As a Baby Boomer who endured two career disruptions in under a decade, I know that hoping for the best only goes so far … and taking charge of the rest is the key to success.
On 9/11 I watched the collapse of the World Trade Center from a window in my corner office, and in that moment felt a compelling need to pursue a more noble purpose. A few months later, I left my lucrative job in marketing having launched a tough transition to the lower-paying and grueling field of nonprofit fundraising.
The next disruption came in 2009, when I completed my MBA at Stern. The Great Recession was in full swing, as was egregious ageism (I was 57 when I graduated). It would take more than my shiny new degree for me to navigate to a proper post-MBA role.
The challenges of 2020 reaffirmed that taking charge in midcareer requires planning, focus, creativity, realignment, tenacity, collaboration, and compassion – not to mention grit. Here are several ways that visionary, intelligent and motivated professionals can reframe, recharge, and resurge in midcareer – and for the long run.
1. After five years in the workforce, every professional should write a life plan. Start with what you want to see when you look back on your life twenty or thirty years from now. Emphasize outcomes you want to achieve, outputs to get you there, and hurdles blocking you now. Break it down to the next 90 days, assessing what you really want and what you absolutely need, so you can anticipate, manage, and gain a measure of control over your life. Consider multiple options for earning, investing, and retaining assets, so you don’t have to depend on family, friends, or a particular employer as your primary source of income. Two great books: Write It Down, Make It Happen, by Henriette Anne Klauser, PhD., and Career Distinction, by William Arruda, M.Ed.
2. Tap into friends, family, and colleagues you trust, and cultivate mentors and sponsors. Friends and family provide moral support, and boost your sense of urgency, attention to deadlines, and overall accountability. Maintain a list of all the people you already know who can support you as you further your career. Mentors listen, advise, and comfort. Sponsors are like elite advocates for your career, and they expect more from you. For an elucidating primer on sponsors, watch the TED talk by Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley.
3. Customize your resume for each prospective role. Software filters are the biggest obstacle to getting an interview, so tweak your resume (keeping it honest) for every position. Include the appropriate keywords from a particular job description or the company’s industry. It’s hard work, but your resume is like an ad for the product you most want to sell, targeting a particular customer.
4. Quantify results. The midcareer professional’s resume must focus on quantitative accomplishments and demonstrate accretive (aka, progressive) advancement. Detail the strategic, operational, or financial benefit you added, such as: “helped reduce costs by XX%;” or, “raised XXX$ for organization by doing A, B, C;’’ or, “generated 1, 2 ,3 outcomes that were key priorities of the organization.”
5. Be strategic about networking. COVID moved so much of our lives online and showed that online networking is actually an effective way to access and approach hiring managers. Attend low-cost virtual events of professional groups and associations that represent your prospects’ industries. Choose the associations you want to join, become active on pertinent committees, enhance your visibility, and reach out to people who can mentor, connect and sponsor you.
6. Maximize LinkedIn – here’s why: Almost every executive recruiter and corporate hiring manager checks LinkedIn before looking anywhere else. Update your profile often.
Beyond your profile’s landing page, you can craft a portfolio of your expertise and experience – via posts, comments, articles, SlideShare, and other intellectual property. Showcase the work you want to do next, tailored to the connectors and decision-makers you most want to reach.
LinkedIn is also an excellent source of tutorials on personal branding, navigating organizational culture, and other topics concerning effective midcareer transition.
7. Update your soft skills, especially how to sell. How to Become A Rainmaker, by Jeffrey J. Fox, is a short but powerful book on consultative selling. Daniel H. Pink’s book, To Sell Is Human, will disavow you of the notion that you are “not in sales.” Courses in public speaking, improv, and creative writing, can enhance your ability to listen actively, answer tough questions, and remember key points. NYU’s School of Professional Studies, Media Bistro, Gotham Writers’ Workshop, General Assembly, and Udemy are all excellent resources.
8. You’re wonderful, you’re smart, you’re branded, but enough about you. A common mistake of midcareer job hunters is writing long cover letters that resemble their resumes. Cover letters should be only one page. In addition to referencing your transferable skills, they should indicate you have researched the company, its culture, and its industry.
9. If you haven’t taken a skills assessment test in ten years, then it’s time for a refresh. StrengthsFinder 2.0, by Gallup guru Tom Rath, helps you identify your top five strengths and provides in-depth analysis and recommendations. Focusing on your strengths will help you prioritize career activities that will be most fulfilling in midcareer. StrengthsFinder is available through the Career Center for Working Professionals. Ask your CCWP coach to register you for this assessment.
10. Participate in local philanthropic events where connectors, mentors, sponsors, and hiring managers congregate. You don’t have to have a lot of money to do this, but you must contribute – volunteering time or other intangibles – to receive something in return. Read: How Will You Measure Your Life, by the renowned economist Clayton M. Christensen.
11. Become inspired by this short list of visionaries who turned their midlife crises into opportunities. Jean Nidetch was 40 when she launched Weight Watchers. Liz Claiborne (work clothing), Ruth Chris (steakhouse founder), and Mary Kay Ash (cosmetics maven) launched after enormous midcareer setbacks. Ray Kroc (McDonald’s), and Harlan Sanders (KFC) were well into middle age when they launched. Steve Jobs was 52 when he launched the iPhone.
12. Be sure to dedicate enough time to relaxation, exercise, healthful meals, and pursuing entertaining ways to deal with challenges. Walking and swimming are extremely therapeutic, as are meditation and journaling. The importance of adequate sleep has spawned entire industries. Try Laughing Yoga, Zumba, listening to different kinds of music, or binge-watching comedies to divert from the constant litany of alarming news reports.
My 9/11 epiphany – to pursue a more noble purpose – was spot on. Despite humbling experiences, I went on to raise millions for worthy causes. After earning my MBA, I became a strategic planning consultant for nonprofits, and an author and educator teaching college students ages 18-55 how to navigate the business world.
I know it’s not easy to stay motivated, but focus on the positives — learn new things, meet new people, and engage in your community in meaningful ways that enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion. The past 18 months have highlighted the importance of caring for ourselves and our families, and to support the thousands of essential workers who continue to help the world to cope. These are excellent role models for us, as we all hope for the best, and bravely take charge of the rest.
Liz DiMarco Weinmann is a strategist, nonprofit leader, and business educator. She earned her MBA in Finance and Leadership from Stern in 2009. For a free guide on career reinvention, including additional tips, insights, and a reading list, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. More at: www.lizdimarcoweinmann.com; and www.thedareforce.com.