You think age discrimination is your biggest hurdle to finding a new job as a seasoned professional? Think again.
We all have perceptions of “the job hunt.” There’s the resume, the cover letters, the online application systems, the gate-keepers within HR, the series of stiff interviews where you have to prove yourself, and all that stuff.
What many of us don’t realize is that there’s another way to landing a job you love.
Anyone can access this alternate path, if they know how to find it. And if you have more than 25 years of professional experience, you absolutely need to be taking the other route.
Fortunately for you, that’s one of the things we teach at Career Attraction: how to bypass the gatekeepers and find work you truly love, no matter where you are in your career.
This advice is particularly critical for the seasoned professional. If you read nothing else about the job hunt for the rest of your career, read this.
You: The Expert
Today we’re going to get laser-focused on subject matter experts, or SMEs, and what the best way is for them to go about finding a new (fantastic) job.
But first, a reality check: people tend to coil at the thought of calling themselves an expert in anything. It seems haughty or arrogant or otherwise off-putting. It’s a cultural thing, this mock-deference that overshadows our sense of self-presentation; it’s also one that plays into the natural insecurities that most of us have.
But here’s the thing — there’s nothing wrong (and a whole lot right) with claiming your expertise. When you’ve been working for 25 years or more, you’re most assuredly an expert in something — whether you feel like one or not. It’s a simple fact that if you’ve spent your entire career devoted to producing, managing, and problem-solving that you’ve become really, really good at certain aspects of your work.
You’re doing yourself a grave disservice by discounting your expertise, or by failing to recognize it in the first place.
Fast Company once referred to the current generation of seasoned professionals as Generation Flux. Gone are the days of spending your entire career with one company, moving yourself up the ranks until you find yourself in upper management.
Instead, today’s professionals have a history of moving around. It could be going from industry to industry, department to department, and role to role. The trajectory may be generally going up, but there’s no straight shot.
The truth is, you’ve put in a lot of time overall, even if you haven’t been doing the same thing the whole time. And that’s incredibly valuable experience.
If you’ve made it this far in your career, then you’ve almost certainly become extremely skilled at solving a particular set of problems. When it’s time to move to your next thing, the single greatest thing you can do is identify the 1-3 problems you can solve, effectively.
To do this, focus on your outcomes. Your outcomes are “the spoils of war” that you’ve accumulated over time, and they’ll tell you what it is that you do exceptionally well. Survey your best outcomes, look for the structural overlap in the different roles you’ve held, and find the common elements. That’s how you’ll be able to pinpoint the exact, specialized, valuable solution that you offer.
Whatever that solution is, you’re an expert. Let yourself claim it.
The Single Greatest Reason Most SMEs Miss Out On Great Jobs (and It’s Not Age Discrimination)
The process of identifying the solution you provide is one that takes time, conversations, and even professional input if you’re really struggling. It’s a critical element of finding the ideal job, but it’s also little-known and little-executed.
Instead of identifying themselves as experts and (essentially) marketing themselves as such, most seasoned professionals fall into the same job search patterns that we’ve all been taught are “the way things work.”
This is an enormous mistake.
By going about your new job search the same old way, you’re cutting yourself off at the knees. Sure, you might be able to land a position, eventually, but it’s not the best way to get yourself into a great new job. Not by a long shot.
Let’s break it down with an example.
A Tale of Two SMEs
Which of these paths would you choose?
The First Path: It’s time for a new job, whether by layoff, stagnation, or something else. So you dust off the old resume, make a few updates in the experience section, and start searching job boards. You’re looking at anything and everything because you don’t want to limit yourself and miss out on something great. When something interesting does come up, you tweak your cover letter and submit everything through the online portal. Now it’s time to wait.
HR eventually reviews your resume, and they’ll either turn you down or call you for your first interview. You sit face to face with the gatekeepers, who will decide (based on whether or not they like you within the first 30 seconds of sitting in the same room as you) whether or not you will get to speak with anyone even remotely related to the position. Provided your interpersonal and interviewing skills are solid, you’ll progress to the next round. Or you won’t.
Weeks and months go by with very little progress and not very much feedback on what you are and aren’t doing well. Eventually you might land something and take it. You might even like what you do, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s a fantastic new addition to your life and you don’t know how long you’ll last there before it’s time to move on. But hey, a job is a job and you should be grateful to have one.
The Alternate Path: It’s time for a new job. You aren’t interested in doing the whole resume + cover letter rigamarole, because you know there’s a better way to find a great new job you love. You spend some time thinking about all the big wins and great outcomes you’ve been able to provide over your career. When you think you’ve got a good amount on paper, you start thinking about what connects those “spoils of war” — what the problems were that you solved well, what the specific needs were that you met, and how the “infrastructure” was consistent even across industries or departments (things like plugging holes in big budgets and reducing turnover issues). You also take stock of what what you liked doing vs. what you didn’t.
Once you have a sense of everything you can (and want) to deliver, you pick the key solutions you want to emphasize — you need at least one and as many as three. These solutions become your subject matter expertise (SME) and they are the driving force behind what we call “your messaging” — the way you position yourself and the story you tell about what you can deliver.
Once you have your initial messaging down, it’s time to take it to the market. Your goal is to put yourself in face-to-face conversations with the decision-makers around you. This means people in the C Suite or one level below — you’re bypassing HR. Search your personal network to see if you know anyone in these roles, and start having conversations with them. Ask around to see if anyone you know can connect you with these decision-makers. You may want to target specific industries, but you might not.
As you have these conversations, your goal is to figure out what the key problems are that the organization still needs to solve, and then show how you would go about solving them. Once you can demonstrate that you understand the issues at work, and then show how you’re an ideal solution to those issues, you’ll find yourself having very interesting conversations about coming on board as a consultant or, if the problem is deep enough, as an employee.
Which Path Is Right for You?
If you’re like most seasoned professionals, the alternate path is significantly more attractive, and with good reason. It’s efficient, it’s effective, and it comes with a much more secure position than the one you’d land by going the traditional route.
The goal is to find the dire need that you can meet, and then present yourself to the person who can cut through the red tape and hire you.