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Your Age is Not a Barrier

“I think my age might be a problem.”

I hear this from clients regularly, perhaps every other week. Even so, this last time shocked me. My client was 44. Nonplussed for a second, I asked her whether she was supposed to be too old or too young for the role - too old apparently.

It’s certainly the case that strange ideas start to get traction in the world of job applications. When we started Wordsmith Consultants back in 2011, people would call me and say “I hear you only have 60 seconds to impress a potential employer before they move on to the next resume.” Two years later that number was down to 15 seconds; someone quoted 3 seconds at me last month. By logical extension, employers will be making choices based exclusively on random selection by next year.

So yes, some of the age-discrimination rumours are just that: rumours.

If you’re 44, you are probably too old to be an Olympic gymnast but if you’re worrying about being too old for the workplace, there’s a good chance that you concern is unwarranted.

On the other hand, age discrimination certainly does occur for older people and there is evidence that the discrimination is uneven across genders. The phenomenon includes some outright discrimination as well as a few justifiable concerns, particularly for physical roles. Mostly it’s not so much ill-will as lack of imagination on the part of employers.

There is always a solution. Consider the following:

1. Your age is nobody’s business

Resumes are your sales pitch. You don’t have to include your age and you don’t have to include every job you’ve ever had. Cover your recent and relevant experience and leave off older roles that might date you.

2. First impressions matter

Competent use of technology is considered a minimum requirement for most professional jobs these days. If your resume looks like you’re still on MS Word 2003, it opens you up to being written off. It doesn’t have to be funky; in fact, unless you’re in social media, it probably shouldn’t be. It does need to be clean, professional, well-formatted.

3. Framing is important

A defensive line the personal profile about being in good shape for your age is only going to underscore concerns. Instead focus on your experience and track-record. After all your last job isn’t the end of your career, it’s the pinnacle.

4. Explaining what you have to offer is your responsibility

Instead of worrying about the downsides, focus on the positive attributes that your age provides. Maybe that’s the credibility of many years developing your technical expertise or perhaps it’s a calm demeanour born of life experience. Do you have strong rapport with an older demographic or a natural flair for mentoring younger staff as they start their careers?

The Golden HangGlider: The Virtues of Taking a Redundancy Package

With news today of 200 operational roles at Coles being made redundant due to restructure, I have been reflecting on the different attitudes we see amongst clients seeking our services after a redundancy. Some clients almost shamefacedly tell us that they have just been made redundant whilst others express barely concealed glee at the prospect of paid garden leave. For clients with significant financial responsibilities I'm sure it feels like an unwanted gamble and for those who had counted on seeing out their careers with the employer the move may feel hardest of all.

Then again, to Executives well established in their careers, a corporate restructure is generally taken less personally. After all they have probably made these sorts of strategic decisions themselves and understand that you can be excellent at your job and dispensable at the same time. Whatever the initial emotional reaction, there is no doubt that redundancy represents an opportunity, perhaps the sole opportunity of its kind, to begin a new career path. In the traditional imagery of a golden parachute you can only fall to earth whereas in reality you can very much steer this process.

In making the most of the opportunity, trying to guess what the market wants you to do is almost certainly the wrong place to start. Unless you have been job-hunting in the last couple of years it will be virtually impossible to predict what you look like to recruiters and employers. Instead, start by laying out your personal value proposition.

By this we mean, what is it that you do particularly well, better than anyone else? At Wordsmiths, we help clients begin to articulate this by asking what they are proudest of from recent roles, what they leave behind them that is better now than when they were hired. From this we can begin to look at the mix of attributes and enthusiasms to identify a unique suite of skills, often generalisable to multiple industries and lines of work.

When it works best, this process also helps to recapture some of the things that get them out of bed in the morning. It seems clear enough that just as employees seek more flexibility to fit their jobs around their lives so too companies expect to be able to constantly adapt their workforce to their emerging objectives. Redundancy then is a fact of life.

What it leads to is up to you.

Writing a Credible Resume

According to Smart Company over 56% of employers report having had applicants lie on their resumes, on everything from experience and work-specific skills to education and falsifying referees. In addition to explicit inaccuracy there is a significant grey area, filled with exaggeration, glossing over and telling the truth in advance (I’ll make sure I have learned to use that software before I start). Against this backdrop, how do you demonstrate your skills, experience and achievements credibly?

Some employers set tests as part of the application process, designed to differentiate between candidates. Although this process is often done poorly and may put off candidates who resent being treated like high school students, there is some merit to having candidates prove their claims. And this line of thought can be valuable for resume-writing.

Instead of simply writing a list of achievements, out of context, be specific about exactly what you did and then take the time to explain the strategy and mechanisms that drove those achievements. Describing the process will demonstrate that you understand how it is done. For example: Delivered significant sales growth The word significant is too generic to be valuable: it sounds like deliberately avoiding the real number. If it was genuinely strong result, show and contextualise it.

For example:

  • Delivered 12% growth in sales (against target of 6%)

Including the actual number instantly adds credibility; showing some sort of target or benchmark helps to make it relevant for an employer who may not know how significant that 12% was.

Even better would be:

  • Delivered 12% growth in sales (against target of 6%), through:
    • Re-activating existing clients, via eDMs, to drive repeat and referral business
    • Developing sales channels, including the new independent retailer wholesale channel
    • Rolling out eCommerce functionality to leverage increase in website traffic

The show don’t tell principle also applies to how you describe yourself.

Whilst it is certainly acceptable to use a few positive adjectives in your profile and cover letter, it is much better for the employer to come to the conclusion that you are ‘dynamic and motivated’ through what you have achieved. Bear in mind that they don’t know you yet so take the time to spell out what those qualities have meant for your career and previous employers.

How Not To Get Lost in a Large Business

For people willing and able to navigate the politics and complexity of a large organisation, the career benefits can be enormous. Often they come with leading edge technologies, recruit the sort of talent that can provide you with access to mentors and colleagues to drive and inspire you and offer the back office support that lets you get on with your actual job. The trade-off we hear about regularly from our clients is that it’s easy to get buried and hard to make your mark. If you’re considering your next move and wondering how to avoid looking like just another Account Executive, Program Manager or People Leader, you may wish to consider the following strategy..

Excelling at your job, whilst collaborating rather than competing with your colleagues, is a critical platform on which to build any career development strategy. With that in mind, another strategy, which should ideally be started at least a year ahead of any major career move, is to build a niche. In the face of the generalism of a large organisation, the niche strategy is a way of ensuring that there is a subset of roles for which you are the unassailable specialist. This can be equally effective whether the next move is an internal promotion or a bid for a different organisation.

This niche needs to be something you really care about. As you will see, the strategy involves staying engaged with the area across a range of online forums as well as providing commentary and even sometimes pro-bono expertise. This will get old pretty quickly if it’s an area of only marginal interest.

As well as taking up opportunities internally, this strategy involves developing your own perspectives and theories about the subject and then using a forum such as LinkedIn to begin regularly posting about the subject. In the most labour-intensive version, some people launch their own websites, not promoting themselves directly but hosting a forum, with themselves as the convener and arbitrator, gradually becoming seen as an authority. This tactic can be further developed by providing free advice, in a limited way, so that they begin to be seen as the go-to person on the subject.

This sort of work is at the heart of how we approach personal brand management at Wordsmith Consultants. Rather than trying to figure out what kind of shirt you should be wearing and taking up each and every opportunity to speak on any subject in front of those further up the food-chain, this plan requires selectivity, specialisation and persistence. It’s not going to get you every job out there but it may just be the difference in building a unique value proposition.