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Advertisement Guiding People Through Life Makeovers

When career counseling is about more than just getting a job

By Richard Eisenberg

The problem with career counseling for people in their 50s and 60s is that it’s often mostly about reworking your résumé and LinkedIn profile and developing a "personal brand." But what if it was more holistic? A process where you and your adviser worked together not on finding a job — but more of a life makeover based on your needs and goals?

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That idea is being put to the test, successfully and intriguingly, at a Geneva, Ill.-based not-for-profit company called Founder Cynthia Wade launched it in 2014 as her own life makeover.

The Real-Life Makeover That Led to

In 2013, Wade had turned 60, lost her recruiter job unexpectedly, underwent total shoulder replacement surgery and became an empty nester. “That was my summer of do-over,” she told me. “I thought: ‘What the hell just happened? And what the hell am I going to do now?’”

After what she calls “a lot of self-medicating,” Wade decided she needed to take some positive steps with her life. She got a roommate and a dog and began taking improv classes. “All of a sudden, things started to turn around,” she recalls. That’s when Wade, who’d spent the first 18 years of her career in marketing, came up with the idea of launching

"I learned so much about myself and what's important to me and who I am. It totally changed my life."

“I said to myself: ‘I’m going to take my marketing skills and run a program to help people figure out how to get on with the next chapter of their lives',” says Wade.

Changing a Career and a Life

People like Julie Francis — one of Wade’s former clients — and about 200 others.

When Francis came to Wade for advice, she was a self-employed, divorced Feldenkrais (body manipulation exercise therapy) practitioner in nearby Glen Ellyn, Ill., and

Cynthia Wade
Cynthia Wade, founder of  |  Credit: Cynthia Wade

going through a major life transition. Francis felt her grown daughter Andi, who has cerebral palsy, needed more help than she could provide and that closing her business and relocating with Andi to upstate New York (near Francis’ youngest sister) would be useful. But, she wondered, what could she do there that would give her time with her daughter plus an income?

Meeting with Wade, Francis says, "was enormously helpful. In the process, we started identifying jobs that I felt would match my personality strengths. And Cynthia helped me find my strengths as well as the things that are important to me, and then focus in on them.” One of those strengths: Francis’ background and interest in science.

During the advisory sessions, Francis realized that rather than look for a full-time, high-paying job with huge responsibility managing people and projects, she’d be better off with something part-time. That would give her time with Andi, too. “There’s only so much of me to go around,” Francis jokes.

These days, she’s a part-time pharmacy tech at a Wegman’s supermarket in upstate New York, filling prescriptions, working with health insurers and supporting the pharmacists. “It allows me to keep my sanity and help support my daughter through her next phase,” says Francis. “And there’s always the possibility at some point in the future I can do whatever I want.”

'It Totally Changed My Life'

Another of Wade’s clients was a man in his 50s who came in to shaking, because he'd lost his job unexpectedly. After consulting with Wade’s team, the man took a job he wound up not liking and ultimately returned to the career advisers for assistance. That led to a position he now loves, at a small retailer. Wade recalls him saying that with, “I learned so much about myself and what’s important to me and who I am. It totally changed my life.”

Which goes back to Wade’s “do-over” practice. After clients pay a $50 annual registration fee, they get free introductory and networking sessions, followed by one-on-one and group sessions. At the moment, is limited to suburban Chicago, though Wade hopes to expand nationwide.


The Process

The way the process works is that clients first complete a Plan for Success document identifying their personal definition of success; their short-, intermediate- and long-term goals; their greatest assets and their biggest challenges.

After that come First Things First classes ($200 total) or a one-hour Jump Start class ($100) to begin working towards a goal, then creating a Plan for Success (base price: $75). Fees are on a sliding payment scale (the discount is as large as 75% for people with incomes below $35,000; Veterans are free). Says Wade: “Everybody should have access to professional practical resources to find meaningful employment.”

The program sometimes involves helping clients build self-esteem and self-confidence. “Those soft skills are important,” says Wade. “But we are coaches, not counselors.” In some cases, Wade and her team will suggest a client go to therapy.

Job Hunting, 2019-Style

Wade says some of her clients haven’t looked for a job in decades and need help learning the ropes. “You can’t do it the old way, circling newspaper ads,” she notes.

Sometimes, she meets strong resistance when telling them the tech techniques necessary to job-hunt successfully these days. “People say: ‘Why can’t I just do it like I used to do it? No matter how much I explain that it’s a different world, they don’t want to hear it,” she says.

That leads to her thoughts on age discrimination by employers and the perception of it by older job seekers. “When people talk about age discrimination, it’s not really about how old they are. It’s about their attitude,” Wade says. “If you’re continually learning and challenging yourself to stay current, you won’t have as much of a problem getting a job as if the employer senses from the things you say or do or from your résumé that you’re closed-minded and looking for a placeholder until you can retire.”

What's Your Gift?

Wade likens her services to the classic Jimmy Stewart film, It’s a Wonderful Life. She asks clients: “What’s the gift you were given to share with the world and where the world wouldn’t be the same if you weren’t here to share it?"

By helping them find that, and then take the next step in their career, Wade notes, “”we help them move along and teach them a few things about life and living.”

About eight in 10 clients who stick with the process get jobs, says Wade. “Sometimes it happens it less than five weeks; sometimes it takes over a year,” she adds.

Photograph of Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the former Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and former Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of "How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis" and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Read More
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