Most people launch their careers in their twenties and thirties with the focus of career development mainly on early adulthood. And what is the ambition at this age? For many, it’s getting to “the top” as soon as possible. Some people achieve this goal in their early forties with twenty to thirty career years still ahead of them. Others perhaps do not use goals in their careers; their careers just evolve!
Nonetheless, middle-adulthood, those years from forty to sixty, are often overlooked in career plans. Some of the thinking goes like this: If I make it to the top by forty I won’t have to worry about anything else. But what do you do when you make it to “the top” and still have all those years ahead of you? To this writer, it is a prescription for mid-life crisis!
Consider this: In our Twenties we go through the trial and exploratory stage of career development where we search for direction. In our Thirties we are in the transitional stage, synonymous with movement and advancement. The Forties and beyond are considered the stability stage; ongoing with a sound foundation. The irony is that as we move into our forties (middle adulthood) most of us have not done it all. Some of us are forced to restart our careers due to downsizing, soft industries, red flags in our company, being passed-over etc. In some cases we need to get away from a not-so-perfect situation or jump-start a stalled career. In others, we are searching for personal self-development or for a second career or to strike out on our own.
For these reasons and any number of others, most professionals will experience changes, or even upheaval, in mid-life. The answer in not “buy a Harley”. According to the Department of Labor and the Job Search Handbook, most professionals will undergo seven to eleven job changes and two to three career changes over the course of their careers. Not only is the market demand for selected skills and career fields changing, but so are our roles as professionals and the way we manage our careers. Thus, career planning is more important than ever.
If you are in middle-adulthood and wondering what to do for the remainder of your career (and assuming that early retirement is not in the picture), don’t panic. I have a simple three-step process that I have found in my many years in career marketing to make all the difference in the world.
First, you need to get to know yourself and what it is that you enjoy most; what it is that when doing it does not feel like work. Dr. Charles Ehl, former Dean of Continuing Education at Stonehill College in Easton, MA: “Regardless of past industry or direction, people can be empowered to control their professional destiny through an approach that fuses self-needs analysis, good targeted research and tactical planning in the use of certain techniques beginning with getting to know themselves.” By that Dr. Ehl means understanding for themselves-about themselves: What it is that they really value; what they feel they stand for; what it is that drives them to do what they do; what it is they enjoy doing most-are most passionate about; and finally, although it does not necessarily end with this, where they are looking to take themselves, why, and with what end in mind. Through this exercise, the notion of your optimal market will emerge. For example: If you find that your interest in creative writing is so great, you find you are happiest when you are engaged in it, perhaps a move into editing or speech writing, or a move into the publishing industry at large; or developing newsletters for an association, entering the advertising arena or other creative industries may be best.
Second, you need to figure out how to attract your audience – contacts that can help you move towards your goals. Do what politicians do: Get outside impartial viewpoints to provide you with some idea of how others (your audience) may perceive you, and learn about them-do your research. Developing a networking communication strategy and your “talking points” with this knowledge and the fresh ideas about you that others can provide; and with a focus on the needs of your target audience, you will separate yourself from the average person and ultimately paint your own landscape.
