eighty, you have things to offer that can help the company thrive.  The probability that those talents have become highly polished skills increases with experience.  Use yours with intelligence, grace, and collaboration.

This is not a case of insisting that the old ways are better.  This is a commitment to dealing with the current challenges well by bringing everything you can to bear.  In particular, learn to build alliances with those who understand what you don’t.  The difference you can make working together will be huge.

Are you gobbling benefits?   Just because the company offers health insurance doesn’t mean you need to head for the doctor’s office every time you get a cold.  Many of us have gotten far too accustomed to solving our problems with pills.  The resulting skyrocketing health insurance costs has become a horrendous burden to most employers.  This is big piece of why “older workers are more expensive.”  Keep yourself healthy instead of expecting doctors to do it for you.  (They can’t anyway.  They just figure out why you are sick–sometimes–and spend a lot of your employer’s cash in the process.)

The same is true for taking more than you really need as sick days.  It’s wiser to stay home if you have something communicable, but taking a sick day to coach a baseball game?  Really?

For those of you grumbling about how miserable your job is, here’s one last bit of advice.  If you don’t want it, someone else would be ecstatic to have it.   Suck it up, turn on your smile and give it your best.


Resumes for 50+ Job Seekers

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Some resume advice given to those of us over 50 is misguided-and wrong.

At an AARP job fair I volunteered at yesterday, several job seekers told me stories of situations where they had ideal qualifications for work they were applying for, but they didn’t include it, because it was more than ten years in the past. They were under the impression that hiring supervisors were death on seeing anything but their most recent experience.

This is ridiculous. The strongest thing someone over 50 has to offer an employer is the breadth and depth of their experience. It means they know how to show up for work on time, solve a problem without creating a new one, soothe an irate customer, and so on. Negating that by limiting what you can talk about to the last ten years is lunacy.

This suggested strategy is probably stemming from a misunderstanding of advice that you include only the last ten years of experience on your resume to reduce the chances of ageism. There is some legitimacy to that. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention relevant experience at all. It just means you don’t need to list every job you ever had. (Remember when we didn’t have experience and we were desperate to list anything that looked like a job?)

If you are looking for work and have been in the workforce for a while, you need to be both creative and attentive in what you tell a prospective employer about what you can do. A key piece of a good resume writing strategy is to separate your achievements and strengths from the chronology of your work experience in how your format your information. That way, you can mention that you successfully owned and operated a car repair shop, even if it was twenty years ago, for example.

The most important thing to do with your resume is to give the person to whom you are sending it a clear idea of your experience at solving the problems they are trying to address. When you learned that skill isn’t anywhere near as important as that you have learned it.

Experience is GOOD. But knowing what part of the vast amount you have applies to the job you’re seeking is critical. Telling everybody everything won’t work. But neither does not telling the person who needs to know, simply because you did it more than ten years ago.  Use your head on this and stop  following arbitrary rules that well-meaning but misguided unemployment counselors offer.


Top 10 Reasons to Ditch Ageist Thinking

Monday, May 18th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd, CEO, Mining Silver

As a culture, we are doing an amazingly stupid thing.So with a nod of appreciation to David Letterman here are the Top 10 Reasons to Stop Thinking “Old” is a Problem.His “top ten” lists go from the last to the first so here, in ascending order, are ten reasons to ditch the idea that advancing age means inevitable decline.

10.IT’S NOT FAIR TO ASSUME PEOPLE WHO ARE “OLD” ARE WORN OUT AND USELESS.Or, to put it more bluntly, it’s not legal—at least if you live a developed country.Inthe United States, denying someone over 40 fair treatment on “any aspect of employment” because of the year he was born might put you on the losing side of a federal lawsuit that involves both compensatory AND punitive damages.

9.AGE = DECLINE IS A LIE.There are no scientific studies that confirm people automatically lose their ability to think and learn as they age.Studies reporting such findings were done on compromised groups who do not represent the general population of this age range.

8.ASSUMING OLDER WORKERS NEED TO “GET OUT OF THE WAY” SO THAT YOUNGER WORKERS CAN HAVE THOSE JOBS IS SHORT-SIGHTED.Isn’t that a bit like expecting Dad to throw the checkers game when you were 10?Asking competent people to step aside so someone else who can’t do the job as well can step up is like throwing away the candy and eating the wrapper.

7.WE NEED THESE WORKERS.Yes, we are currently dealing with the mother of all recessions, but when it ends, this need will be glaring.There are 78 million baby boomers.Gen X, which follows them, only has 40 million.We are going to need some of those 78 million to stick around longer than “average retirement age” to get the same work done, even with the 70 million Gen Y’ers moving into the workforce.

6.WE NEED OLDER WORKERS’ EXPERIENCE.To compete in a global economy, developed nations need to do more than put bodies at machines.We need people with well-developed problem solving skills.Book knowledge helps, but practical knowledge trumps it.Employees who have “been there and done that” knowhow to avoid the pitfalls and get the job done right—the first time.

5.WE NEED THEIR WISDOM.Come on, folks. There is no way the wunderkind grad from the most prestigious tech mecca is going to get the people parts and contextual stuff right from the get-go.We need both tech savvy and experienced leadership, leading-edge conceptualizing and seasoned veteran decision-making prowess to get this right.When we choose only “new,” we have nothing to anchor it to.

