Okay, so the title is a somewhat hokey bid to get your attention, but it does point to a situation that everyone really needs to be aware of. As I’ve said before, we all know age discrimination in the workplace is illegal, and we also know it happens–probably more often than you would like to think. Plus, it’s an issue even if you’re still on the sunny side of 40 and think it doesn’t apply to you. Maybe it doesn’t now, but it will eventually and possibly sooner than you expect. If you’re smart, you’re already thinking and planning how you can avoid or at least minimize its impact on your career well-being.
Ageism Alive and Well in the Workplace
I really like the articles I read by Michelle Rafter on SecondAct.com, and her latest, “Study: Workplace Ageism is Rampant,” is no exception. She interviewed Jacquelyn James from Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work about a study James’ group did that’s going to be published in June in the Journal of Managerial Psychology.
Conclusions from the study include the following: “Workplace bias against older employees is everywhere, even as the population ages and people continue to work later in life. Even if it’s unintentional, age discrimination can make employees of all ages feel less interested and happy in their jobs.” Among other things, this kind of situation includes job seekers’ perceptions about being passed over intentionally or unintentionally for promotions because they’re 55 or older. Remember: If you’re not there yet, you inevitably will be down the road. None of us is getting any younger as time passes!
Unemployment becomes a factor in this battle, too, because “although the jobless rate for younger workers has been higher than for workers 45 and older, older workers who lose a job take longer–an average of 60 weeks [note: that's about 14 months]–to re-enter the work force.”
Job Seeker Age Discrimination a Company Problem
Sure, it’s a problem or possible problem for you as a current or future job seeker, but it’s also a potentially big problem for companies as well. As James points out in the interview with Rafter, “Not having engaged employees means a negative for the bottom line. Employers only worry about age discrimination in terms of being sued. But this is a bigger problem.”
Older Workers Not Getting in Younger Colleagues’ Way
There’s a widespread notion that older workers staying in the workforce longer are preventing younger employees from getting job opportunities. However, the interview contradicts that perception. James says that “the data doesn’t back it up. The problem isn’t that older workers are keeping jobs from younger workers. It’s that there aren’t enough jobs to go around.” Also, I believe from what I’ve read elsewhere that job seekers’ skill sets aren’t always a good match for the jobs that are available, which is a different but related issue.
Job Seeker Discouragement vs. Determination
Whether you’re 50-something or older or not, you could find yourself in an extended job search at some point. Although not necessarily related to ageism, this subject came up in the interview, and James’ response was what I and my professional colleagues basically tell our clients all the time: “Knowing that for most people it does come to an end is reassuring, because people get discouraged and quit trying….you can’t quit trying. No matter how many times you get rejected, you have to keep going.”
I know that’s easy for us to say and maybe tough for you to swallow if you’re the one who’s struggling to find a new job, but think about the alternative: no job and no momentum geared toward landing one. That’s not a great option. Persistence alone might not win the prize, but persistence combined with smart career management and well-planned job search techniques usually does, even if not always as quickly as you might like.
One definition of “dinosaur” is: A person or thing that is outdated or has become obsolete because of failure to adapt to changing circumstances. In today’s challenging economy and competitive job market, it’s probably the last term you want to have applied to you! If you haven’t kept up with industry changes, emerging technology and other trends affecting your career prospects, you could well find yourself on the layoff chopping-block and badly positioned to land your next job. While no one can anticipate and avoid all the possible gloomy scenarios, you can take some actions to enhance your position.
Lack of Up-to-Date Expertise in Your Job Field
I’ve hammered on this subject before, but I still run across job seekers who either don’t “get” it or for a variety of reasons (some valid, some not so much) just haven’t done anything about it. One potential advantage you have over newer candidates is the depth and breadth of real-life work experience you’ve accumulated and the contributions you’ve made to employers over that time. If you can appropriately articulate and showcase those contributions, you can get a leg up on your less-experienced competition.
However, that might not be enough to help you if you have let your development of skills and expertise lapse–because you didn’t think it was terribly important, thought you didn’t have enough time to devote to maintaining and increasing your expertise, or for some other reason. That’s likely to prove a costly mistake–a true error in judgment. In one sense, it resembles running in place while a group of more energetic and victory-hungry runners are barreling down on you from behind! Taking a brief rest-break sometimes makes sense, but the operative word here is “brief.” No serious job seeker or career-minded individual can afford to opt-out of the necessary skill maintenance and upgrading for long.
