Education and Professional Development Options: Several Courses of Action to Consider!

In my business consulting work and the workshops I produce for executives in transition, the most-asked question I hear is should I go back to school and if so, should I pursue an MBA. While I have no regrets about my MBA, especially since I had the opportunity to choose the dual concentration of Finance and Leadership, I know it may not be the ideal investment for most professionals, especially those over 50. Take into consideration your own specific financial situation and current knowledge, strengths and aptitudes, of course, but here’s what I’ve observed are, in fact, good investments for professionals over 40, and the reasons why:

MEDIA BISTRO1) Digital Media Marketing – There are so many course offerings, at every type of institution or training facility, from community colleges to major universities, to companies like Media Bistro. Here’s why:

a) Learning digital media is very attractive to almost any professionals over 40 who are worried that their counterparts in their twenties and thirties are far more nimble, facile and advanced in digital media.

b)Younger professionals who are born into the “digital river” are earning promotions much faster, while older professionals are being passed over or worse – downsized.

c) In almost any industry, in any sector, being skilled in social media and its applications to business at large, especially those undergoing structural chaos, such as media, and to marketing in particular is an important differentiating advantage.

2) successBusiness Administration refresher courses or earning a Bachelor’s in Business – Many professionals over 40 leave the corporate world (by choice or not) to start their own businesses, and think they have what it takes to do their own thing. Maybe, maybe not. Here’s why:

a) Courses in business administration, whether a certificate or Bachelor’s, could be their best defense against some of the most common mistakes and disillusions that plague even the hippest hoodie-clad start-up CEO. Launching a business seems easy; running one day to day is far from easy.

b) A well-rounded education in business administration gives the budding entrepreneur (at any age) grounding in operations (one of the most tedious aspects of the business that a lot of so-called visionaries can’t manage), accounting (try writing a business plan without that!), and the more right-brain and crucial courses of strategy, marketing, brand management and leadership.

c) If the time comes to sell, be merged/acquired or seek investors, then you had better know something about corporate finance or you won’t be able to even read a deal memo, let alone write or negotiate one that won’t leave you disappointed and feeling as if you wasted the sweat equity you built up in your business.

3) gold capCareer Management and Talent Development – This field has almost no barriers to entry, which is good for seasoned business professionals but also makes it very attractive to all sorts of nefarious imposters. Here’s what to look for and why:

a) Forgive my snobbery, but when I was considering a different career path, I consulted a Master’s-level counselor, not a so-called coach whose sole credentials were a 4-week teleseminar certificate!

b) Smart professionals who seek career coaching likewise want someone who’s well trained and exudes trust, not someone who’s following a commercial enterprise’s notion of “counseling.” Opt to put in the time, do the good work and earn a recognized Master’s degree in a discipline that has a reputable body of knowledge. Whether your Master’s is in psychology, social work, organizational development, counseling or any other mental health profession, the degree distinguishes you (to some extent) from those reading from a telemarketing pro’s psychobabble-ridden bromides.

c) In the same vein, anyone who takes advice from a business coach that can’t demonstrate his/her extensive experience and expertise in having actually run a business, or at least having earned an MBA, is gambling with their money. Again, if business coaching is your area of interest and you can afford the time and money for training, then earning an MBA can give you a leg up on business coaches that do not have an MBA.

 

Next: Franchising for Over 40 Executives

Thinking of going back to school, over 40? Just BOOK it! You might love it!

adult ed pic 9 4 2013

An article this week commented that, regardless of one’s age, September signifies the start of a new year more than January does. Ask any student between the ages of three and twenty-two!

Students much older than children are returning to school – now, more than ever. Are you one of them?

As you put away those beach books, or simply cannot put down that beach book you haven’t finished yet, Labor Day swings past, and you can’t help but pay more attention to the Education stories in the media, not to mention the endless back-to-school promotions. If you aren’t interested in school for reasons other than those concerning your children, that’s perfectly fine, of course.