4.THINKING OLD PEOPLE ARE INEPT IS SOOOONINETEENTH CENTURY.Yes.Nineteenth century.This nonsense of refusing to marry innovation WITH wisdom began in the 1790’s.Employers from then until the 1950’s used the philosophy as justification for requiring workers to retire at a specific age.Brawn was more of an issue then.Thinking that way was wrongheaded in the Industrial Age.But now we’re in the Information Age, where KNOWLEDGE is critical. It’s corporate suicide.In a knowledge-intensive economy, it makes zero sense to send 40 years’ worth of it out the door so you can bring in someone with none.

3.THEY CAN LEAD THE WAY TO WHAT WE ALL WANT. When people old enough to retire choose not to, they pursue work arrangements the rest of us would love to have as well.Let them craft the new shapes for work that would give us all much needed flexibility so we can live the rest of our lives and work, too.

2.AGEIST THINKING IS EXPENSIVE.We want to pretend that if we don’t see them, those millions of older people we’ve marginalized aren’t there.But they ARE there…tapping the healthcare system far more than they would be with meaningful challenges in their lives, collecting Social Security,and relying on society and the government for things they could be doing for themselves given the chance and the encouragement.

1.WE ARE ALL GOING THERE.The weirdest thing about this form of discrimination is that we are all going to live it—short of dying young.But we think of OTHER people getting old and are blind to what we’re setting up for ourselves.Life expectancy right now is about 80.As knowledge workers, we are very likely to beat that.Do we really want to be invisible and irrelevant for twenty or more years of our lives just because some preacher back in 1790 decided youth and progress was better than age and wisdom?

It’s time to git rid of ageism.  It’s wrong, costs money, and sets us all up for a hard time when we get that far.

Why We Need to Recalibrate Our Sense of “Old”

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

On his 80th birthday, Hugh Hefner said “80 is the new 40.”   In an article last summer, Sunset magazine proclaimed “100 is the new 70.”   Author and CEO Bill Byham titled a 2007 business book  70: The New 50. The numbers are fun, but so far, it seems in terms of the way we see it as a culture, 50 is still “old.”  We need to revisit that.  We are shooting ourselves in the collective foot big time.

The dictionary lists nine different definitions of the word “old.”  When we talk about “old” people, are we talking about “worn” or “experienced?”   Our continued success as a society hinges on which we choose.  Because 50 is not “worn” so much as polished.   We are throwing away really good stuff–and then paying to keep it somewhere else.

Seventy percent of the physical problems we blame on aging are actually the result of lifestyle choices.  It’s not your age that’s keeping you from doing that bike ride.  It’s that you haven’t walked farther than from the couch to the refrigerator in the last five years.  Excusing our bad habits with our birthdays is a downpayment on a long gloomy death spiral.   Most of us are going to live to 80.  Thirty years of assuming we can’t do what we want because we’re “old” is pretty tragic.

Businesses who assume 50 is “old” are squandering some of their best talent, too.  Instead of helping  the experienced workforce get comfortable with new technology, they look for ways to usher them out the door.  Instead of building multi-generational teams that capitalize on the full range of talents and skills available, they shove the experience in some corner where the younger workers can’t learn from it.  They literally watch needed expertise walk out the door into retirement without ever asking, “Any way we can get you to work for us on a more flexible basis?”

A recent issue of Wired magazine included an article about taking your job on the road–in your RV.  It wasn’t written for “old” people.    But it sure looks like a good marriage of “retirement” and staunching the experience drain.  The irony of the current business mindset is that while companies continue to assume that experienced workers want traditional retirement, they are creating flexible work arrangements to attract Gen Y workers as their replacements.  The “new kids” want  to work when they want wherever they want, responsible only for the end result rather than showing up every day.  It’s called ROWE–results only work environment.    To offer such options to new, inexperienced workers–who probably won’t reach the level of productivity the older workers have for ten years or maybe much longer–and NOT offer it as an alternative to retirement is painfully short-sighted.

As a business, there may also be room to retain the experience you already paid to develop in creative ways that take less than a full time salary to accomplish.   This is a tight labor market, yes.   But it’s also the perfect opportunity to try some things while the pace is a little slower.    How can you marry new technology with old savvy to get the best bang for your labor buck?

And then there is the little matter of government entitlements.  When someone retires, they go on everybody else’s payroll, via FICA taxes.  Social Security comes out of our collective wallets, not “the government’s.”   So when we expect people to be “old” and to retire around 62,  we buy in on taking care of them, in terms of Social Security checks, for an average of about 18 years.

Most  people retire in good health.  They are still capable of doing great work on something in which they believe, particularly if it’s a customized arrangement.  Instead, the invisible wall of ageism goes up around them.  The culture assumes they are washed up, worn out, and useless.   We pay them to “get out of the way” when they weren’t in the way in the first place.  And once they’ve retired, we make re-entry into the labor market, even if highly qualified, damn near impossible.  It’s like we are afraid “old” is contagious.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Once people start being “old,” they buy in on the stereotype.  They need more medical attention.  Much of it wouldn’t be necessary if these capable people could remain engaged.  But when the only person who’ll talk to you is your doctor, you talk to your doctor.  Once Medicare is part of that person’s setup, we are all pay the bill.

We need to revisit when “old” starts.  I’m voting for somewhere around 95 or maybe 98.  Many of us can keep going all the way to the day we die if we just have the opportunity.  People over 50 have a lot left to offer and a lot left to do. As a culture, we need to give them the chance.