Layoffs and Your Income-Level Challenge
Another aspect of avoiding the job search dinosaur status involves a more daunting situation. As a recent CNN article titled “Get used to a life of layoffs” notes: “The tech job market is excellent for younger workers, but many of those who are laid off and over 35 will find the market less welcoming. They’re perceived as too expensive….Indeed, jettisoning the veterans is often the hidden agenda in mass layoffs. It’s no coincidence that many of the U.S. core engineering openings at HP have titles like Recent Graduate, Intern and Post Doc, all aimed at the younger crowd.”
The article goes on to note that you could find yourself displaced and sidelined for a very long time in your field (perhaps even permanently) because you are much more costly to employers than reasonably skilled younger job seekers. In addition, offshoring is still alive and well, and it continues to make inroads on employment opportunities in a variety of fields and industries. The hard truth might be that you will at some point face the necessity for making a change to a new field and/or industry. Since that in itself can be a challenge and you probably won’t be the only job seeker trying to succeed in doing it, you need to take as farsighted a view of the situation as you can and do your best to open up alternative possibilities that could work for you–before your back is against the wall and employment disaster looms.
Should you leave your home address off your resume? This question has a variety of answers, depending on the circumstances and whom you ask. Some key issues include privacy, protection from identity theft, and trying to avoid premature rejection by employers.
Resumes: Privacy and Protection from Identity Theft
The privacy issue includes ideas such as not letting people know where you actually live when you’re sending your resume out into the world, presumably since all kinds of people will be seeing it and could make note of your address for purposes of their own. Personally, I think the likelihood of this happening is fairly remote, but I can’t say it would never happen.
On the other hand, protection from identity theft has become a serious issue in recent years. It’s something that can cause devastating problems for you through no fault of your own. For that reason, it would seem a reasonable precaution to avoid displaying your complete home address on your resume. When an employer becomes genuinely interested in hiring you, providing the address becomes a non-issue.
One possible alternative that I believe makes good sense is to list the city, state and ZIP code, without the physical street address. Another way to deal with this involves renting a mailbox that doesn’t look on the face of it like a mailbox address.
Resumes: Avoiding Premature Rejection by Employers
Sometimes employers set up screening procedures that look for candidates living—or not living—in certain areas. For example, they might be biased against people living in other geographical areas for fear they’ll be asked to pay for relocation or because they want someone who is well versed in the local culture and has local contacts. However, companies might have other reasons for using your resume’s lack of location information or inclusion of certain information against you.
The following are some points recently shared by one of my professional colleagues, Robin Schlinger, who is located in Georgia:
- If you eliminate the entire address and the client is applying for jobs in Georgia, they most likely will not be considered for the job, unless the client has really unusual, highly technical skills that are in demand.
- In Atlanta, it is not good enough just to live in/close to Atlanta. Due to transportation issues, people need to live in the right ZIP codes to get an offer.
- Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) check addresses or ZIP codes for proximity and will reject applications from applicants who do not fit the geographical profile.
Robin recommends that the resume indicate your mailing address if you’re not interested in relocation and that you rent a mailbox at a UPS store or other mailbox store in the general ZIP code area where you are looking for a job. You can also arrange to list the local address of a friend or relative, with his/her permission, and you can get a local cell phone number. Of course, with the current portability of phone numbers, an area code is no longer quite the location give-away it once was.
Be aware, however, that if you are currently working in, say, Texas and want to land a job in California, your resume is going to show a geographical discrepancy regardless of whether or not you include any location information in the contact section at the top.
Some things get super-sized, like fast-food portions. Others get minimized…like cover letters? Just when I thought I knew everything there was to know about writing cover letters (not really), I started seeing references to e-notes. Apparently, we now have to start thinking in terms of the old quote about “less is more” with regard to cover letters. So, hello, e-notes!