If you in fact are considering returning to school, good for you! Whether you’re pursuing a degree or just taking a course (or six!) in a subject you’re passionate about or want for your career or personal development, going back to school over 40 is definitelydaring but shouldn’t be daunting!

adult ed pic two 9 4 2013Diving back into education after working for more than 30 years was truly one of the best things I ever did. I went back after a series of unsatisfying career moves, where I had landed what seemed very attractive leadership positions with organizations whose cultural norms and values were very unlike what I had experienced in my twenty years as a managing director with global marketing services firms.

Committed to learn from the MBA coursework everything I could about truly effective leadership, no matter the organization or sector, I ended up also loving the finance courses. Ultimately, I earned my MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, with a concentration in both Finance and Leadership.

When we were kids, returning to school as an adult was either very unconventional or something that immigrants did to study English. But that has all changed. You think, go back to school – not at my age! But, think again! You’d be in great company if you did! In fact, you’d be one of huge numbers: recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education[1] are revealing that adult students are now the fastest growing demographic in the educational arena, with those numbers increasing steadily. Statistics compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics show a whopping 42 percent increase in college students age 25 and older from 2000-2013. And they project that between 2010 and 2019 there will be a 23 percent increase in the enrollment of college students 25 and over. [2]

A college degree looks more and more a necessity and a good investment. There is a lot of evidence that more education is becoming not a luxury, but a necessity. The stats are convincing:[3] studies are showing that 75% of future jobs will most likely need some type of certification or licensure, and those professions that demand a BS or BA will grow 50% faster than the national average.

More women aged 55 to 79 are deciding not only what they want to do in their second half, but that they want to continue learning in some formal way. A report from The American Council on Education, entitled, Framing New Terrain: Older Adults & Higher Education, shows that with older adults returning to college in record numbers, they are daring to pursue new career ideas, found new businesses, and create their lifelong dreams.

No one’s saying you have to put away the beach books forever, but consider varying your reading material. Just as the advice that we must “never wear white after Labor Day” is outdated, so is the notion that school is out of the question after a “certain” age. If I can learn to love studying corporate finance in my fifties, then almost anyone can pursue any interest at all – and at all price points, at any time of the day or night, online or in person. All you have to do is get beyond your comfort zone a little bit and just go DARE.

 

1) http://www.luminafoundation.org/publications/focus_archive/Focus_Fall_2009.pdf

2) http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2006/adulted/index.asp

3) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/visualnewscom/going-back-to-school-as-a_b_3438434.html

It’s Never Too Early and Never Too Late – Two young enterprising careerists demonstrate.

Most of us by now have learned that using the term “seasoned executive” is a sure turnoff to many of today’s younger hiring managers, some of whom look as if they could be our kids but in fact are now our supervisors. They’re learning early how to Drive, Advance, Rule and Express their Experience and Expertise.

Make no mistake that they are running the new world, and we must run along with them, run faster than them, or run and hide from them. For me and other women over 40 who DARE, the last choice isn’t even an option. I say we challenge ourselves to run along with them and champion them to win – the pie is big enough for all of us.

Chardia Christophe

Chardia Christophe

Two phenomenal young 20-something women I met several months ago illustrate this point. At the behest of a friend, I attended an evening networking event sponsored by New York Women in Communications, being held at an Upper West Side restaurant in a very fashionable neighborhood in New York City.

Among the young women we observed scooping up guacamole, slurping mixed cocktails, and balancing their tiny frames on vertiginously high heels that evening were Micaela and Chardia Christophe. Two utterly charming twin sisters, both have been working and learning about business since their early teens. Micaela manages showroom merchandising projects at Donghia, a high-end home furnishings company featuring textiles, lighting and accessories. Chardia works for American Express, managing the marketing for a wine club along  with other member affinity clubs under such luxury brands as Food & Wine, Sky Guide, and Departures.  Chardia has a Master’s in Communication Studies; Micaela is pursuing her MBA in Marketing.

micaela christophe

Micaela Christophe

Even a few of those remarkable accomplishments would place them high on my list of “young professionals I would love to mentor/sponsor/adopt.” On top of that, they are extremely endearing, fascinating and fascinated about everything, and hilariously funny because of their complete and utter curiosity and genuine appreciation for every opportunity they have to advance their careers constructively and productively, make their parents proud and have as much fun as possible doing it.

