As a Baby Boomer who endured two career crises in under a decade, I know that hoping for the best means taking charge of the rest. On 9/11 as I watched the collapse of the World Trade Center from a window in my corner office, I felt a compelling need to pursue a more noble purpose. A few months later, I left a successful high-paying marketing job and made a tough transition to the grueling field of nonprofit fundraising. In 2009, when I completed my MBA at New York University’s Stern School of Business, the Great Recession was in full swing, as was egregious ageism (I was 57).
The challenges of 2020 have reaffirmed that taking charge in midcareer requires planning, focus, creativity, realignment, tenacity, collaboration, and compassion – for yourself as well as for others. Here are several ways that visionary, intelligent and motivated professionals can reframe, recharge, and resurge in midcareer – and for the long run.
- 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.
- Tap into friends, family, and colleagues you trust, as well as cultivating mentors and sponsors. Friends and family provide moral support, as well as boosting your sense of urgency, attention to deadlines, and overall accountability. Mentors listen, advise, and comfort. Sponsors are like elite advocates for your career, and they expect more from you.
- Treat your resume as if it is an ad for what you most want to sell, targeting a particular customer. Software filters are the biggest obstacle to getting an interview, so include key buzzwords in a particular job description or the hiring company’s industry.
- Quantify results. A midcareer professional’s resume must focus on quantitative accomplishments as well as job descriptions that demonstrate 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.”
- Be more strategic about networking online, to access, approach, and interview with hiring managers. Attend low-cost online 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.
- Adjust your targets for a role, company, industry, salary, or location. This will help you diversify your skills, gain exposure to more hiring managers, and deal with difficult interview questions about resume gaps, salary history, and the like. If the need for health benefits is causing you the most anxiety, then make that your top priority.
- Maximize LinkedIn – here’s why: Almost every executive recruiter and corporate hiring manager checks LinkedIn before anywhere else. Update your profile often. Beyond your profile’s landing page, you can craft a portfolio of your expertise and experience – showcasing the work you want to do next.
- 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.
- 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.
- Focusing on your strengths will help you prioritize career activities that will be most fulfilling in midcareer. StrengthsFinder 2.0, by Gallup guru Tom Rath, helps you identify your top five strengths and provides in-depth analysis and recommendations.
- 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.
- Be extremely kind, responsible, and accountable to your colleagues, direct reports, and any service professionals you encounter. Midcareer managers experiencing difficulties with their personal lives or current jobs sometimes neglect or disrespect the staff that reports to them, as well as vendors, industry peers, neighbors, and service professionals they encounter. Those professionals could complain to your most important client, or to your boss, or to a prospective employer.
- Become inspired by this short list of visionaries who turned their midlife crises into life-enhancing 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 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.
- 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.
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, focus on the positives, learn new things, meet new people, and engage in our communities in meaningful ways that enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion. Yet we must – not only for ourselves and our families, but to support the thousands of essential workers who help the world to cope. They 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 strategic growth specialist, nonprofit leader, business educator and author. For a free guide on career reinvention, including additional tips, insights, and a reading list, email: email@example.com. More at: www.thedareforce.com and www.beam-impact.com.