Recession & Retirement

If you’re nowhere near retirement age yet (a number that keeps changing, by the way), you might not have given much thought to the possible impact the latest recession has made on the concept and timing of retirement. It’s something that you might want to think about, though, because ignoring it could be a recipe for disaster.

A recent article by Emily Brandon in US News & World Report lists several conditions that are affecting people’s retirement plans: unemployment, falling income, declining retirement benefits, few options to recoup losses, and increasing reliance on Social Security. Brandon notes that although the recession has affected all age groups, it has had the greatest impact on older adults. For those inclined to pessimism anyway, this is not good news! Being naturally an optimist, I tend to take a somewhat less gloomy outlook, but there’s no denying that the situation is challenging at best.

Just as an example: If people are putting off retirement longer because they feel they can’t afford to retire when they originally expected to, they’re staying in (or trying to stay in) their jobs; this means those jobs aren’t opening up for other would-be employees to fill. Another example is that people who are continuing to work longer are probably not indulging in the leisure-time activities they had planned to engage in during retirement, and that pull-back could affect others who work in the industries and regions where those activities would occur. It’s a ripple effect.

What can you do? First, don’t press the panic button! Seriously, knee-jerk reactions to potentially dire news can cause us to make unwise decisions that we could well live to regret. They can also prevent us from seeing and exploring possibilities that might improve our retirement situation–whether we’re nearing retirement age or still many years away from it. Wise career management definitely comes into play here, along with good financial sense. Impulsiveness can have a positive place in our lives, but probably not when it comes to preparing ourselves for retirement.

The Curse of Experience

Jon Gordon’s blog often contains items I find both inspirational and practical, and his October 24, 2011 post definitely met both “tests.” He called it “The Curse of Experience: Think Like a Rookie.” The title alone intrigued me, as it was undoubtedly meant to do. More important, from my perspective, the article caused me to think seriously about an issue that too often arises for both employed and unemployed job searchers. You’ve probably heard one or both of the following statements in your business career: “We can’t do that. We’ve never done it before” or “But we’ve always done it this way.”

Those statements are the kiss of death to success in business, whether you’re in job search mode or just trying to do your job as well as you can. The attitude they represent can stop progress in its tracks, sabotage a promising career–in other words, do serious damage in one form or another. As Jon Gordon puts it, “…sometimes experience can be a curse. Such as when your experience in business causes you to focus on the good ole days.” He goes on to say that rookies “don’t know about the way things were. Rookies don’t focus on what everyone says is impossible. They bring an idealism, optimism and passion to their work and because they believe in the future they take the necessary actions to create it.”

Does this mean you can blithely assume that great and wonderful things will happen just because you try something different in your job search or career management activities? No. A touch of realism can actually be healthy–but not if it shuts down enthusiasm, optimism and determination. If your resume, interview techniques and other job search elements reflect someone who can turn experience into a blessing and not a curse, employers are more likely to sit up and take notice.

LinkedIn Mistakes You Might Be Making

It’s not uncommon for me to see an individual’s LinkedIn profile that doesn’t do him or her any favors, in terms of creating an effective professional presence online. However, I recently read an article by a colleague, Meg Guiseppi, that brought up mistakes I hadn’t even thought of (the article, published March 28, 2011, is called “29 Biggest LinkedIn Mistakes”). It prompted me to give the matter more thought and put together this post, in hopes that those of you who read it will take a look at your profile and see whether you’re missing the boat.

Meg’s article divides mistakes into two main categories: not building your profile and not leveraging your LinkedIn membership. I won’t get into the second category here because there’s just too much ground to cover. Maybe I’ll revisit this subject later and tackle that part then.

Here are just a few of the mistakes Meg noted that I was already aware of, as well as one that was new to me:

  • Keeping the default LinkedIn profile URL, which is a jumble of letters and numbers, instead of using your name (or as close to that as you can–if you’re John Smith or Mary Jones, you might find that someone has already take it!).
  • Not using your branded resume and career biography to add meat to your profile’s message.
  • Failing to include a photo–and we don’t mean one taken in the photo booth at the local mall.
  • Having a ho-hum Summary section, or none at all–LinkedIn allows you to use up to 2,000 characters and spaces; you don’t have to use every last one, but you should be communicating a strong value proposition there that distinguishes you from your competition.
  • Not using the Files application to add your resume, biography and other career documents to your profile, which allows you to share them easily. (I hadn’t come across this one before.)

By the way, I have helped several job search clients create or improve their LinkedIn profile. While it’s not, as the saying goes, rocket science, it does deserve careful consideration. Yes, you can edit it and undoubtedly will over time, but you don’t want to just throw it together to begin with. It’s a key career management tool, so give it some thought–then put it out there.

Cover Letters with a Purpose

You’ll hear conflicting advice about using cover letters, depending on whom you choose to ask. However, I believe they can and should fulfill an important and useful purpose: giving you an additional chance to reinforce the value message your resume is (I hope) communicating to potential employers. Not all cover letters are created equal, though, so it’s important to think more deeply about the subject. For example, if the letter doesn’t strongly position you in the eyes of employers, it’s a waste of time and space.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a recruiter survey that found 80%+ of recruiters consider cover letters essential to a job search. I’m not clear on whether this is strictly internal recruiters (HR personnel), but given the nature of the survey, I suspect it is. That said, it’s important to note that making your submissions through HR is not the fastest or most effective way to reach hiring managers—but that’s a topic for a different blog post.