Following is just some of the wise advice Micaela and Chardia offered when they spoke to my Marketing Planning class at NYU. They didn’t merely shoot from the hip; they did a full-blown Power-Point presentation. Their advice is as suitable for 60-somethings as it is for 20-somethings. I’ve paraphrased only slightly for space and context, adding my own two cents- type comments here and there.

1. Get engaged in the industry you wish to be in – especially if you’re job-hunting. The ladies’ specific advice:

  • Follow powerful people you admire or would like to network with on Twitter and LinkedIn. Comment politely on their background or posts.
  • Volunteer at events whenever you can.
  • Go to mixers and network strategically.

2. Professionalize your phone presence and voice messages. The ladies’ advice:

  • Be sure your outgoing message as well as the ones you leave for others are friendly and professional.
  • If you are trying to persuade busy executives, script out what you want to say, because very few executives pick up their own phones, and assistants will happily put you into voice mails.
    My own two cents: Record and listen to your cadence and delivery (this goes for oral presentations in general). Be especially cognizant of what I see in women of all ages, the telltale “uptick” at the end of declarative sentences as if they were questions.

3. Check your email, at least three times a day; being responsive is a highly valued trait.
My two cents: if you truly cannot respond in a day, at least acknowledge the email within 24 hours and/or default to an “out of office” notice so your lack of reply doesn’t seem discourteous. If you’re like me and running through airports mowing down baby strollers and old people, you’re probably not interested in email as much as you are in food and bathroom facilities.

4. Be careful with your wardrobe. Remember to “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.”
My two cents: nothing saddens me more than to see a woman over 40 dressed slovenly or in sweat pants in public unless said woman is: a) escaping from an Outward Bound retreat; b) coming or going to the gym; c) appearing in public that way before dawn, in which case “slovenly” might be most handy caffeine-procurement garb, in which case, perfectly suitable!

5. Utilize your friends and contacts courteously when job hunting. The ladies’ advice: Reach out to all your contacts and let people know you’re looking. People like to help, and they can’t if you haven’t asked them! Looking for a job IS YOUR JOB.
My two cents: regarding your friends and contacts, do ASK, don’t demand; accommodate their schedules, don’t impose; be geo-friendly – don’t specify neighborhoods you’d prefer to meet when time is tight for the people you’re asking!

6. Practice, Practice, Practice. The ladies’ advice:

  • Go through the possible interview questions until you’re blue in the face.
  • Know the company well, so well that you feel confident and comfortable.
  • Remind yourself of the value of direct eye contact with the interviewer. As you practice, look in a mirror to be sure your body language is relaxed and strong, that you are not fidgeting.
  • Try out your wardrobe choice in advance.
    My two cents: when you’ve done so much research on the firm and reviewed your resume to the point where you could recite it from memory, group all of your benefits to the employer into these three “bundles:” strengths, motivation and fit. Trust me, ALL interview questions fall into those areas, and ALL of them must reflect what the employer most wants that you are willing to deliver to get the job.

7. Go to ALL interviews. Consider them networking opportunities, even if you do not get the job. You never know who knows who.
My two cents: AMEN to that, for sure! It also helps to have a strategic job-hunting plan, and identify the kinds of people you most need to cultivate.

