In my first column back, I wrote about the necessity of developing a personal brand that represented who you are and that would help you differentiate yourself from people with similar backgrounds. One of the readers of the column took issue and said that even if you could develop a strong personal brand statement, if you were an older worker your chances of getting hired would be slim because your networks would have thinned out.
The problem of older workers getting new work is very real. Many of the people who were let go during the past five years were people at the height of their careers, who were effectively tossed out in favor of younger workers with a different set of skills. Part of this was economic; older workers cost a company more, in direct salary and in indirect benefits, especially health care. Part was a perception that older creatives were not well versed in the new world of social media and the Web. At the same time, older workers were losing their support networks, as many of their colleagues were also losing their jobs. What to do?
In real estate, there’s only one thing that sells: Location, Location, Location. In finding a new position, or more freelance work, it’s network, network, network. Your networks have aged out? Create new ones. It’s easier than it has ever been, so if you don’t work at networking, the onus is on you, not the system.
To start with, there’s LinkedIn. I was skeptical about the site when it was first created, but at my wife’s urging, I put my resume on LinkedIn shortly after the site began. I now have well over fifteen hundred connections, some from people I hadn’t spoken with or done business with in over thirty years. LinkedIn works on a principle called “Find and be found.” Their software does much of the work, looking through your resume at where you’ve worked and where you went to school and matching it up with people with similar backgrounds. The more information you put in, the larger the number of potential contacts you get out. Start joining groups on the site and you can expand your network enormously. I belong to a Private Bankers group – I worked at Citigroup Private Bank for a while – that now has over 14,000 members. Many of them are ex-Citi bankers who have moved to other institutions, who know my writing and analytical work. The group has provided me with many freelance opportunities.
My wife, who lost her job at a local advertising agency, is an even more adept networker than I am. After she was let go by her agency in a cost-saving move, she immediately joined Business Networks International (BNI), which has multiple chapters in the region where I live. Each chapter takes only one of a profession – it could be electricians or landscapers or marketing specialists – and allows them to make presentations to the other members of the group. BNI provides my wife with a steady stream of marketing work, and she has increased her range by substituting in at other BNI chapters when people she knows can’t make a meeting.
But she didn’t stop there. One of the people she met through one of her networking contacts wanted to create a more wide-ranging group, so my wife became one of the group’s founding members and has benefited from that. As she meets more and more business owners in the region, she is getting an increasing number of phone calls – and with it, more work.
The point is, networking requires your active participation. Putting your resume up on a site such as Talent Zoo or the AAAAs or one of several sites dedicated to public relations professionals should not be overlooked – if your resume is seen, people can find you – but merely posting a resume and hoping for the best is passive, and getting more freelance work requires activity. Finding work takes work.
Another method for getting yourself more exposed to possible work is through volunteering. One day my wife was talking to a vice president at our local bank, and she mentioned that the local Habitat for Humanity needed some marketing assistance. Out of that conversation came a phone call, joining the group’s working committee, and a job developing entirely new marketing materials that combined the national Habitat’s mission with the idiosyncracies of the local region. Since then she has gotten assignments to do fund raising brochures, but more important, her work with Habitat has introduced her to an entirely different community – the non-profit world. This has resulted in marketing assignments from the local public television station, a church-related senior care center and more.
My wife does not yet know every business person in the region, but she’s working on it. She could be sitting back and collecting her Social Security, but her drive, ability, creativity have not been extinguished by age. She is constantly upgrading her skills, especially where the Web is concerned, and has made networked connections with all sorts of hungry young people who have skills she doesn’t but are also looking for work, both to earn money and to enlarge their portfolios.
Everyone has their own personal story, and there are any number of reasons why there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. But remember: One of the four components of your personal brand is agility. Either you find new ways to stay in the hunt, or you have to retire to the sidelines. The choice is yours.
Stephen Kindel is the Chief Operating Officer of The Bronx Project, a startup pharmaceutical company. He has had many jobs, written many books and hired many people over his career. His latest book, Skill Sets, is available by contacting him at