Finally, once you have your audience’s attention, you will need to talk about yourself. Don Ventura, R.L. Stevens & Associates, a private career marketing firm, suggests using a Story Technique. Ventura says, “Compelling stories which incorporate specific examples of your experiences, achievements and contributions that relate to your market and put you in the right light will be remembered well after the interview is over.” People remember your stories more than duties and responsibilities. Here are three concepts that will help you when developing a communication strategy and talking about yourself:
You must have a purpose; a personal philosophy. In today’s uniquely competitive job market the lifespan in an executive position may only be 5 years in some cases (clearly, not as Evergreen as it once was). Jim Sabin, a CIO with The Shaw Group, Inc. the leading Global provider of services to the power industry: “With executive positions in IT, for example, as interchangeable as mouse pads, the need for a sharply honed purpose for ‘Plan A’ and stratagem for ‘B and C’ for that matter, has never been more apparent.” Purpose could be what it is you feel is important in running a business or what you feel is the business of business; it must be carefully thought out and presented. Think in terms of a one-page presentation to the company directors. You will need to come up with as many success concepts as you can from your past professional experiences and when you begin to assemble your thoughts for your presentation, try to include as many of them as possible. Here are some relevant themes to consider:
1. Personal mission statement
2. Core values; core strengths
3. Driving factors; motivations
4. Level of integrity
5. Value placed on quality
6. Visioning, strategy and facilitating
7. Performance standards you hold for yourself
8. Professional goals
9. Leadership philosophy; management style
10. Communications capabilities
11. Practiced client/public relations
12. Leveraging skill-sets
13. Creative expertise
14. Business knowledge; market intelligence
15. Managing resources
The easiest way to attract people’s attention and to help them get to know you is to adopt simple words and phrases which will have an immediate “trigger” effect, such as:
1. Strategic partnering
2. Impact presentations
3. Bringing ideas / vision to utility
4. Bringing products to markets
5. Entrepreneurial talent
6. Driving revenues; growing profits
7. Structuring and restructuring
8. Building responsible teams
9. Managing talent
10. Start up; turnaround; re-emergence
11. Enterprise development
12. Crafting solutions
13. Staying ahead of the curve
14. Managing change-driven environments
15. Driving “large dollar” projects
Philosophy, along with Success and Trigger Concepts is a winning combination. It provides you with control and sets the tone for all future discussions and posturing for negotiations.
One of the most important tenets in product marketing applies here in career planning: Differentiate your product from others in the marketplace.
John Folcarelli, Labor Attorney and Human Resource Manager for Laidlaw Education: “Most people involved in planning their career tend to fly by the seat of their pants rather than exercise control over the process as it unfolds. For instance, in the interview, instead of simply reacting to questions imposed by the interviewer, the job candidate can and should attempt to take on more responsibility for influencing the direction of the interview.” The Story Technique does just that. It is a method for bridging your qualifications and past successes to the needs the targeted company. It is also a great example of how to use your Success and Trigger Concepts in presenting the right image and distinguishing you from the competition.
Your stories should tell about actions that you took to bring about positive changes. Story techniques cover the “before”, the “action” and the “after.” You can begin by first explaining what had existed that required your attention: Situation. Next consider how this new challenge may benefit the enterprise and you: Opportunity. Briefly describe what you did: Action. Lastly, describe the outcome and its benefits to you and the company: Results. Here are two examples of the use of the story technique, or, “S.O.A.R”:
(S) I was selected by top management to lead a corporation into the US market and (O) recognized an opportunity to have a big impact on operations at a wholly owned subsidiary.(A) Over a two-year period I developed a cohesive staff which went on to develop 1.5 million square feet of office properties at $350 million which (R) produced over $25 million of net operating income and $4 million net cash flow for the corporation resulting a promotion to President of the wholly owned subsidiary.
(S) The ownership of a physical therapy and sports medicine company recruited me to (O) lead, grow and concurrently stabilize a $4.7 million health systems company staffed by 85 professionals. (A) I developed and executed all business plans and opened new markets in industrial and corporate health promotions, (R) positioning the company for its very profitable $6.6 million sale, $2.5 million more than the ownership had anticipated.
A strong, well-articulated Philosophy, sound Success and Trigger Concepts, and persuasive examples of your successes using the Story Techniques (SOAR) are essential for securing a quality position.
More Than Just a Task
There is certainly more to consider beyond these concepts. Nonetheless, the purpose here is to stimulate your thinking if your situation calls for a serious look at your career. There are times when a simple career adjustment may be called for and other times when a complete change is necessary. In any case, restarting your career in middle-adulthood can be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life. Approach it with enthusiasm, dedication and confidence (but for goodness sake, don’t forget “technique”).