8. Use good online Resources: Media Bistro, Indeed, LinkedIn – all are good for a variety of jobs. There are new online career sites emerging every day.
My two cents: Don’t forget that most hiring managers either hire from within or hire someone they know and trust. More than that, you need to research and secure a SPONSOR. (See my previous blogs for more on working with sponsors: http://thedareforce.com/2013/05/20/executives-over-40-a-few-choice-words-from-your-sponsor-part-1/; http://thedareforce.com/2013/05/30/part-2-great-expectations-from-sponsors-from-you/

Micaela and Chardia Christophe are just two of the young professionals currently hoping to run the new world. Here’s hoping that their managers over 40 are not only running along with them, but championing them to win. Leaders over 40 need to embrace every opportunity to mentor, champion and sponsor the next generation. If you doubt the pie is big enough for all of us, then the next generation of digital natives and relentlessly inventive entrepreneurs will be eating your lunch.

 

Hello, your insurance company called. They want your baggy pants back.

Recently, I blogged about the realities of working at home for many women over 40 and offered some initial tips on how to relieve the bleak boredom of it all, not to mention staying alert to the physical challenges of working at home.

Here’s a wake-up call you can’t ignore: Statistics from Aetna, the insurance giant, show people telecommuting for work gain weight faster and have a harder time losing it than those who go to work every day! We tend to underestimate the expenditure of energy it takes to get up, get showered, get ready, get dressed and get out the door – all the mundane tasks we don’t really think of as physical exercise but which burn calories. Hey, just blasting a hair dryer for 14 minutes during weeks when I’m sorely overdue at my hairdresser’s causes me to fume to the point where I just know I’m burning up some extra calories!

File:RIAN archive 555848 Testing on treadmill.jpgEven if you don’t have time for a full-fledged workout, heed the advice of Dr. Mehmet Oz, and other respected physicians, and pursue N.E.A.T. moves. N.E.A.T. is short for “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” – a really heavy-duty (no pun intended) word meaning that small bursts of activity can definitely help you burn more calories (that’s what thermogenesis means) than just sitting with the remote (and in remote) cracking open pistachios.

Slate Online published an article on December 31 of 2012, “Why telecommuting may destroy your work/life balance,” in which it states, “47 % its U.S. employees work from home every day.” Slate, and other research indicates that 24/7 screen time not only takes away from our physical activity, but interferes with sleep, which then negatively impacts our ability to do productive work! Aetna found that its telecommuters tended to be heavier, so the company now provides an online personal trainer to help them stay in shape [i]

Food manufacturers always get blamed for making people fat, but they could be a boon to consumers who want to think inside the box when planning healthful meals. Frozen processed foods, eaten in moderation, are a secret weapon of people who really want to lose weight but hate the whole planning, measuring, chopping, cooking and clean-up work. When I lost 60 pounds several years ago, and managed to keep all but 7 pounds off, I relied a lot on frozen meals. I would much rather spend my creativity on real work rather than cooking and cleaning. Besides, all that prepping tends to make me munch between chopping, since it takes so much time before I actually sit down to eat my meal!

The key benefit of frozen meals is portion control. If Lean Cuisine and similar lines are too “mini-meal” for you, add a big salad, cut your dressing with lemon juice and make sure you have satisfying vegetables with your meal. Bottom-line is that the food industry doesn’t lift that high calorie snack bar or bag of chips to your mouth again and again. And, if you’re not commuting regularly and your office is in or near the kitchen, it’s just too easy to grab the snacks and lose perspective.

Get dressed in clean, pressed clothes every day. Yes, seriously. I know it’s been said before – in some good ways, actually: “Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up” or from Woody Allen, “80% of life is just showing up.” You may be fighting some depression, some rejection, some anxiety, or even winter’s SAD disorder (Seasonal Affective Disorder- try some full spectrum light bulbs for that). But this can help: put on real clothes, it doesn’t have to be a corporate suit or dress, but something that makes you look put together. Do your hair and put on some lipstick. It will change your whole mindset, lift your spirits, make you feel better about yourself, and prepare you for the day in a way that working in your pajamas just can’t.

As a sign that people of all ages and geographies are embracing this as a productivity concept, so-called Formal Fridays are taking off across corporate America! Tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley instigated a backlash idea: wear a suit on Friday. Talk about an about-face.

