Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Law vs. The Real World

If you are anything like me, while you always knew there were laws against age discrimination on an intellectual level, it wasn't until you got out there in the real world looking to make a change at say 45+ that you came to internalize emotionally age discrimination was very real.

Not a great feeling to understate the case.

Given the make-up of ExecuNet membership (average age 52) we gets lots of feedback and war stories from people facing this issue and they often ask me what my feelings are about the subject. Maybe it's my own age (72) kicking in or just that in combination with the life experiences that have gone along with it, but what I usually tell them is that in my experience, when it comes to discrimination (be it age, sex, religion, or whatever) there seems to be a spectrum - on one end are people whose minds you will never change and on the on the other are those whose minds you don't have to worry about changing. The rest of us tend to fall somewhere in-between which means to one degree or another, while we all have a bias, we are influence able, and that is the group on which I would concentrate.

Said differently, it depends on how you want to spend your time and energy. The fact is that we all need to go to work somewhere and if you elect to go the suit route, aside from the time and expense, the "real world" probability is that no employer is going to be that excited about bringing you on board for fear that they would be next on your list, and in this day and age, finding out that you are involved in a legal battle would not take long.

Not an easy choice for sure, and it doesn't help with the deep anger that one feels, but maybe what reality dictates as the best choice for you and your family. Would that it were a perfect world.

All of this doesn't mean that there is nothing to be done except to sit back and "take it."  There is a great deal that one can do, especially if you are focused on those in the middle of the spectrum who can be influenced, and while there are a number of tools one can use to help someone "to see the light" I think the most powerful of those available are information and networking.

What I mean is this: if you have done your homework on an organization in which you have a real interest, you will be armed with the knowledge of the challenges they face, and therefore are able to share with them the fact that over the course of your career to date that you have dealt with the issues they face, and at 45+, probably more than once. 

When people are engaged in conversations that are (a) focused on their needs and (b) are seeing potential solutions to their problems, they are not thinking about your age, they are thinking about how much easier their life can be.  That is the power of information.

That said, what I hear a lot of from members is that all of this is well and good except they never get the chance to share the information because they never hear back from their responses to job postings, so what good is all this info.

My response usually runs along the lines of if postings is what you are chasing, I am not surprised to hear it.

Whoever and however your electronic outreach is being screened, it is highly unlikely that they will be the least bit interested or be feeling inclined to find out how much value you can bring.  Their role is to screen candidates out just as fast as they can and that usually translates to whatever you have sent is going to see the light of day for something in the neighborhood of twenty (20) seconds - give or take.

In order for you to get the chance to show what you bring based on your research and experience, you need to be face-to-face and that will come about as the result of your networking into the organization, not from answering postings.

New information?  Hardly.  Does it require the investment of your time, energy and passion?  Yup, and the operative word is "passion."  Once you start to care about something, you will find the time and the energy. 

Investing your precious time sending responses into the black hole of cyberspace drains both energy and passion.  Gaining information on organizations that produce products or services that get you juiced will produce more energy and passion than you have felt in a long, long time. 

Sunday, December 04, 2011

You Control More Than You Think

About a year or so ago in addition to the normal phone calls and emails that come on a daily basis I wanted to find a way to make sure that I was continually available and accessible to our members but also to do more in terms of sharing with them some of the lessons I had learned from my stumbling around the world of career management for the last 45+ years.

I don't mean to imply that I haven't been accessible; my email and number is all over the site.  What I mean is that I didn't just want to be there to react to questions or whatever, but rather I wanted to do something that was more proactive, especially in a market that has been and remains so difficult to navigate.

One solution I thought would be to create a weekly forum (live) that members could attend by phone and talk about whatever they wanted.  This would not be something where I was trying to guess what might be of interest to callers, but rather an event where the member could feel totally comfortable to discuss whatever was on their mind, and I would see what suggestions/ideas occurred to me that might be of help.  The scary part, among other things, was (a) not knowing if anyone would show up, and  (b) would they find value?

After some weeks of trial and error the answer to (a) seemed to be yes and (b) people felt the calls were indeed helpful on a number of levels. 

In latter case, there were two main things that callers told me they took away: (1) They got an immediate answer to something that they were dealing with at the present time and (2) it was comforting to learn from the issues raised by others that they were not the only ones experiencing this stuff. 
In terms of what I have learned from the calls, the lessons have been many, but the one in particular that stands out is this:

No matter how the market or technology changes over time, the process of career management has remained fundamentally unchanged which is one of the things that remains a source of big time frustration -particularly to action oriented senior level executives.  People want "answers" (are used to getting them) and they want them sooner not later.

So, it is not surprising that one of the recurring themes on these calls is trying to help listeners understand that when it comes to this matter, there are no "plug and play" answers.  At best there are opinions (and lots of 'em) which sometimes serve more to confuse than clarify, but as they say, "it is what it is," and coming to understand this is helpful knowledge all by itself.

It is partially for this reason that I always try to have a guest join me. A different voice, a different set of experiences, and sometimes a different opinion. The feedback from callers has been that they like this a lot largely because it helps to understand an issue from different perspectives and often will generate different approaches.  (An added benefit, of course, is that they are not subjected to me the whole time, but most are polite enough not to mention that.)

Anyway, in a process where much of the frustration is driven by the fact that people feel (and rightfully so) that they have no real control of so much of what is going on, one thing that can be controlled is expectation level, and managing that has a major impact on the emotional ups and downs, and anyone who has ever been through a job transition (myself included) knows full well what I mean.

The trap that is all to easy to fall into in today's technology driven environment is to think that as long as I keep firing off my resume into the ether it is only a matter of time, and maybe there is a statistical case to be made  for that, I don't know.

What I do know is that results oriented executives don't manage that way and they don't solve problems that way.  They set realistic expectations based on thorough research, plan accordingly, bring the product to market, gauge the reactions and adjust.

For sure there are always going to be those aspects over which they have no control, but as professionals, they know it, expect it, and constantly keep focusing on the things they can control.

It reminds me yet again of the axiom we have all heard many times: Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. The operative word being preparation.