Yesterday’s New York Times included its popular section, The Workologist. This time the Workologist tackles a reader’s question that appear age-related. It’s not. Read the original here.
I have long been passionate about age-discrimination. I can sniff it out like an energetic bloodhound.
But I also believe we need to stop defining ourselves by age. The letter writer states:
I am a 52-year-old clinical research coordinator who has been looking for a new position. A contact told me her firm was hiring; the job involved marketing experience that I don’t have, but she assured me this wasn’t an issue. And the company did indeed set up an interview. I was told this would involve a short PowerPoint presentation. I stated I did not know PowerPoint but would learn it, and again was told that was fine.
Let’s analyze this paragraph:
(1) The job involves marketing experience she doesn’t have. That’s a good sign: rounding out her clinical research background with marketing will add breadth to her resume and open doors.
(2) PowerPoint just isn’t that hard to learn. If you’ve got a week’s notice before the interview, you can learn enough to put slides together. Or you can hire someone on Fiverr to create your PowerPoint slides. Typically you’ll be invited to use the company’s computer so you just need to learn how to access your slides and advance them.
It’s not rocket science. Lots of people with low IQs have mastered PowerPoint.
And PowerPoint has been around a long, long time. I’ve been told that the US military runs on PowerPoint.
Anyway, if PowerPoint is required, you need to know PowerPoint whether you’re 22, 32 or 52. It’s rarely a good idea to admit you don’t know something before you’ve even started the interview.
I know people in their sixties and seventies who learned to edit video so they could create shows featuring their grandchildren.
I also know people in their 20s and 30s who can’t do more than send emails and texts. They won’t get those corporate jobs either.
(3) The writer discovers that her colleagues will be considerably younger – in their 20s and 30s. One of them asked if she’d have problems with the age difference. Apparently realizing the question was illegal,the colleague changed it to, “You’ve had so much experience and this is an entry job.”
If the writer wanted the job, she had the perfect response: “I’ll be building on my experience and also learning marketing. So this may be an entry level job but it’s a terrific opportunity for me.”
(4) Some people do have age prejudice. No matter what you do, say or wear, you’ll be treated like a second class person if you look like you’re over 30… certainly over 40.
I don’t like the idea that appearing “young” offers more valuable than appearing “old.” But I do like the idea of being contemporary and adapting to an environment. If you find the environment so abhorrent that you can’t bear to adapt, you’ll be miserable and eventually you’ll be gone, by self-sabotage or being fired.
(5) You have to decide if a certain environment will work for you. Some environments are purely hostile.
For instance, I once participated in a networking group where I soon realized that age and appearance were critical factors in getting accepted. I also got some frowns when I referred to someone getting “screwed.”
Given my attitude to fashion and language, this group just wasn’t a fit. I decided to look elsewhere.
On the other hand, in some worlds I feel completely accepted by very young people. When I do stand-up comedy at open mics, nobody dresses up. Nobody gets special consideration based on age or other demographics. The language is … interesting.
Some career consultants and coaches will encourage you to “dumb down” your resume when you appear overqualified. But that rarely works. It’s important to decide whether you’ll thrive in the new environment and make choices accordingly.
Here’s what you need to learn (in this order):
(1) Email. If you’re reading this post you probably know email. Everyone should know Gmail (the gold standard). Lose the AOL. Play with some Gmail features, such as setting up signatures.
(2) Microsoft Word. If you’re working in a corporate environment, you’ll need it. I you’re working on your own you may be able to use other programs that are free. If you’re reading this post, you probably know Word. Take every opportunity to learn it better.
(3) PowerPoint. You’ll need to purchase the software and you may be able to get a discount on EBay. PowerPoint is extremely helpful for many applications besides live presentation.
Google “learn how to use PowerPoint free.” You can take courses at lynda.com and Udemy.com. You’ll also find books on Amazon, your bookstore and your library. Just make sure you choose a course or book that’s associated with the PowerPoint version you are using.
(4) WordPress. This blog – like most blogs today – was developed on a WordPress platform. It’s not rocket science to develop a basic blog and website. You can learn how to do this by going to the site wpbeginner.com. That’s free. You can take paid courses at lynda.com and udemy.com.
You can also go to YouTube and google “how to set up a WordPress.” Then you google “how to create a blog post.”
You can choose from dozens of books at your bookstore or library.
(5) Editing videos. Use iMovie, Screenflow or another program. For some jobs this skill will be critical. But it’s still a “nice to have” because you never know.
(6) Image making. You’ll need images to put on those videos and in your blog posts. Photoshop is tricky and can be expensive. I’ve been using Canva lately (it’s free). Google “free programs to create images” and you’ll find even more choices.
(7) Spread sheets. Most companies use Excel. If you need it, you really need it and it’s handy to make lists and summaries. It can be annoying but it’s not too hard to learn.
(8) HTML. These days you don’t need HTML much, as long as you use WordPress. But it’s very handy for small changes and for setting up widgets. CSS is even more helpful (you need HTML first).
HTML/CSS fixes are usually easy to outsource and they come in small time increments so it’s cost-effective to let someone else do it. I had to put a website together in HTML/CSS before WordPress became available and now I’m glad I did. It’s easier than most programming.
(9) File sharing has become more common. Look up “Google docs” and follow the easy directions.
The New Learning
Back in the not-so-good old days, we worked with manuals. Paper manuals. In manuals. When we needed to learn something, we consulted the manual and/or took a formal course.
Today the culture is all about teaching yourself. When I don’t know how to say something in HTML, I just google something like “remove row from table in HTML.” You can do this with almost anything.
When you’re expected to know something, take the initiative to find out on your own.
If you’re currently employed, your employer may offer courses or at least access to the software. Take advantage of any downtime. If you’re not employed and you’ve got the time, you can always learn more tech. I’ve avoided video editing and rarely use Excel, but they’re on the list.
And if you hate tech stuff and are determined to make a living without learning any, you probably can, especially if you work for yourself. Just be aware that these opportunities have become scarcer in an age when cloistered monks build websites and truck drivers get their orders from computers in their rigs.
Finally, I can’t resist pointing out that the writer of the letter could use a good career coach or consultant. Finding a new job call for different skills than finding success in the corporate world. A single session with a consultant will help you navigate interviews, interpret culture and get ideas to handle challenges. My single-session program can be found here.