File:Skinny20080428.jpgHang up your “5-pounds-ago” jeans (or slinky dress, etc.) where you can see them all the time. I don’t mean your skinny-skinny-skinny jeans that would require liposuction for you to get back into, but something attainable that will help keep you out of the refrigerator or the cookie jar. A colleague of mine hung hers OVER the refrigerator, so that she would have to actually move the jeans in order to open the door to the fridge. May be a bit extreme, but she swears it mortified her into shape!

Consider getting a Soda Stream water carbonator. No, I’m not paid by them, nor do I have shares in the company. It’s just a really good idea. Coffee with sugar and cream in it, fruit juice, lattes and sodas, all have calories that we forget to count, and come with other negative health effects. Instead, Soda Stream will help you drink more calorie-less plain seltzer water with ice, or lightly flavored with a touch of lemon, lime, grape juice, etc. without having to lug containers, bottles, or cans back and forth from the store. And you get the beneficial refreshing effects of water.

Set a timer to go off once an hour to take a break. So many of us are as focused as we are sedentary, even eating our lunch at desk or table. The New York Times published an interesting article in the October 17 2012 edition, entitled, “Get up. Get out. Don’t sit.” It presents two recent research studies which prove sitting for hours at the computer is extremely unhealthy for us! [ii] Every hour, when your timer dings, get up, run up and down the stairs, or do a few minutes with the jump-rope. Even do ten pushups and ten sit ups, if this doesn’t leave you in a sweaty heap. It is the movement, the increase to your circulation and metabolism that we are after here. Some blood to the brain. Refresh and recharge and feel better.

These are just a few ways to accentuate the positive, focusing on the things to actually do rather than not do, to charge yourself up and trim yourself down. Whether you’re working from home temporarily, or it’s a more long-term lifestyle choice, make sure you get yourself in a productive work mindset, get dressed, put on some music, keep moving and refresh your brain at least once an hour.

As for those baggy pants, tell your insurance company they’re just for sleeping – which you try to do for at least 7 hours! All the better to preserve and protect your middle-aged mind!

 


[i]http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2012/12/telecommuting_may_be_terrible_for_your_work_life_balance.html

Working at Home over 40 – Fast Track to Middle-Aged Wasteland?

gray haird woman computerWorking from home, on your home, or partial telecommuting?  With each passing year I meet more and more people who work from home for a variety of reasons, and despite what might seem like oceans of free time or an infinite flexibility in managing one’s own time, the reality is often the exact opposite.  And, what often suffers in all the time constraints is one’s own physical and emotional health.  Even if your home-based reality is for the most part a pleasant one, there are going to be days when all you want to do is pull on the sweatpants, slash open the potato chips, and giggle through a marathon of Modern Family reruns! 

Not only is the middle-aged mind a terrible thing to waste, but your mind is a muscle that needs rebooting all the time! So, let’s accentuate the positive in looking at why women over 40 are working from home and how to make the environment more conducive to physical and psychological health.    There are many productive and positive reasons women over 40 work at home, and many ways to offset the challenges that come with being “marooned” in a home office.  Here are just a few:

Some women are working in their own businesses, or working with employers whose business models enable working from home, whether it’s full-time at home or flex-time.   If you don’t have to report to an office even part of the time, that’s all the more reason to get out to breakfast, lunch or drinks with colleagues or other people in your industry.   

Many women are working on their homes, or inside their homes, in some way while also earning a living.  Working on a home could mean prepping for a sale, or downsizing and the clearing out that comes with both those transitions.  Or, it could involve taking care of children and elderly parents – many boomers are doing both while also working full time.  I had my own share of that all last year when my husband and I were trying to sell the lovely 200-year old Colonial we loved but had outgrown, and I had to commute back and forth from the north Jersey suburbs to our new home in Manhattan, where I also worked.      