I often get asked what a cover letter should include, what it should look like, and so on. The answer depends heavily on your individual situation and goals, the kinds and levels of opportunities and organizations you are targeting, and a variety of other factors. I consider the following among the most important elements to include:
1. Value you can offer the employer to whom you are submitting your resume and cover letter.
2. Relevance to the company and the employment opportunity—avoid including information that is rambling, too detailed or biographical in nature, etc.
3. Reinforcement of key points that appear in the resume but might not necessarily stand out as much there as you’d like for the targeted opportunity.

Age Discrimination – What’s Being Done?

We all know that although age discrimination in employment situations is illegal, it still happens. It’s just very hard to prove and usually not worth the stressful effort that would be required to try. If you haven’t yet reached the point in your life where you’re concerned about ageism, consider yourself lucky; however, it might be a good idea to begin preparing yourself to counteract it if or when you do encounter it in your career.

According to an article by Michelle Rafter, “Employers Embrace Age-Diversity Initiatives,” a study from Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work has determined that “U.S. employers have done a good job of expanding their diversity programs over the past two decades, but too few take age into account….” A “brain drain” prevention program at Cornell University called Encore Cornell shows how one major organization has started taking action to address the problem of a potentially huge reduction in the organization’s knowledge base caused by massive retirement of its employees.

The article indicates that the study also found that “the most successful programs address the needs of all age groups, promote training and flexible work schedules for everyone, and help boomers, Gen X and Gen Y better work together….”

Here are a few of the companies that have launched programs in recent years:

  1. GenNext: At Dell, a two-year-old group for employees under 30 called GenNext has been so successful, the computer company is considering launching a forum for workers over 40.
  2. Prime Time Partners Network: GlaxoSmithKline created a Prime Time Partners Network to help mid-career workers after one of the pharmaceutical company’s call center employees realized that there was a gap between how younger and older workers did their jobs, but no resources to help older workers improve their skills.
  3. Boomers Network: To extend its diversity program, Wells Fargo created separate Young Professionals and Boomers networks with the common goal of providing opportunities for training, career development and community service.

Job Trends You Need to Know

We all need to stay aware of what is happening or might be coming in the job market, as best we can. It’s a matter of enlightened self-interest and astute career management, for one thing. Although there are a lot of possibilities you might want to think about, some are probably more likely to arise than others and deserve special attention. That’s why I found “5 Need-to-Know Trends in Today’s Job Market” by Michelle Rafter to be particularly interesting. You can find her article here, but I’ll give you some of the high spots:

“Here are five other job market trends to be aware of, especially if you’re over 40:

1. Boomers are staying in the work force longer. People are likely to continue working longer, the EBRI study concludes, to save more for retirement, make up for investment portfolios that tanked during the recession or to retain health insurance coverage.

2. Despite a national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, certain jobs remain unfilled due to lack of essential skills.

3. People may be working, but they’re overworked or unhappy, and many would switch jobs if they could.

4. Employees are happier with more flexible work schedules, but so far, most don’t have them.

5. More public and private employers offer telecommuting, but they still lag worker interest.”

Smart job-seekers and career-managers (and don’t we all want to fit those categories?) know they can no longer count on employers to take care of them, if they ever could. Good companies do treat their employees well, but even they don’t guarantee desirable employment indefinitely. They can’t. The best possibility you can hope for these days is long-term employment; lifetime employment is a long-gone myth. Keeping informed about trends in the job market will help you focus on what’s possible, rather than what’s not, and choose your actions accordingly.

Toxic Bosses or Toxic Coworkers

Did you know that there’s a website called Or that there’s an organization called the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute? I didn’t until I Googled the term “toxic bosses or coworkers” and found a multitude of articles and other items related to this topic. Not only is it not a new problem, but it has obviously become a major issue for a lot of people.

If you’ve never had the misfortune to have a toxic boss or work with a toxic coworker, consider yourself blessed! I actually fall into that category, but I’ve seen plenty of people over the years (including resume writing and career coaching clients) that weren’t so lucky. Dealing with the problem takes courage, wisdom and a willingness to tap into available resources, once you’ve identified those that apply to your situation.

According to an article by Gerri Willis, a CNN/Money contributing writer, there are 5 tips you can use to make your workplace more pleasant (online, Oct. 15, 2004). These are:

1. Identify the behavior.
2. Don’t take it lying down.
3. Take notes.
4. Know when it’s too much.
5. Control your destiny.

Whether you’re in a toxic employment situation or just want to be prepared in case you encounter one in the future, checking out Willis’ article and others on the same subject could help you figure out what to do, as well as when and how to do it if the time comes that the situation becomes unbearable. To paraphrase one of my old bosses, “Life is too short to spend a chunk of it in misery.” Hint: You might start by getting your resume in shape, so it’s ready to use when you decide the time has come to see about jumping ship.

Mobile App for Job Seekers?

What helps employers doesn’t necessarily benefit job seekers, as most of us know. In fact, as often as not, whatever it is seems to actually work against job seekers, making it harder for them to rise to the top of the search pile. However, a mobile phone application called TalentBrew Mobile might eventually help job seekers, even though it’s initially directed at companies that need to manage their job listings.

The new app, launched by TMP Worldwide, is supposed to make companies’ job listings “a lot more friendly to people job-searching on a smartphone” (according to Todd Raphael of Not being a heavy smartphone user myself, I might find this less exciting than it would be to those who do use their smartphones extensively and who are also in active or semi-active job-search mode.

The product is so new it’s only being beta-tested by one major client, but if that proves successful or even highly promising, we’ll probably be seeing and hearing more about the app in the future. In the meantime, the jury’s still out on this one, but it’s a topic you might want to keep a watchful eye on—particularly if you’re an enthusiastic smartphone user. Being an early adopter, if you’re smart about it, can help jumpstart your job search.