Difference between a Cover Letter and an E-Note
As I understand it (I’ve just started researching this), an e-note could be compared to a cover letter on a diet. It needs to fit comfortably into the body of an e-mail message, ideally short enough to be read without scrolling down. Typically, it might have 6-7 paragraphs of 2-3 lines each, sometimes only one line. The first paragraph should grab the right kind of attention, preferably with a clear reference to something the reader is likely to care about or at least a concise statement of your purpose in sending the message. You can use an e-note to reach out to your network, to contact recruiters and, presumably, to pursue opportunities directly with hiring managers. The e-note also needs a strong and clear subject line if you hope to have recipients actually read it.
Cover letters have normally been a full page or close to it–maybe as few as 3 paragraphs but more likely as many as 5 or 6, with each paragraph running from possibly a couple of lines to as many as 5 lines. The cover letter might or might not contain a short bulleted list. It also might or might not have a subject line, which often would simply be the title of the position being sought (although that’s not a particularly creative approach, it is direct). We know that not everyone reads the cover letter that comes with your resume, although a good letter has still been considered important because it allows you to reinforce the impression you hope your resume is making and also lets you do some customizing.
Are Cover Letters Doomed in Favor of E-Notes?
While it might be premature to pronounce cover letters a thing of the past, it’s hard to ignore an emerging trend toward brevity, which has also had some impact on resumes in recent years (possibly accelerated by devices such as smart phones and tablets). That job search trend suggests an e-note might increasingly be the communication tool of choice, particularly when so many of our communications travel electronically. You can also hope that the e-note will actually get read before the recipient opens the attached resume–it might be a little harder to ignore than a separate cover letter and also more encouraging for people to read, simply because it’s short. That’s if–and it’s a big IF–you craft your e-note thoughtfully and judiciously to make every word count as much as possible.
Whether you create a cover letter or an e-note to send with your resume, you still need to do your homework about the position you’re pursuing and the company that’s hiring for it. In fact, it might be even more important to do this with an e-note, since you’ll have to choose wisely to make the best use of the space available. Think of it this way: If you had to pay $5 for each word you used, would you weigh your choices carefully? I’m betting you would!
How good a fit is the job you have now? The one you’re pursuing or interviewing for? While we’re at it, how good a fit is the company itself–your current employer or the one you’re aiming for next? If you haven’t asked yourself these questions yet, you really should. Failure to identify the answers can lead to failure in the job because it or the company isn’t a good fit for you, or vice-versa.
A few years ago I took training to become a Certified Job Search Strategist (CJSS). The core training resource was a book called Job Search Magic, by Susan Whitcomb. I’ve used that book and its principles countless times since then to help clients focus their job search effectively. In view of the current challenging economy and changing work world, I thought it was time to revisit some of its ideas that you might not be familiar with.
External “F.I.T.” and Its Relationship to Your Job Fit
According to Job Search Magic, your Career “Master F.I.T.(TM)” consists of two kinds: external and internal. For the purposes of this post, I’m only going to touch on the external kind. Whitcomb presents F.I.T. as standing for Function (what you want and would like to do), Interests or Industry (where and with whom you want to do those things), and Things That Matter (values and priorities that are critical for your best performance).
Looking at this concept in the light of your current job, for instance, does the job require you to spend time doing something you really dislike, such as working more with numbers than people? That probably means that a primary function of your job is not a good fit for you. If you knew that going in, maybe you assumed it wouldn’t be a big enough deal to bother you much, but now you know better. When you plan your next job search, therefore, you’ll want to keep in mind that fairly extensive people interaction is a primary goal for you, and a job that doesn’t offer it is likely to be one you won’t be happy with.
A passionate interest in a particular field or industry might be the motivator you need to pursue certain job opportunities. For example, if you’ve always been a nature lover and care deeply about protecting our wildlife, you might seek a job as a park ranger or game warden. On the other hand, holding a position as a claims adjuster in the auto insurance industry might make you increasingly reluctant to show up for work! The disparity between the field or industry you’re most interested in and the one in which you work is too great for long-term satisfaction.
Finally, if the job you hold or the company where you work involves violating principles that are important to you or doesn’t provide conditions you consider essential, your job fit doesn’t look encouraging. Your job satisfaction will probably decline significantly, and your performance is likely to suffer. That’s a potentially slippery slope to involuntary termination (firing) or impulsive departure (emotionally driven resignation).
