In Support of Older Workers

On July 25 Lee Miller wrote in The Star Ledger an article titled, “Older employees an asset to firms.”  The title speaks for itself.

I just finished reading the October 2010 issue of National Geographic.  Its lead story, in fact half the magazine, is devoted to the Gulf oil spill (thus the photo accompanying this post).

When discussing the mistakes BP made prior to the catastrophe – and there were many – Joel K. Bourne, Jr., author of the lead article “The Deep Dilemma,” writes,

The roots of those decisions lie in BP’s corporate history, says Robert Bea, a University of California, Berkeley expert in both technological disasters and offshore engineering.  BP hired Bea in 2001 for advice on problems it faced after it took over the U.S. oil companies Amoco and ARCO.  One problem, Bea says, was a loss of core competence: After the merger BP forced thousands of older, experienced oil field workers into early retirement.  That decision, which made the company more dependent on contractors for engineering expertise, was a key ingredient for BP’s “recipe for disaster,” Bea says.  Only a few of the 126 crew members on the Deepwater Horizon worked directly for BP.

If you are an older worker looking for a new job, and worried about competing with younger candidates, this might be a quote you should memorize!

Some time ago I had a non-profit client.  A good organization with a great mission.  They had done remarkable things in their short five year existence.  They were looking for a seasoned fundraiser.  They needed someone with the experience to “get them to the next level.”  The oldest employee, the founder, was 33.  Everyone else, including the person who would be supervising the fundraiser, was in their twenties.  I had a number of interested candidates.  But, among other things, the organization’s process was very slow.  As time passed candidates began delving a little deeper into the organization’s history and specifically their staff backgrounds.  Finally, candidates began withdrawing their candidacies.  When I asked why, they all said the same thing, the process showed a lack of decision making abilities and, and here’s the kicker, the woman who would be supervising them had been promoted from within and had never had a job outside of the organization.  That was true.  She had started as an intern and worked her way up.  It impressed me; it scared them.

The lesson: Employers need experienced candidates, and candidates need to know that they will be working with experienced colleagues.  Two great reasons why hiring older workers is a plus.  (On second thought, maybe that’s all you need to memorize!)

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Want Free PR?

Credibility is the key to successful public relations.  Here’s why you should continue reading:  Since April of this year I have been in the media over 50 times.  Everything from USA Today to The Star-Ledger and San Francisco Chronicle.  I’ve been quoted in Inc., Crain’s New York Business and the Pensacola Business Journal.  They have even cited me on Monster, Career Builder, Yahoo! and The Ladders.  I’ve also gotten coverage in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Uzbekistan.  On average I have been quoted as an authority on career development or recruiting three times a week since my PR campaign began.  The cost?  Nada!  Bubkiss!  Nothing!  Zilch!

The secret to my success is that I don’t “pitch” to reporters.  I let reporters pitch to me.  They ask me questions.  I answer them.  I give them what they want.  I recognize that their readers are not my audience.  They are my audience.  I have to please the reporter.  The reporter’s audience is his or her editor.  The editor’s audience is the general public.  If I meet the reporter’s needs, the reporter will meet the editor’s needs, and the general public will read that I am an expert.  I reach my goal (the general public) by respecting the PR chain of command.

Before I give you the secret, remember one thing, PR is better than advertising.  When you publish an ad, you are paying for it and everyone knows it.  That’s great when you are trying to sell a product.  If you are trying to sell your reputation – because you offer a service or are looking for a job and want to be recognized as an authority on your subject – then you need PR.  You need someone to quote you as an authority.  I’m not a recognized authority because you are reading this blog.  I’m a recognized authority because someone in Uzbekistan thought that what I had to say was worth quoting.

So how do you get reporters to pitch to you?  Go to www.helpareporter.com and sign up as a Source.  Everyday, three times a day, you will get e-mails of questions based on subjects that you have indicated are of interest to you.  Answer the questions and, if the reporter asking the question likes the answer, you’ll get free PR, which you can include in your resume and, more importantly, reference in your cover letter.

