I reviewed The Age Advantage: Making the Most of Your Midlife Career Transition, some time ago. It’s worth re-reading today because the points are still valid.
Walker writes straightforward “advice” with no attempt to re-create the jazzy style common among self-help books. It’s easy to read, although I winced at the clichés (“It’s not over till it’s over”). You’re definitely out of the “dream-it-and-do-it” mode here. Look for action tips, not inspiration.
The best part of the book comes at the beginning, when Walker describes what it’s like to go through a midlife career crisis. Walker differentiates beginning, middle and endings people, i.e., the stage of a transition where people feel most comfortable. This scheme resembles Martha Beck’s four stages (Finding Your Own North Star, which is a pretty good career book) and my own distinction between jumpers and clingers .
Walker defines midlife career change is defined as a change “when age is a factor.” I define “midlife career change” as change when you’ve got five to ten years of significant work experience – usually around age 35 or more.
Walker claims that attitude determines whether age is an advantage or disadvantage, although I never figured out the advantages that were actually created by attitude. She later acknowledges — accurately — that discrimination is a reality that “should not be tolerated,” but in fact is hard to fight through the legal system.
Here are some quotes from the book that seem to contradict the book’s title. I wanted to ask, “Where’s the advantage?”
p. 204: “My coaching clients often tell me they’ve been advised to show more enthusiasm. Your calm demeanor may be interpreted as a lack of energy.”
p. 208: “Don’t be competitive. Your age advantage is that everyone expects you to have expertise and knowledge. You can afford to be generous.”
p. 294: “[C]companies do not hire someone over age fifty with the expectation of ‘developing’ them. Promotions may come, but they’re rare…”
Some good points from the book:
==> The discussion of networking, one of the few directed to this career segment. She points out the need to come right out and ask for help, instead of putting on a front of, “Everything’s great.”
==> The discussion of resumes is excellent, especially the emphasis on “accomplishment statements.” She suggests leaving off the “objective;” I encourage clients to run their resumes past someone who is active in their field. There is no way any career consultant can learn the idiosyncrasies of each industry and career field.
==> The reality checks. Finding a new job, especially if you are changing fields, can take a long time. People often need to acknowledge and mourn career losses. Her advice about learning a firm’s culture seems basic — until you realize that someone who’s been in a job for twenty-plus years is like a fish who stopped seeing the water.
There is indeed a downside to setting up your own business or consulting firm. But you may need to overcome those concerns if you’re meeting resistance from companies who won’t hire you for a corporate job.
Walker underestimates the effect of identity on midlife career transition. She argues against hiring an “overqualified” employee and urges the midlife applicant to be careful not to intimidate employers during a hiring interview.
Being overqualified does create stress among employees and their coworkers. And if you have to worry about intimidating others during the interview, you’ll be tippy-toeing around for the remainder of your career!
Most midlife career changers won’t benefit from a detailed assessment program. They tend to be self-aware and that abstract values and interests rarely help them align with real careers.
Most people have a secret (or not so secret) dream or idea of what they want to do. When they don’t, they’re usually blocking themselves and standard exercises won’t help. The self-knowledge exercises here are commonplace, even banal: I hope the author saves more dynamic tasks for her “live” clients.
Finally, I find that many people would do better to start a business instead of job-hunting, or as a parallel activity to job-hunting.
If you’re a high-profile person in your community or you’ve had a very senior position in a narrow area, you may not be able to find a new job — certainly not a good one — unless you’re a superb networker who’s flexible about relocation.
A former mayor of a small town found himself in need of a job after his wife left him, taking the assets (mostly from her side of the family) with her. Nobody would hire an ex-mayor. He ended up selling cars.
A media personality was fired very publicly when the political winds changed in her company. Nobody would hire her. She was too famous! Somehow she found me and we set up a consultation. I encouraged her to set up her own communications consulting firm. To her surprise, as soon as she mentioned the possibility at a networking event, she had a list of prospects eager to explore working with her.
These days, it’s important for people to realize that they may not need a coach or counselor — it seems like “everybody’s” got one. On the other hand, if you’re feeling isolated or stuck, the right support person can make all the difference. In my own work with clients, I’ve saved them many hours – even weeks or months – of chasing a dead end because I knew the short cuts.
I recommend The Age Advantage, especially for those who have enjoyed a long career in corporate America. Take what you find useful and ignore the points about age being an advantage: the publisher probably emphasized that approach as a way to reach a broader audience.
My favorite quote:
P 156: “Note: the high tech industry has dramatically changed the look of corporate America, where ‘cool’ and ‘laid-back’ are the right look. If you don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb, lose the pinstripes. It’s not necessary to go directly to rumpled blue jeans and tennis shoes, but you should look like you could do so comfortably on a moment’s notice. Nothing says you’re from a different generation quicker than being too formally dressed.”
My own comment: I love it! I’ve always been able to “do so comfortably on a moment’s notice.”
You can order The Age Advantage through my affiliate link or go directly to Amazon – same price either way.