Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What Does Age Have to Do with It?

Today I was reflecting on the key issues I want to blog about. First I asked myself what issues were most commonly bothering my clients. I created a list of subjects I hope to meander my way through. At the top of this list is age. When we are young, we are indeed immortal. The world is at our fingertips. Our looks and energy are contagious. We feel like anything is possible. However, as we grow older, something changes. Perhaps the stress and disappointments of life wear on us. Or perhaps our mirrors depress us. Or maybe it is simply what our peers say to us, "You can't wear that! My daughter wears that!”. “You are too old for him/her,", "You are too old to go to medical school," "You are too old to have a baby," "You are too old to start a new business," and on the negative mantras go.

Be honest. You've heard these things haven't you? Now if you are one of the spring chickens reading this blog, keep in mind that you might even have said some of these things to a parent or other older adult.

Why does anyone think aging stops anything? As far as I can tell, the only thing age can stop is the reproductive cycle. Who really can imagine or wants to be 60 years old and pregnant? So I admit some things naturally do stop happening as we age, but that doesn't mean we should stop.

Now let's move this topic into the world of work. This is a work blog. The central point of what I will always write about will probably have something to do with getting hired, staying hired, advancing in one's career, self-development, or some other topic directly related to generating self-created wealth.

Age is a scary thing.  But it doesn't have to be. We face much discrimination as we grow older. For example, how many fortune 500 companies have a gray haired woman sitting at their front desk wearing a frumpy housecoat? Or how many sales agents are a man who simply can't navigate a large bustling city because he gets confused with road signs and cannot operate a GPS? Are these examples hurtful? Do they make you feel angry? They should! But that is the reality in which our modern world works. There are prejudices against aging people, but let's look closer at what GENERATES these emotions and beliefs.

From personal observations, I really think these ideas come from what stereotypes and what people perceive aging people to be like. Have you ever met a 70 year old sky diver? Or an 80 year old world traveler? I did and when I first met them, I was shocked.  How could they have the gumption to do that activity at that age? Weren't they afraid of the risks such as potential bodily harm? After this, I pondered. Why wouldn't someone healthy and with the desire, do those things and anything else they want to? It didn't matter what I thought. The fact remained that they did it because they wanted to.

In life, age is a mindset. As long as a mind is healthy and fully functional, there is no reason that person can't do whatever they have always done or what they want to do. Many professors in the USA work well into their 70's and even 80's. In some countries, people are not so fortunate. Did you realize many countries have FORCED retirement for all government employees at age 61-65? The reasons for this are many. One reason, for example, in South Korea, is the small land mass, limited job opportunities, and a growing population. The concept is if the elders are forced to retire, it opens up jobs and income potential for younger workers just starting out with their lives and families. I must comment here that I highly disagree with this. In a Constitution possessing society, freedom is truly an individual matter. And one of the greatest freedoms in the cosmos is the RIGHT TO WORK AND GENERATE SELF CREATED INCOME.

In the USA while we don't have forced retirement for most occupations, we have social pressure to retire. The predisposed concept of aging is that once 60 or older, we become useless, incompetent, and worthy of being put on a shelf. This is the greatest lie I can imagine. The post 50 crowd have the greatest knowledge base on the planet as they have both academic training and experience.

Companies should rediscover the golden resource hiring healthy older Americans affords them. They get experience. They get the opinions of a special select group of individuals who perhaps have lived and witnessed a particular industry from its birth: say a car manufacturing plant in the north, or a computer chip manufacturing plant in Texas. From experience is born a great resource to be valued and accessed, especially in the turbulent financial markets on the horizon. Their voice and opinions are irreplaceable by the younger, inexperienced worker.

Sometimes the best corporate blend of employees is both young and old in mixed groupings. One of the most successful individuals I have ever met, my mentor Charlie, shared one of his greatest secrets with me in building a company work force. The strategy is based on placing new hires with an older experienced employee. They become teammates and partners on projects for three to six months and sometimes into a year. Midway through, they switch roles and the younger must take the initiative in the partnership to complete the work tasks, meetings, and projects at hand. If either complain to coworkers about the arrangement, they are asked to write an essay about why they are having conflicts and then share it with a rotating group of individuals whose job is to provide feedback in to what the others have written to help them self-reflect. The result is a greater teamwork environment, cooperation verses internal competition, and a mutual respect between older seasoned souls and the newbies. While some companies encourage cut throat competition, this is not sustainable for the long term employee retention, work environment, or company growth.

On the individual level, a person must choose what is right for the self. However, if a person over 50 is looking for a new job, he or she must be able to be taught, be flexible, and adapt to ever changing work environments. Honestly, the hardest person in the world I have ever coached was a man in his 50's. The problem resided in the fact due to his vast experience in his given field, he thought he knew everything and had a solution to every problem. But he communicated these ideas in a hostile and demanding way that sent people scurrying away from him, not toward him. After twenty job interviews, he had not received a call back and he couldn't understand why. His attitude was lethal for his job search success. No matter what a person knows, he or she must learn how to convey what information is needed when it is needed, and no more and no less. An overbearing, demanding, know it all is never going to get hired.

Age is reflected in attitude. Having a friendly open presentation style is very attractive. Regardless of age, anyone can learn how to repackage him or herself to any new work environment they desire to be part of. But the following things must be true in order to make this happen:

1) A willingness to change. I call this "evolving".
2) A willingness to learn new ways of speaking and rephrasing him or herself.
3) A willingness to evolve one's appearance to look contemporary, fashionable, and in touch with modern times. I have seen too many people who are hostile to any constructive criticism about their appearance. I'm sorry but interviewers have eye balls as well as ears....

Physical appearance is as imperative in job searches as skill set and presentation style. It isn't just the clothes one wears but his/her overall appearance. This fact angers many but it remains a reality. You can be 60 years old but you don't have to have yellow teeth and bad hair. We have dentists for a reason as well as hair salons.  If you want something bad enough, including getting EMPLOYED, you must develop the right attitude to be willing to update anything it takes to land the position. Ear hair, hair growing out of face moles, chin whiskers, unattractive hair styles, bad breath, or ragged and dirty nails have got to GO. We assume everyone knows this but trust me, this is not the case.

A few weeks ago, a woman around my age asked for some job searching help. As we drank coffee in a local cafe, I found myself transfixed watching a hair at least 1 1/2 inches long, growing out of a mole the size of a dime, blowing in the breeze located smack on the side of her cheek. Should I have said something to her? Would this really be rude? I kind of think if someone is paying me for help, I should tell her the truth. The mole was part of her body but that hair easily could have been plucked. I did marvel at its blackness compared to the red of her hair.

The body will age. This can't be helped. But anyone can adjust attitudes and maintain health to the best of his or her ability. Is it really that hard to want to look and feel good? If we are going to compete in the work force, we need to work to have every advantage possible. And in my perspective, if a person isn't willing to work at being their best, they are not going to be a good employee to anyone else. Again, it all goes back to attitude.

This is a lot to chew on. And for some, the process is overwhelming. Where should one begin?
Hiring a career coach (aka job coach) can help you get to the bottom line a lot faster. How do you look to an interviewer? How do you sound? What impression does your resume generate? Does your overall appearance contribute to or subtract from a positive impression to potential employers?

What does age have to do with it? A lot, a little, some....

It just depends. But our attitude is the pull that lands the fish, not a number on our application.

Job interview coaching, career coaching,
Charlie McGillicuddy LLC