How to Get a Fresh Start in Your Career at Any Age
Tips from the 'Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO' author
Looking to get ahead at work? Need to bounce back from a career setback? Just trying to stay afloat at your job? Beverly Jones, an executive coach who runs Clearways Consulting in Washington, D.C., says you need to “think like an entrepreneur and act like a CEO.”
In fact, Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO, is the title of her new book of 50 tips for employees and prospective career switchers that will publish later this week. “It’s a collection of things I wish I’d known earlier,” Jones told me. “I’ve looked for books on how to run your career, but could never find one.”
I interviewed Jones, a former lawyer and corporate public affairs officer and one of the sharpest career advisers I know, to get her best advice for people in their 50s and 60s. Highlights of our conversation:
Next Avenue: What does it mean to ‘think like an entrepreneur and act like a CEO?’ And why should people do that?
Beverly Jones: If you want a career in today’s world, with so much change and complexity, it’s like creating a business — you have to have an entrepreneurial attitude. And if you work on being the kind of person who is a strong leader — taking responsibility, having emotional intelligence, understanding what people want and acting as a person of character — that turns out to be great for your career.
Why do you think it so important to be adaptable and resilient?
Success at work used to mean being loyal; that doesn’t work anymore. Change is so rapid, your boss doesn’t have any more control than you do.
Being resilient means recognizing that there will be unexpected developments and that you’ll get bad feedback and bad news. Having a rewarding career means knowing how to get up and start up again and again. Later in your career, when you’re moving to an encore career or to a rewarding retirement, you have to be willing to try things you’re not good at and keep going.
How can you get better at that?
Talk to that voice in your head that is tempted to call you a failure or ‘too old’ or that discourages you from trying something new.
You say that we need to improve our listening skill. Why?
There are two powerful reasons having the listening skill can be career-changing.
One is that many people go through life being ignored and not fully noticed. If you have the ability to pause and truly listen to someone at work, that can be enormously important to them and terrifically helpful to your relationship and generate new energy between the two of you.
The other reason is that there’s a lot of information out there and people talk past each other all the time. Innovative things could be possible and vital to your success just by listening more.
Another of your tips is to be prepared with clever ways to brag. What do you mean?
I’ve seen a number of situations where someone gets called by a headhunter or is going for a job and the person can’t think of any accomplishments. The mind goes blank.
I suggest keeping track of your achievements along the way. Have a ‘love me’ file and put into it any thank you notes you get at work or badges of achievements.
It also means keeping count. If you write blog posts, when you're on a job interview, saying ‘I’ve written a bunch’ is not nearly as impressive as saying ‘I wrote 30 blogs and got so many clicks.’
You alsobelieve we need to build presence. Why? And how?
Presence is that elusive quality in which you seem powerful and composed and people want to listen to you. Sometimes, we are most defined by the absence of presence — ‘He doesn’t have executive presence, so he won’t be good for that.’
For more presence, you need to build your self-confidence. But there’s a lot you can do in the short-term to up your presence. One thing is being well groomed. Another is: become conscious of how you speak. If you’re self-deprecating, it’s hard to appear like you are a powerful person.
You also say that sometimes the best career move in your 50s or 60s is a side step. What do you mean?
People in that demographic have the idea that you need to move up and up and up. That’s not how it works anymore.
Often, when you’ve been in job awhile and you’re tired of it or it’s not fulfilling or maybe you were phased out, moving ahead in your career isn’t necessarily the right choice. Sometimes, you want to look around to see what’s close to what you're doing.
Ask yourself: How can I use my learning and experience but move over to something? Not a total turnaround, like ‘I’m tired of being lawyer and now I want to make wine.’ It’s more like: ‘I’ve been a journalist for 30 years and newspapers are going out of business, so I will work for a university magazine.’ Then, figure out how to do it. Be willing to try side steps.
Figure out what things you’re looking for. What do you like about where you are and would like to have in your next job? Then, do your research and make a commitment to yourself for this move.
My approach with my clients is that they need to do something every day or three days a week. Set up a pace of exploration. Make yourself a to-do list: ‘I will go to a meeting or visit a website or take someone to lunch.’
You don’t necessarily need to know where you’re going with this; just take small steps to explore possible new situations. Once you take step after step, all of a sudden, things become more clear and you can more directly go into that new place.
And you say: 'Don’t be sabotaged by your own frustration.' Tell me more.
It’s not unusual for people in the workplace to have had a bad break, unfair treatment, and disappointment in not getting a promotion they wanted. Sometimes they become bitter and allow this to interfere with their productivity. Or they say: ‘I won’t stay late because they don’t appreciate me.’ It’s not uncommon to become your own worst enemy by not letting go of something that happened in the past. Moving from the past to the future is a more likely way to achieve success.
Finally, you write: Ageism is real — deal with it. How should older workers and job applicants deal with it?
You need to examine the prejudices and assumptions that people are making about your age and your cohort. Assumptions like: This person is not willing to try new things or doesn’t have energy or doesn’t know technology.
When you see these assumptions, make it clear that you’re not like that. Learn the technology everybody else is learning. Don’t talk about your age if you’re older than everybody else; if you do, you’re making an assumption that age is a factor and it might not be.
Make having energy part of your brand. Make it clear that you enjoy being with people of all ages. Then you can overcome subtle assumptions about people your age.
Does this always work for older job seekers?
There are, sadly, places where the door is just shut, where they won’t look at somebody of a certain age. Places with blatant discrimination. I don’t think you can overcome them by being energetic.
But there is still a lot you can do: Create a LinkedIn profile that shows you’re engaged in lots of things. And have a circle of friends of lots of ages.
To deal with the concern that you may be more expensive to hire due to your health, it’s especially important for boomers to be in good shape. Employers will look you over and wonder if you can go the distance. An appearance of energy is within your control.
Is it ever too late to make a career change?
No. It’s never too late to re-create the kind of life and career you want. I talk a lot with my mother; she’s still re-creating herself at age 95. I am absolutely confident that if you want to create a different kind of life for yourself, you can do it.