How do you stay business relevant as you get older? It’s really tough to face the facts when your skill set and attractiveness to potential employers/customers are considered undesirable or obsolete.
The current population of the United States is approx. 300 million people and 19% of the population is made up of people between the ages of 50-69 years of age (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States). So let’s round up to an even 20% of the population that still needs to work or chooses to work, which equates to 60 million people in the United States. Suffice to say that is a lot of people that fall into this demographic!
I fall into this age category myself and can speak directly to the associated challenges. Many of my age peers and former colleagues find themselves in the difficult position of having been laid off recently or struggling to find a new job (whether it is permanent or consulting). This obviously impacts their finances and retirement plans, not to mention their emotional well being due to not feeling relevant anymore.
I started my own sales consulting business 8 years ago for reasons that aren’t important to this blog post. During that time frame, I have literally had thousands of phone conversations, email interactions, or meet for coffee/lunch/dinner/drinks with former colleagues or one degree of separation referrals that are looking for advice on how to stay busy relevant. They may not express it in those exact words, but ultimately that is precisely what it boils down to regardless of the words they used to describe their situation.
So, the question is what advice can I dispense to everyone that can help you avoid ending up in this predicament? Here is a simple, five (5) point framework that I have seen people successfully employ to stay business relevant in an ever evolving and faster pace of change business world than ever before:
- Have a Focus: The most common mistake that I find is that people try to be a “Jack of All Trades”, which is typically received by the customer or potential employer as a “Master of None”. It isn’t done consciously and is really a human response to wanting to feel validated. “I can do that” is entirely different response than “I can do that better than anyone else”. And in this era of specialization, customers and employers are looking for very focused areas of expertise, not generalists. The litmus test is that if you think you have more than one or two areas of expertise, you are falling in to the trap of lacking focus.
- Be Positive: It can be emotionally deflating and a real blow to your ego to not feel wanted or professionally desirable anymore. The typical trap that I see is that people will start with an upbeat, positive tone and then quickly devolve into negativity in an introductory conversation. Again, it’s completely understandable why they do it but they need to understand the perception it creates with their audience. Many times I have to remind people that they are coming across as negative wet blankets, and they don’t even realize it. No one likes to interact with others that drone on and on about their frustrations and issues in their life unless you are a professional therapist being paid to listen or a close friend/family member. I call it the ‘Eeyore” syndrome (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eeyore) from Winnie the Pooh.
- Know Your Value Proposition: This could also be a sub category to the aforementioned focus. It is paramount to be able to articulate a clear, concise personal value proposition to the customer or employer. What value do you specifically bring to the table? How is it better and different than alternatives? It’s important to be really sober about what you are good at and what you aren’t as a business professional. Think of this as the answer to the “how are going to help me/my business in ways that I can’t do myself or better than anyone else can”? It’s a good practice to check with former colleagues and validate what they consider to be your strengths and value add. It’s also useful to understand what you are weak at and be honest about your shortcomings with employers or customers. Honesty is more refreshing than ever these days.
- It’s About the Future Not the Past: Don’t dwell on the past; rather focus on what the future could look like and the role that you would play in it. I refer to this as the Willie Loman syndrome from the seminal Arthur Miller play called “The Death of a Salesman” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_a_Salesman). Nothing is more pathetic than a sales professional regaling you with their successes from many years ago…hint it’s a dead giveaway that you have allowed yourself to become obsolete. If you don’t have a relevant success story to share with an employer or customer that is 2 years old or less, don’t share it. Forward looking people can elicit an emotional and positive response from employers or customers by painting a vision of what the future could look like and the role that they will play in helping the customer or employer achieve that vision. Dinosaurs and relics reveal themselves without carbon testing:-)
- Don’t Become a Cliché: The ugliest situation is when people try to “dress the part” of being progressive and modern and fall down flat on their faces. This usually manifests itself by way of someone trying to impress you by using every cliché in the book in the first 5 minutes of an intro conversation. Think Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Mobility, Personalization, SaaS, and Social Media. These are red flags as well as proving you aren’t current by talking about how you “twittered” someone yesterday. It matters less that you actually know there is a 140-character limit on Twitter than knowing how you can leverage Twitter for business development purposes with real world examples to substantiate. No one likes a pretender and you don’t want to be that cliché that they joke about. Be real and don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know instead of just what you do know. What you’ll find is that if you avail yourself to learning new things is that most people love helping people learn how new things work.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how Baby Boomers can stay “business relevant”. Here’s to retiring on your own terms!