“People at midlife like to talk about their experience. We were taught to do that, that experience speaks for itself. That’s all changed. Now we have to promote ourselves in a unique way,” says Ed Redfern, Jr., a man who has worked both sides of the desk. He has a background in HR and recruiting. He’s worked as a career counselor. Currently, he’s senior issues specialist for work and financial security at AARP.
“Job seekers get frustrated. They say, ‘I’m not getting interviews and I have all this experience.’” That’s exactly the problem. Instead of experience, you need to focus on skills. That’s what’s transferable. “People say, ‘I started as a junior accountant, worked up to senior accountant, and oversaw 10 reports.’ That tells the hirer nothing about what you can do for him or her.” Instead, Redfern recommends describing your skills, how and where you applied them, and the outcome. Say you’re an outstanding presenter. Even if it’s not part of the job description, talk about it anyway. The interviewer will judge whether it’s important. Until you put it out there, nobody knows.
Focus your search on jobs where your skills are a plus. Say you like the marketing environment and want to be a product manager. Look at the various job descriptions, and pick off key words to see what skills you need. These days everybody does marketing, so you have to tailor your letter and resume to a specific position. You could have different resumes positioning you as a marketing rep or a sales rep or an account manager.
What you should say, Redfern advises, is something like this: “I’m a professional financial manager with a background in accounting. My skills are presentation, managing, budget forecasting.” Very specific skills. Now the interviewer has material to follow up on. She may say, “Tell me about forecasting, which is our biggest issue. What were your outcomes? The interview has shifted to discussing your skills, and the interviewer has a full set of data, relevant to the position.”
The Pitch-Perfect Elevator Speech
At the same time, you need an elevator speech built around your skills. In no more than three minutes, you should be able to articulate your background. For your elevator speech, present your skill set, how you’ve applied it and the outcome. Once you’ve got the speech cold, you can use it in cover letters, resumes, your LinkedIn profile. When you’re social networking, you’re ready to launch into it. You’re never off guard when you see an opportunity to present yourself.
“I used to swim at a gym where a lot of hiring managers worked out,” Redfern remembers. “They’d be saying, ‘I need to hire a new X.’ If I were looking, I’d launch into my elevator speech and hand them a business card. Say, ‘This isn’t an appropriate time, but here’s who I am and maybe we can talk tomorrow.’”
Jobs Are Where You Find Them
Never miss an opportunity to network. As soon as a hiring manager is looking for someone, he reaches out to his network, before the job description is even posted. When you’re looking for a job, you have to be out and about. You can’t spend eight hours a day job hunting behind your computer. You should be networking, volunteering, seeing people, creating opportunities to tell your story.
You’re Always “On”
Cast the net wide, but don’t mix up your professional and personal networks. The personal network is where you can vent. “I’ve had people who will vent to me and then ask for a recommendation, and I can’t do it,” says Redfern. “Seek out a job club or a house of worship where you can cuss out interviewers and be frustrated. Don’t do it anywhere an employer might see.”
When you land an interview, remember that it begins the minute you pull into the parking lot. “My assistant is part of the interview process. I say, ‘Go and welcome the person. Tell him I’ll be ready in five minutes. Then come and give me your quick assessment. I had one applicant arrive half an hour early, then pace in the outer office.”
Redfern recommends working out and not just for your health. “It can be a great icebreaker for interviews. When the interviewer asks, ‘How are you today?’ you can say you had a great run.” This starts a conversation at the same time it’s breaking a stereotype about older people. Do the same for other myths. Talk about how you Skype with your kids at college. Demonstrate that you use technology in day-to-day life. You could even pull out an iPad, saying “I want to capture what you just said.” Then turn it off and continue with the interview.
Don’t Just Look the Part, Dress for Today
The last critical thing on Redfern’s checklist is appearance. “When you’re networking or interviewing, look like you’re ready to work in 2012. If you haven’t bought a tie in a decade, invest in a new one. You need a look that fits today’s environment: well-groomed, contemporary.” Redfern advises dressing up because you can always remove a jacket or tie but you can’t conjure one up.
“I’ve done training on the multigenerational workplace. The stereotypes of various generations are based on who you know. If you’re a boomer, your opinion of millennials is based on your kids. And the converse is true. Break the biases by convincing the interviewer that he’s looking at a professional, not a parent or grandparent.”
Look the part, act the part – and nail that job!