…..If You Want The Job, It Has To Make Sense to Them
In 2014, when Wendy Sachs lost her job with Grey Advertising, she was over forty.
When she started to interview, she realized finding a new job was going to be harder than expected. The way she’d told her story in the past was no longer working.
As she shares for the Disrupt Yourself Podcast and her book Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Their Careers, “I realized I needed to hone my story; I needed to repackage my narrative and sell my skill set. I needed to own my experience but reposition my pitch. I might even need to take a big pay cut and move backward before I can move forward again.”
“I was going around to what I call the bright and shiny media startups in New York City thinking, ‘Ah, this is where I need to be; this is where it’s happening. It’s social media; this is the future and I need to get in….’ I had a career clock in my head ticking, thinking, ‘I’m over 40…the window is closing to get in on this.
“But here’s the thing…I was easily 10-15 years older than pretty much everyone else at these shops…Wherever I went it seemed that everyone who was interviewing me had graduated from college in 2009, which made them at the time 27 years old. And there I was, over 40, trying to shoehorn myself into these jobs. And they didn’t really know what to make of my experience. I had, what I thought was really incredible experience. I had done so many interesting things and yet they couldn’t figure out what to do with all of that. They were impressed, but they weren’t hiring me.
“I needed my elevator pitch….I needed to define what it was that I was and what my superpowers were and what my skillset was in a very succinct, one sentence, one phrase, almost brand like way, rather than saying ‘I used to do this.’ And also getting rid of all that former stuff; it sounds very old. It sounds sort of ancient. And something that I really struggled with was how many things on my resume I should include.
“When I started my career out of college, I was a Capitol Hill press secretary. And for many, many, many years that was really impressive and that opened doors for me. And I write in my book that to me Capitol Hill was like the Google of the Gen X generation. It really was a career opener…it was highly respected.
Wendy continues, “What I found when I started interviewing during that 2014 period was…it was actually looked at in a much more dismissive, actually pejorative way. “You worked on the Hill? We don’t really like politics around here.” So even how I talked about what I had thought was so prestigious around the early part of my career, I needed now to reframe all of that, maybe not talk about it all.”
I needed to reframe how I talked about the early part of my career.
In my work on personal disruption I talk about how each of us is on a learning curve or an S shaped curve and that whenever we’re jumping to a new job, you’re also asking the person who wants to hire you to jump to that curve with you. If you don’t fully fit the mold that they are looking to fill, you have to de-risk it.
For Sachs, this meant positioning herself and her deep and varied career experience in a manner that made younger potential employers not scared to hire her. She says, “To me, it became about really taking them on the journey. I needed to connect the dots for them….In my head it makes perfect sense….”
YOU have to make it make perfect sense to them. Sachs is more than willing to adapt and learn as technology rolls on, as we all must be if we are to remain relevant into the later stages of a meaningful career.
A colleague of mine recently mentioned that her son-in-law, a successful tech startup entrepreneur says he is suspicious of anyone who interviews in a suit and tie. It’s easy to modify our manner of dress to fit the modern workplace; some of the necessary personal disruptions are more difficult.
But recognizing the need to evolve and the willingness to make these changes—whether small or large—are the first steps. We can and should join the battle against all forms of systemic discrimination, including ageism, but we must yield the field on the issue of changing and reframing. Listen to the podcast and pick up her book for summer reading.
Ideally, before you need them.
Whitney Johnson was recognized as one of the world’s most influential management thinkers in 2015, and was a finalist for the Top thinkers on Talent at the biennial Thinkers50 ceremony in London. She is formerly the co-founder of Rose Park Advisors, having served as President for 5 years. Whitney is also a contributor to and writer for the Harvard Business Review, and is a Linkedin Influencer. She is the author of Disrupt Yourself(TM): Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work (2015) and Dare, Dream, Do (2012). Ms. Johnson was named one of Fortune’s 55 Most Influential Women on Twitter in 2014, in addition to having co-founded the popular Forty Women Over Forty to Watch. She is also a fellow at the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.