How do you write an effective answer?  Well, I can’t get everything away for free!

Strengthen Weaknesses; Weaken Strengths

I spoke with a potential career counseling client.  He phoned in what could be described a state of growing stress and anxiety.  Needless to say, relatives and friends were all hounding him to improve himself.  “You have got to get over your weaknesses!  You have to learn new skills!”  They were all telling him the same thing.

I took a gamble and asked if they were all using the same words.  He went silent, obviously thinking about it, and responded, “You know what?  They are!”  “You have been set up, my friend.”

Now in this case the “set up” was positive, to a point.  He was getting advice from people who generally cared about him, meant well, and were not speaking just to hear the sound of their own voices.  So far so good.  I then asked him what they meant by “get over your weaknesses.”  It sounded like I was speaking to a former colleague.

I used to work at a Jewish Community Center.  Think about any community center you have ever been in and you know pretty much what it looks like.  Administrative offices in the front, auditorium and large meeting room in the center, meeting rooms to the side, fitness center in the back, classrooms and activity rooms on the second floor.  Not the best place and far from the worst.  But we did have an anomaly working for us.

Our facilities manager was the best in the business.  No one was ever hurt in that building because of maintenance issues.  If the floor was wet, there was a warning sign.  If a bulb burnt out, it was immediately replaced.  If a panel was loose, it was tightened or removed and replaced.  A ceiling tile never fell on anyone.

Our facilities manager was also the worst people person in the world – let alone the business.  This guy, married with three of the most beautiful (inside and out) daughters you have ever seen (Yes, we all asked him who their real father was !  And yes, in that case he would smile!), had no interpersonal skills.  There was no filter.  He said what he thought.  And if he thought you were an idiot, he said so.

On the other hand, he also lent his staff money if they needed it, and even let a couple stay in his home when they were having domestic problems.  He was rude and insulting, and kind and caring all at the same time.  And no one ever got hurt in our building.

One day one woman asked me why we kept him.  I said just that, no one has ever been hurt in the building.  He’s hired to take care of things, not people.  It’s my job to take care of people.

To my shock and horror, the powers-to-be decided to fire all the maintenance staff and hire an outside company to manage the facility.  When asked my opinion I said that I thought it was stupid.  Say what you will about our facilities manager, he cares about the facility.  He puts in the hours.  He makes certain everything is in perfect working order.  An outside firm won’t care.  And – no “I told you so” intended – they didn’t.

My caller and my former colleague suffered from the same problem.  Great professional skills, lousy interpersonal ones.  The caller’s friends and relatives all wanted him to take a Carnegie type course on making friends.  I suggested something a little different.  I told him that at his next interview, which was going to be in a couple of days, to say upfront, as soon as they give him the chance, “I have to be honest with you.  I have lousy interpersonal skills.  I’m not going to win any popularity contests.  But I know my stuff, I get the job done, and never give less than 200%.”

The logic behind the advice was simple:  You can’t change who you are.  If you have a weakness, you have a weakness.  If you try to overcome it by turning it into a strength, you will compromise your true strengths.  No one is perfect.  Everyone needs someone to complement them.   One person’s weakness is another person’s strength and together they make up a team.  It’s that simple.  Don’t deny your weaknesses.  Don’t hide your weaknesses.  Embrace them!

Oh, and yes, if you need to learn a new skill, learn it!

As for the quality of my advice to my caller, I guess that depends on your opinion.  He told me that after his interview he would call to set up an appointment to meet with me.  Well, I lost a client.  He followed my suggestion and they offered him a job.  I guess my weakness is that I talk too much!

P.S.  At one of my subsequent jobs, I worked at a nursing home.  The facilities manager was one of the nicest people I had ever met.  Occasionally I would have morning meetings in the CEO’s office.  Every so often, when I arrived, I would discover a ceiling tile on the CEO’s chair, or in the middle of the conference table.  Luckily they only fell when the room was empty…