I remember a conversation my parents had with me when I was a teenager, well before the Great Recession was a twinkle in Lucifer’s eye. Back in my folks’ day, it was assumed that people of their generation would do better professionally than their parents had — and in fact, many of them did for quite some time, if they aren’t still. It wasn’t just easy for them to accomplish this feat, either; it was practically as certain as the sun rising and setting each day.
I was warned then that people of my generation (I identify as Gen X though I’m on the cusp of Millennial) wouldn’t have that same level of success. The Boomers had raised the bar, and it would be difficult to match it, even in the best of times.
Then, of course, the worst of times happened. Whatever might have been left for us Gen X-ers to have of the American Dream once the Great Recession hit was — how can I put this delicately? — obliterated.
What’s worse is, the dream crushing has now creeped beyond my generation all the way up to the Boomers. In the last decade, I’ve seen relatives and friends of all generations struggle with the beast that has become our job market. While a lot of attention has been paid to the rookie Millennials still crashing their parents’ couches for the foreseeable future, what’s been more disturbing to me is witnessing the struggles of Boomer moms and dads who’d reached the pinnacle of greatness and plummeted all the way back down that mountain to where their children remain. Work isn’t all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for the Boomers anymore. Ageism is out there.
In talking to the Boomers in my life, some common themes regarding their professional struggles have surfaced. If you’re in this boat — and even if you aren’t — here’s some advice based on the feedback I’ve gathered from them that could help you better navigate today’s job market if you’re struggling:
1) Get with the times and technologies of today (if you haven’t already). This is by far the most important thing any Boomer must do to be competitive in today’s job market. Unlike days of yore, where at least some technology could be avoided in many jobs, nearly every workplace today requires a solid grasp of computers, Internet research skills, and even how social media works. However you go about it — any number of online or offline training courses, self-teaching, or even grabbing one of those Millennial offspring of yours and making them teach you a thing or two — learn your way around PCs and Mac computers, the Microsoft Office suite and social media. Complete (don’t just start) a LinkedIn profile. Know how to conduct a job search today (translation: figure out how to search for jobs through LinkedIn and search engines). I prefer Indeed.com myself because I can set up specific notifications that make the Internet do almost all the work for me. You give it keywords, and it gives you emails with job postings including those keywords each day. It doesn’t get much easier than that!
2) Be prepared to be flexible with your salary requirements. Let me be blunt for a moment here just to make my point: We are all being underpaid right now. Each. And. Every. One. Of. Us. Well, in the “middle class” (whatever that is anymore), at least. Don’t make it personal; it really is happening to everyone. A job where you’d be offered, say, $50,000 for all your experience (even though your last salary was $90,000) is the same job that would be offered to a Millennial for $25,000 or less. Know what you really need to make to survive and consider the whole compensation package, not just the salary amount. There are some pretty cool things being offered today outside of salary (e.g., flex schedules, gym memberships, tuition reimbursements, etc.) that might make things a little more worth your while.
3) Even though you might be up against the “overqualified” label, don’t sell yourself short; just market yourself better. I’m not sure I even believe in the term “overqualified,” to be honest — competent people only get bored, feel underutilized and move on when they find themselves under incompetent management that doesn’t have the vision to engage them appropriately — but I assure you that employers believe in the term (because let’s be honest: there are a lot of incompetent managers out there). I actually assisted with the interviewing and hiring of what many would’ve considered an “overqualified” Boomer at a former employer’s. This person simply figured out how to market skills properly — all without attempting to hide any accomplishments, believe it or not. At the end of the day, the right employer for you will value your experience — all of it. Easy to say when you don’t desperately need a job, but you won’t stay long in one you just took to be employed anyway, now, will you?
4) Get used to the idea that you’ll be working with — or even for — someone younger than you if this is/has been a big deal for you. This one is all about having the right attitude. You’ve got to think big picture when it comes to today’s workplace. Would you rather have a job or not have to work for that punk who’s young enough to be your kid? I remember very distinctly interviewing a Boomer whose distaste for my age and the fact that I was in any position to be interviewing him was palpable. I knew it was nothing personal, but I also knew it wasn’t a quality my employer was looking for in a new hire. No matter what age, we all have something valuable to offer each other. Those who don’t get that are really missing out — on more than just a job, too.
5) Keep your emotions in check. This is advice I’d give anyone and everyone, including myself. Along similar lines to No. 4, it’s absolutely critical not to let frustrations about today’s working world come out during the interview process. Yes, job hunting has changed. Yes, the length of time it takes to get a job has changed. Yes, hiring processes have changed. Yes, technology has changed. Yes, compensations have changed. Yes, decision-making has changed. Yes, the competition has changed. Your job during that interview — just like mine and everyone else’s — is to appear as flexible, adaptable, and open to the new world of work as possible. You may be in the skin of a Boomer, but if you exude the spirit of today, you just might get that job offer tomorrow.