During really hectic times in your life, push yourself to carve out time just for you.  I force myself to a gym several mornings a week, setting the alarm for 5AM, or go for a brisk walk while it’s still really early, just so that I don’t spend my entire day doing something for someone else.   

Some women are working at home only until they land a new position in an office, a situation that makes it all the more important to be in “work-style mindset.”   Job-hunters are the women I empathize with the most, because their identities are about work (work clothes, work habits, work skills), and they can’t predict how long the job search might be.  Prepping or waiting for calls or emails about leads, decisions and other search issues often happens at home for some women.    And, those are the days when it takes Herculean effort to bound out of bed, get to the gym, or outdoors.  For sure, those are the days when you have to get out of the sweatpants and plan on healthful foods that will make you actually feel good, and schedule meetings outside your home.  Better than hanging out at home or your local coffee shop consuming high-fat, high-salt or sugary comfort foods.

In the winter months when the weather is bleaker, it’s worse – but you have to get over it and get out!  I get invited to lots of networking events – I could be out every night of the week!  Some are well worth the outing, but others are not as productive.  Regardless, I still push myself to go out on most nights.  It’s just too tempting to hunker down in the biggest baggiest clothes I have and not even consider the thought of washing my hair, let alone putting on makeup!  And those are the days that my time management habits go out the window, because I feel an expansive day ahead where I have all the time in the world to just “wallow.”  Forget about it!  I DARE you to just make yourself go.  Interacting with other people – especially people who are different than you, is the best way to engage your social skills, broaden your horizons and make you more productive in your work at home. 

Don’t let that precious middle-aged mind of yours go to waste! 

PART TWO COMING SOON:  a wake-up call you can’t ignore from top health experts.

Are you sure you know your strengths? Try the Strengths Finder Test.

StrengthsFinder 2.0As we enter yet another new year and another list of resolutions, many of us tend to focus on what we’re doing “wrong” or what we have to “do less of” or “give up”… [or insert vice of your choice] in order to lose the weight, stop smoking, find a new job, etc.

There’s a better way to focus on the positive as opposed to everything you think is just plain wrong. Focus instead on STRONG. Ask yourself: Are you doing what you are best at every day, and if so, do you love doing it? I’m not talking about what you’re told you’re good at, or the things you’re good at that you get paid to do. I am talking about your real strengths. If you are doing what you love, you are using your strengths.

But don’t just take my word for it, because it’s not my original idea. It is the brainchild of those brainy people at Gallup.You know Gallup: the people who pose a lot of questions about a lot of things to a lot of different people, from every walk of life. A few years ago, Gallup came up with a survey/test to help people discover what they’re good at and what they’re passionate about – two very different constructs.

If you’re confused about this idea, then consider taking the Strengths Finder Test. This is a test, and book, that Gallup introduced in 2001 (and again in 2007 with an updated version, StrengthsFinder 2) to help people discover their top talents and skills.

I know we all think we know what our strengths are – I mean, seriously, over 50 we have a clue, don’t we? But I have to say, I believe this test can help, if we take it every few years. It will re-inform you, or inform you in a new area, or re-motivate you in your life path, career, or job choice. Or it may simply help you focus and polish the areas in which you are strongest.

Here are a few ways the book and test can help you:

  • Career planning – You can find and polish the areas for which you are best equipped in your work or career choice.
  • Team building – You work better with others when you really understand your own individuals strengths.
  • Improving work performance – When you know and understand your strengths, you’re more able to channel your energies to work more effectively.
  • Interview preparation – You will find that the results of your StrengthsFinder test will really empower you when that interview question pops up: “Can you tell me what your strengths are?”

I have taken it once since its new iteration, but it remains valuable to me every time I look at the list of strengths, their analyses and the concomitant advice they offer. The author, Tom Rath, states that we are better off cultivating our strengths, rather than spending too much time trying to improve our areas of weakness, as we are often taught to do here in the US.I agree!

Rooted in more than 40 years of research, this assessment is a real powerhouse! Check it out!

Click here for more info: Strengths Finder Test.