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Networking and Job Hunting Advice for People Over 50

Tips from the author of 'Taking the Work Out of Networking'


This article is excerpted from TAKING THE WORK OUT OF NETWORKING: An Introvert’s Guide to Making Connections That Count by Karen Wickre. Copyright © 2018 by Karen Wickre. Reprinted by permission of Touchstone, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.)

My new book, Take the Work Out of Networking: An Introvert’s Guide to Making Connections That Count,  is for job seekers of all ages, but I’d like to offer some advice here about networking and job hunting specifically to people who are 50+.

It’s easy to understand the reluctance people this age sometimes have about networking — meeting strangers, especially those who might be younger and may represent the change they fear. Not unreasonably, the older worker might think: Why would they help me? What will we have to talk about? What if they say no?

I’ve seen quite a few work veterans set their sights lower or stay in a stale longtime role, playing the waiting game for a severance package, because of such fears.

Job Hunting Advice About Age Discrimination

To combat age discrimination of employers, when you’re job hunting look closely at the diversity and inclusion record of companies you’re interested in, search LinkedIn to see if people in your age range work there and make connections to get a reality check.

An efficient way to learn about a new industry or pick up a variety of skills quickly is to join a specialist consulting agency (for example, marketing and advertising, tech support, communications) that has clients across a range of businesses.

Or you might consider roles in firms that are not brand names, less well-known companies outside the spotlight where you can get the skills you need to transition into a new area.

The Networking Advantage People 50+ Have

Two more points about job hunting and networking when you’re in the 50+ club:

First, the longer you’ve worked (and lived), the more contacts you’ll have from a wide variety of backgrounds. Your weak ties (people you know very slightly at best, perhaps worked with briefly or met through a friend) are especially useful as you explore new options and locations. Think very broadly about who you know, including people you may have met in passing or who are colleagues of friends, to learn about opportunities that are not familiar.

Second, think about how you can position yourself as a “men- tern” — a neologism that describes someone who can mentor others while learning new skills as an intern does (not that you have to actually be in that role).

In his new book Wisdom @ Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, the seasoned hotelier and entrepreneur Chip Conley tells the story of joining Airbnb at age 52. Though Chip has earned plenty of EQ (emotional intelligence) over his career, he says he came to the young company with no discernible DQ (digital intelligence). As he tells it, his time at Airbnb helped him gain DQ as he was able to impart EQ to younger colleagues.

If Your Network Is Dormant

When people are in the same organization or on the same team for many years, they get comfortable. Maybe they don’t plan to leave their familiar (even familial) environment. But things happen. You might be bored. You might not have a good feeling about the new head of your team or company. You notice you’re envious of friends moving into new positions. Then there are those who have been out of the job market for any number of reasons: caretaking for parents, a serious illness, a difficult divorce, legal troubles.

Not long ago I met a woman I’ll call Alice — an experienced communications executive. She’d held her current role for 10 years and has recognized that she’s gotten bored. But, she confided to me, she’d let her network go. Now she needed new contacts in order to look around for a new position.

Ideally, she wouldn’t have let her contacts go dormant in the first place. (My low-pain method at any stage of work life is to regularly nurture your contacts.)

Today, Alice is making up for her missing network by creating a new one; she’s connecting regularly with new people and getting new leads. She follows up with each one, and also with those of us who have made introductions so we also stay informed about her progress. I have every confidence that Alice will find a great new position that suits her while she’s at her current job. And I bet she never lets her contacts go dormant again.

Life changes call for us to develop new routines and cultivate new ideas. If you don’t, you risk closing in and limiting your future options for work and growth.

Job Hunting When Life Comes at You

A favorite “life comes at you” story is about my friend Sree Sreenivasan. A couple of years ago, he was unexpectedly forced out of a wonderful job he’d held for three years as the first chief digital office for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, having fallen victim to the museum’s financial troubles.

More than most of us, Sree, who’s been a journalist, social media innovator and professor at Columbia University, has cultivated a large and lively following, both online and in the real world. When news of his departure appeared, I assumed he’d turn privately to some well-placed contacts and lock in his next gig behind the scenes. But Sree took his job search public, letting his many followers know that he was open to hearing about leads from all comers.

He even posted an open Google Doc to capture ideas and contacts anyone wanted to offer; he invited people to join him on walking “get acquainted” meetups (sometimes called walk-and-talks) around new York City. He took a new role with the City of New York, which turned out to be a short stint: the position he’d been hired for ended up being merged with another one.

Since then, Sree has reinvented himself as a digital and social media consultant, building on his well-established and active presences on Facebook, where he hosts several groups, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, as well as his extensive personal network. Today he has a full schedule of workshops, speaking and consulting with organizations across the world.

As he has observed about his wild ride: “You need an incredible support group, and people who understand. You have to build it when you don’t need it” (my emphasis).

Even for those without the large network Sree enjoys, his recent journey offers some good lessons for the rest of us:

  • Change comes whether or not you’re expecting it.
  • (Therefore!) Keep yourself open to new possibilities.
  • You always know more people than you think you know.
  • Prepare to share: Tell your story and be clear about what you need.
Karen Wickre
By Karen Wickre
Karen Wickre, author of Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introvert's Guide to Making Connections That Count, is the former editorial director for Twitter. She held a similar role at Google for nearly a decade and has worked in Silicon Valley for 30 years. She has been a columnist for Wired.com and is a cofounder of Newsgeist, an annual unconference fostering new approaches to news. She lives in San Francisco.

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