How to Maximize Your Job Fit
Think carefully about what you want to do and what you do not want to do. Both are important. Consider what your ideal job and ideal company might look like, if you could have everything you wanted. Then prioritize your “wants.” Finally, get “real” and determine which or how much of those you can realistically shoot for in your next job, based on your strengths, experience and other key factors. That’s your starting-point to evaluate both your current position and the next one you want to target.
Up-front clarification: I write resumes for clients as a professional, and I’ve decided I’m uncomfortable including information that is untrue, misleading, etc. I also discourage clients from doing it if I know they’re considering such a problematic course. However, unless I have a reason to know or at least suspect that a client is being dishonest, I have to take his/her word for the truthfulness of the resume contents. All I can do is refrain from including information I know is false. That said, I have some fairly strong opinions about the subject of resume padding, which has been prominent in the news so frequently over the years–very recently, in fact.
One Problem with Resume Padding
First, let’s define resume padding. As I see it, that refers to lies or exaggerations (a fancy word for lies that just “stretch the truth” somewhat) the job seeker knows aren’t factually accurate but chooses to include in the resume anyway. It does not refer to things like typographic errors (typos) that don’t get caught and corrected by careful proofreading. For instance, you could inadvertently type “increased sales by 25%” when you actually increased them only 15%, because the “1″ and the “2″ are right next to each other on the keyboard. However, you should be proofreading carefully enough to catch that.
On the other hand, when someone claims to have a certain university degree and knows he or she doesn’t–in some cases, didn’t even attend that university–that puts the truthfulness of the entire resume in question. What’s worse, it raises uncertainty and suspicion about resumes in general, many of which could actually be truthful. That puts an unfair burden on job seekers like you, who are trying their best to present themselves strongly to potential employers without crossing the line between truth and lies. That’s one problem with resume padding. There are others.
Other Resume Padding Problems
Here are just 3 more problems involved in resume padding:
- Companies spend valuable time and money hiring employees who have put lies into their resumes, and the companies might have been depending on the falsified qualifications to produce value for them. Discovering the lie after the fact (after hiring) causes multiple difficulties. That’s one reason so many employers are doing background checks these days. As noted in a “resume padding” article by Emanuella Grinberg for CNN), “In a 2010 survey of 1,818 organizations, 69% reported catching a job candidate lying on his or her resume, according to employment screening service HireRight.”
- The issue of violated trust raises its ugly head. People throughout an organization have put their trust in someone who has lied to them, directly or indirectly. As HireRight’s Employment Screening Benchmarking Report (mentioned in the article) states: “Even where lies may not represent a huge loss to the employer, companies report that catching a candidate in an untruth undermines confidence and credibility.”
- The judgment and ethics of the individual who has perpetrated the lie are called into serious question (at least in my mind), spurring concerns about the reliability and trustworthiness of that individual in other areas of his/her work and life. If an individual can justify lying about something on the resume to get a job, who’s to say he or she wouldn’t decide that other lies are equally justified down the road somewhere? Where does the line get drawn?
The Best Alternative to Resume Padding
Don’t let yourself get sucked into doing it! Instead of fabrication (another fancy word for lying), focus on creating and communicating genuine value–something employers can, in a sense, take to the bank. That can produce great results and won’t keep you on edge wondering when or how you’ll get caught.
Numerous news-feeds, blogs, etc., provide information on the latest job market statistics and often include predictions about what’s coming down the road–anywhere from short-term periods to years from now. As a current or future job seeker, you should do your best to stay on top of this kind of information, as an aid to your career management activities. However, if you take everything you read as gospel, you could find yourself thoroughly confused!
Job Market Predictions Not Cast in Concrete
One definition of “prediction” is “forecast.” Basically, that means “to estimate or calculate in advance.” That alone tells you something about the nature of predictions. Even the best job market experts are drawing conclusions about the future based on past and present knowledge available to them. They can’t assure you that what they believe will happen will actually happen, much less that it will happen when they predict and in the way they predict. Virtually every job market prediction they make is “subject to change without notice.” Too many variables can pop up to ensure any degree of certainty. Look at what happened when the bottom fell out of the real estate market, for example. The impact hit harder and lasted much longer than predicted, leaving many people scrambling to find jobs and careers outside that field.
