One day, I woke up, looked in the mirror, and saw something I’d never seen before. There were things on my face that were in slightly different places. There was a little bit of grey in my beard and a closet full of clothing that had seen better days. At least my nonexistent hairline wasn’t sprouting!
As time went by, I came to realize these “rites of passage” were relatively inconsequential by comparison to the “hard knocks” some of my friends and I were taking that were decimating our careers. In this two-part series, I will share the top 10 lessons my friends and I have learned the hard way:
1. Be cautious of reporting to someone from a younger demographic.
This can be a signal that your advancement opportunities have disappeared. Jerry, a Boomer, accepted an assignment reporting to someone from Gen X and never regained his leadership status within his organization. He heard many good reasons for why this happened:
“You are much more capable than the assignments that we have available.”
“We have something coming up with the new budget in January, so this is just to tide you over until then.”
“Would you consider relocating to another part of the country? We don’t have the right kind of opportunities for you here.”
That last one was a favorite of mine, given that Jerry had two teenagers in high school who would have poisoned his coffee had he agreed to a move.
In my experience — and in Jerry’s — there is a signal that a firm gives when they have someone report to someone from a younger demographic and it’s designed to send a message that you and your leadership or your abilities aren’t valued anymore. If that happens to you, it’s time to move on — not hang on.
2. Don’t provide your employer with “lazy loyalty.”
Freely giving away loyalty to your employer rarely leads to a good outcome. The person who gets ahead isn’t always the smartest or hardest worker. Those are great qualities to have but they are no guarantee for career success. People get ahead by being alert to opportunities that generally arrive from outside of their organization.
Juanita turned down calls from recruiters for years, not noticing that her colleague was getting most of the face time with their boss and opportunities for special projects that provided her with greater institutional visibility and impact. As a result, Juanita became “old reliable,” not fast-track. When cuts were being made to the headcount, Juanita didn’t make it past the second round. “Lazy loyalty” is unthinking fealty to your current employer even though their commitment to you does not exist.
3. Be conscious of actions, not words.
Sunil received great reviews from his boss and was told he was doing a good job and had a future with the company. Sunil took the praise and interpreted it as something more than what it really was — a throwaway pat on the back.
A manager may be telling you how important you are to the organization and what a wonderful job you do, but these can be placebos, designed to stroke your ego. Managers can exaggerate and flatter because it costs them nothing. What you can do is ask follow-up questions — even when you receive praise — so you have a more comprehensive understanding and are less likely to be blindsided down the road. Ask for feedback in writing so you have documentation to refer back to if there’s ever a discrepancy. More importantly, reflect on whether your employer’s praise matches the opportunities you’re given.
4. Don’t abdicate responsibility for your career.
Hakim’s inner voice had become quiet years before he stopped going to school to learn. He stopped thinking about his own career, where he wanted to get to, the deficiencies in his background and what he needed to do to overcome them.
You are the CEO of your career, with your wife, husband, partner and/or children as the board of directors. If you step aside and allow your company to be in charge of your life like many Boomers have, you may have to learn the hard way that “being nice,” being a “team player” and “going along” is an abdication of your power and can be viewed as permission to pass you over. In my experience, your employer won’t look out for you when things get tough. You need to be looking out for yourself.
So, ask yourself, if you were the CEO of your organization, would you give you that promotion? If you wouldn’t, what are the skills and/or experiences that you need to overcome? Start pushing yourself, your environment and your boss to eliminate that gap.
5. Don’t forget about your network and how you can cultivate it.
Almost every day, I field calls from out-of-work Boomers wanting to know how to reactivate their network. “I was busy and stopped staying in touch,” Mike told me. “Why should they try to help me now?” Cultivate the “staying-in-touch gene” to avoid making things harder on yourself when, ultimately, that layoff occurs, that reorganization puts you into an unsatisfactory role or some other professional disaster happens.
Depending upon the statistics you look at, somewhere between 70% and 85% of people find work as a result of networking. If you let your network become dormant, it will take time to re-activate it. A quick call, text or email every six months will help the relationship stay alive, particularly when you’re not looking for work and not asking for anything.
Recently, a subscriber to my YouTube channel commented, “What the Boomers did — don’t do it!” Next month, I’ll share five more mistakes that Boomers made that you in Gen X should avoid so that you don’t have to learn your lessons the hard way as the Boomers did.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes.
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