Illustration by Fabio Consoli
In a new book, leadership expert Fawn Germer aims to help workplace veterans ride out the changes in their fields
All across the country, mid- and late-career professionals are facing a crisis.
The unemployment rate for these groups is disturbing, and those who are able to find new jobs often have to settle for less money than they were previously making.
Millions of people who still have their jobs, meanwhile, need to revive flagging careers, at a point in their lives when they perhaps would have expected the security that once came from decades of service.
According to Fawn Germer, author of Coming Back: How to Win the Job You Want When You’ve Lost the Job You Need (St. Martin’s Press), workplace veterans can no longer rely on their track records to get by.
If you can’t prove that you can move with the times, you’re going to be left behind.
“A lot of people see change and think, ‘I’ll sit this one out. If I just keep doing a good job, they’re going to recognize that and reward me,’” Germer says. “All that does is mark them as irrelevant. We are on an insatiable quest for relevance, and if you don’t get on that bandwagon you’re going to get left behind.”
The advent of social media and advances in workplace technology have created a structural shift that puts less weight on experience.
With terms such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and big data becoming increasingly prevalent in the business lexicon, you need to prove you have the skills and foresight to lead, not only today but five years from now.
“Any employer can hire somebody fresh out of college who can probably do more with technology with their thumb than you can with your whole body, and yet, as you age, you have the highest income in the room,” says Germer.
Germer interviewed more than 300 senior executives, professors, and organizational experts while researching her book. “You have to justify that paycheck. That means being in front of the trends and always trying to find out what’s next so that you are leading the change instead of reacting to it.”
So how do you stay relevant in a changing world, and signal to your bosses that you remain an irreplaceable part of their company’s future?
In large part, Germer says, that comes through upskilling.
Recognize that your current skill sets have a shelf life, and look at where you can expand your knowledge. Find out where your industry is headed and take online courses in those areas. (Germer suggests edX and Coursera for free programs from leading institutions such as Harvard and Yale.)
Similarly, read all kinds of news to stay up to date on your industry and the world at large. Reach out to younger colleagues and try to work with them. Get noticed by volunteering to lead committees and by making an impact at meetings.
And, importantly, don’t keep all this to yourself. Nurture your online presence by identifying decision-makers on LinkedIn and sharing posts and articles. Talk about what you’ve learned at work so people know that you’re making an effort. And when you land an interview, don’t talk about what you’ve done but rather what you will do.
For those who have lost jobs, Germer says, “The biggest thing is, don’t give up. You have not lost all of your talent and brilliance. You have been given an obstacle. If you just take the next step, and the next, sooner or later you get where you need to go.”