Interpretation of Job Market Predictions
Even if statistics included in the predictions are based on reasonably sound assumptions, they can still be open to multiple interpretations. That’s why you’ll often see a particular news item viewed differently by different commentators, bloggers and others. Either intentionally or through unintentional bias, an individual can provide an interpretation of the statistics that fits his or her view but contradicts the view held by other individuals. Politicians aren’t the only ones guilty of this, but they’re definitely a good example. That means you need to take different views of job market statistics with a healthy dose of skepticism. Trying to stay informed about possible outcomes or events in the job market is good; letting yourself get sucked into unquestioning acceptance of a prediction based on something no more solid than Jello is not so good.
Tips for Responding to Job Market Predictions
Tip #1: Consider the source. How strong are the organization’s or individual’s credentials for making job market predictions? What kind of track record has been maintained and over how many years?
Tip #2: Remember that time changes everything–or almost everything. Predictions are moving targets. Even if something seems like a near-certainty now, in 5 years…a year…maybe even less, it could turn out to be anything but certain. It might not come to pass at all or maybe much later than originally predicted.
Tip #3: Build a contingency factor into any decisions you make based on job market predictions, even those that come from the most reliable source you can find.
As Benjamin Franklin once wrote: “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Whether or not you are–or ever expect to be–an entrepreneur, you could find it extremely useful to adopt some key entrepreneurial skills into your long-range career strategy, especially since the days of companies looking after the career well-being of their employees are way long gone.
As some of you know, I do resume reviewing and resume writing / job search coaching for an executive web site called BlueSteps, whose parent organization is the Association of Executive Search Consultants. I’ve become a fan of their blog (for which I’ve written a couple of posts), and a post from April 20 by Clara Widdison of AESC recently caught my attention. It’s titled, “How to Include Your Entrepreneurial Skills in Your Executive Career Strategy.” The points in Widdison’s post could be considered especially critical for senior managers and executives, but in reality, they’re probably good advice for all job seekers these days.
6 Tips for Entrepreneurial Skills in Career Strategy
In brief, Widdison lists 6 points you should keep in mind as you develop, fine-tune and periodically update your career strategy:
- Financial knowledge is critical to driving successful business, and even if your job doesn’t involve financial control directly, having that knowledge can boost your standing in the organization and provide opportunities for growth.
- Businesses need a written plan that gets updated regularly. If it already has one, develop a personal plan that shows how you will drive the business forward.
- It’s important for entrepreneurs to tap into knowledge of experienced peers and mentors in areas where they’re not as strong, but it’s also important to do that when you’re not an entrepreneur–don’t let embarrassment hold you back from seeking advice.
- Don’t get complacent. Always seek new challenges. This not only helps your company but also makes you more indispensable as an employee.
- Research, research, research. Especially the region and industry you’re working in. Join trade or professional associations. Become a mentor to subordinates and trusted advisor to superiors.
- Never underestimate the power of personal marketing and networking. Do them early and often, in terms of both time and money.
Evaluate Your Entrepreneurial Skills and Career Strategy
Maybe you think you don’t have any entrepreneurial skills, so how can you fit them into your career strategy? I used to think I never wanted to have my own business because I certainly didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur. About 10 years after that, I started my own business, which I’ve now been operating for about 20 years. Never say never!
Did I have strong entrepreneurial skills when I started? Heck, no! In some ways, I still don’t. I’m not going to be the next Steve Jobs, for example. I’m also not going to be Ms. I-Can-Sell-Ice-to-Eskimos! That’s not my style or my business model. However, some of what I observed from executives and other business people when I still held a “real” job proved to be valuable when I launched my own business. You could find the same to be true in your own experience–except you would be planning your career strategy to build success as a direct employee, rather than starting and running a company.
Research that Turns Career Strategy into Action
Widdison’s point about research particularly resonated with me. The more I talked to people who were successful at what I wanted to do, the more I learned about what it took to succeed. The more I researched resources others recommended to me, plus those I found on my own, the better armed I felt to tackle the challenges involved. At some point, however, you have to stop researching and take action. Otherwise, you’re just stuffing your head with knowledge you’ll never use. Decide when enough-is-enough and get moving! That’s what entrepreneurs tend to do, and it can work for you as well.