age, yes --
but where's the advantage?
We need more books about mid-career,
midlife transitions. Recently I came across The Age Advantage:
Making the Most of Your Midlife Career Transition, a paperback
by Jean Erickson Walker, Ed.D. (You can .)
Walker writes straightforward
"advice" with no attempt to create the jazzy style
common among self-help books. It's easy to read, although I winced
at the clichés ("It's not over till it's over").
You're definitely out of the "dream-it-and-do-it" mode
here. Look for action tips, not inspiration.
The best part of the book comes
at the beginning, when Walker describes what it's like to go
through a midlife career crisis. Walker differentiates beginning,
middle and endings people, i.e., the stage of a transition where
people feel most comfortable. This scheme resembles Martha Beck's
four stages (
and my own distinction between .
Midlife career change is defined
as a change "when age is a factor." Walker claims that
attitude determines whether age is an advantage or disadvantage,
although I never figured out the advantages that were actually
created by attitude. She later acknowledges that discrimination
is a reality that "should not be tolerated," but in
fact is hard to fight through the legal system. Here are some
quotes that led me to ask, "Where's the advantage?"
p. 204: "My coaching clients
often tell me they've been advised to show more enthusiasm. Your
calm demeanor may be interpreted as a lack of energy."
p. 208: "Don't be competitive.
Your age advantage is that everyone expects you to have expertise
and knowledge. You can afford to be generous."
p. 294: "[C]companies do
not hire someone over age fifty with the expectation of 'developing'
them. Promotions may come, but they're rare..."
I also suspect midlife career
changers will benefit from the discussion of networking, one
of the few directed to this career segment. She points out the
need to come right out and ask for help, instead of putting on
a front of, "Everything's great."
Her discussion of resumes is
excellent, especially the emphasis on "accomplishment statements."
She suggests leaving off the "objective;" I encourage
clients to run their resumes past someone who is active in their
field. There is no way any career consultant can learn the idiosyncrasies
of each industry and career field.
I also like Walker's reality
checks. Finding a new job, especially if you are changing fields,
can take a long time. People often need to acknowledge and mourn
career losses. There is indeed a downside to setting up your
own business or consulting firm. Her advice about learning a
firm's culture seems basic -- until you realize that someone
who's been in a job for twenty-plus years is like a fish who
stopped seeing the water.
That said, I believe Walker underestimates
the effect of identity on midlife career transition. She argues
against hiring an "overqualified" employee and urges
the midlife applicant to be careful not to intimidate employers
during a hiring interview.
Being overqualified does create stress among employees and their
coworkers and, if you have to worry about intimidating others
during the interview, you'll be tippy-toeing around for the remainder
of your career!
I also question the value of
a detailed assessment program. I find that people in their forties
and fifties tend to be self-aware and that abstract values and
interests rarely help them align with real careers.
Most people have a secret (or
not so secret) dream or idea of what they want to do. When they
don't, they're usually blocking themselves and standard exercises
won't help. The self-knowledge exercises here are commonplace,
even banal: I hope the author saves more dynamic tasks for her
Finally, I find that many people
would do better to start a business instead of job-hunting, or
as a parallel activity to job-hunting. If you're a high-profile
person in your community or you've had a very senior position
in a narrow area, you may not be able to find a new job -- certainly
not a good one -- unless you're a superb networker who's flexible
I've been told that a former
mayor of my town found himself in need of a job after his wife
left him, taking the assets (mostly from her side of the family)
with her. Nobody would hire an ex-mayor. He ended up selling
The Age Advantage was written about a year before 9/11,
when employees were in short supply, so some of her suggestions
seem dated. That's inevitable when you write practical guidebooks
instead of inspirational self-help.
A major gap is the lack of discussion
of career resources available besides her own book. Today, with
so many coaches, counselors and consultants, I think it's important
to know what you want and where to get it. These days, it's important
for people to realize that they may not need a coach or
counselor -- it seems like "everybody's" got one! On
the other hand, if you're feeling isolated or stuck, the right
support person can make all the difference.
I recommend The Age Advantage,
especially for those who have enjoyed a long career in corporate
America Take what you find useful and ignore the rest. But first
I recommend you take a look at Martha Beck's .
A great quote from The Age
P 156: "Note: the high tech
industry has dramatically changed the look of corporate America,
where 'cool' and 'laid-back' are the right look. If you don't
want to stand out like a sore thumb, lose the pinstripes. It's
not necessary to go directly to rumpled blue jeans and tennis
shoes, but you should look like you could do so comfortably on
a moment's notice. Nothing says you're from a different generation
quicker than being too formally dressed."
My own comment: I love it! I've
always been able to "do so comfortably on a moment's notice."
See and .
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Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D.
Author, Career Consultant, Speaker
*Fast Track to Career Freedom*