Staying relevant

Staying Relevant |

Experienced job hunters make the mistake of telling their years of experience, rather than the relevance.

They fight upstream having lost sight of what is important to an employer. My guest, Fawn Germer, a 4 time Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist and author of “Coming Back: How to Win the Job You Want When You’ve Lost the Job You Need” discuss the mistakes experienced professionals make with their careers and job search. Frankly, much of what we speak about relates to everyone.

Fawn also has a free offer available at of “Recharge Your Career During Covid” and “Take the Next Step”

What Is The Best Way to Get a Job When Unemployed And Over 50?

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So my guest today is leadership expert and global motivational speaker. Fawn Germer. Fawn is a four time Pulitzer Prize nominated investigative journalist . . . Let's try that again . . . an investigative journalist and the best selling author of nine books, including Oprah's pick, "Hard Won Wisdom." FAWN! Welcome

Hello, thank you.

Nine books.

Whoever thought! The first one was so hard to get out. I just never thought there'd be a second much less than nine.

Well, after a while, it becomes easier. But no matter. It's nine books. Speaking, what was left unsaid that prompt you to write this one.

Oh, this is so different from what I usually do. And I had been speaking at a leadership conference. And there were some very well known senior executive women who retired to the lounge after we all had our sessions. And the more they drank, the more they talked. And the more they talked, the more they shared the troubles that they were having at this point in their careers. And feeling like they were a bit sidetracked, sidelined and about to be cast out. One had been cast out. And I thought, "Wow, that's really weird, because that's happening to my neighbors and my friends." So though I'm writing a book on age discrimination.

And thus the book is called How to Win the job that you want. When You've Lost the Job You Need-- The formal title is "Coming Back." That was the subtitle. And that's what it looks like, folks. And it's amazing how things come together for

Well, it's such a different book, even the subtitle is, honestly, I'm sure marketing picked it, because it would be a big seller and COVID. But actually, it's not just about people by age. And it's certainly not only for people who've lost their jobs, because it's about relevance, and what we have to do to sustain our careers from beginning to get and and that if we don't chase relevance, we spit her out. And then our careers start to kick the old bucket.

And relevance is an interesting word. Because if you ask most people, whether what they do is relevant, they'll say what I think is important, you know, that's why I'm there, I do important work. But relevance is a different word isn't,

what relevance is how you do that important work. And you're only relevant if you have an idea and have independently researched, what's going to make that job significant and relevant in five years. Because you may have noticed, companies really don't care about your experience anymore. If you drone on about "Oh, I've had 10 or 20 or 30 years in this business," they don't care. They think that marks you as a has been. So the idea of relevance is that you do the upskilling on your own and talk about that in conversation. So they think, Oh, you are the person, the magic person who's going to help us figure out all of this change that's coming and drive us into the future.

Upskilling is a great word. Because I know when I started in search back in the Stone Ages when dinosaurs roamed the earth, firms paid for training. That was the way it was.

You just called me Fern and that's my old lady name. Actually, it's Fawn him and they ask you a question? Him and in it he is a retired, does that mean you're an old lady? Him. Oh,

no, no, I didn't say Fern. I said, When dinosaurs roamed the earth back in the Stone Ages when dinosaurs roamed the earth, firms. FIRM'S.

Oh, yeah, I owe you on that one.

Firms, firms have paid for training. And I haven't really seen that with any regularity for more than a decade.

Well, but you knoHim and him him him him him him himw, they train but they don't. They don't want to. They hire young, fresh talent out of school that doesn't really need training because they're up on everything. And the people who have the highest paycheck in the room are the ones who aren't justifying their worth, because they're not as tech agile as the younger ones. And you don't have to be a programmer, you just have to know how that stuff is applied and what's coming and learn enough so that you're good at it, and you do it on your own, and you can get caught up. But boy, it's the people who take this big time out, and think, oh, I'll keep my head down. And I'll sit this one out. And I'll just lie low. Those are the ones that get tossed

Consistently, yeah, consistently. And what's sad is, they eventually get to the point where at the networking group meeting that I'm presenting now to and they're saying, "Gee, they'll never talk to me because I'm old." And they think it's truly an issue of age.

Well, there is a lot of age discrimination. We can't pretend there's not, but we have to look at the root of it. And that is, there's an assumption that if you're old, you can't do what the new people are doing. So if you are upskilling, and taking classes on your own time for free, they're all out there on the internet, if you're if you're figuring out what you need to know, and knowing it, and dropping that into conversation, and not dressing like the old, frumpy person. You know, up your game a little bit, then you become the cool person. You know, I mean, I don't I don't think anybody looks at me and says, "Oh, God, Germer, she's an old lady. It's like Fawn is such a badass." because I'm just not giving up. And I'm fun. And I'm doing all kinds of adventures. And nobody's going to brand me as a has been. It him him won't happen. But a lot of people slide into that because they don't actively think of what they're communicating. And you have to communicate that you know what's going on and you have something significant to offer.

There's a message that we send with our actions and inactions. As an older professional (And I'm not going to define what older is because so much of it is really about attitude. That's coupled with age) . . . Him him him him HIM HIM HIM HIM him but we start to give ourselves permission to cut corners.

Well, yeah, because you think you are entitled to rest on your laurels or something. But you know, when you say you do want to define the age, I want to tell you something that's shocking, is that age discrimination starts to get reported after the age of, are you ready for this 45.--


It's a significant statistic. And then we reach a woman reaches her so called peak earnings at 40. And a man gets it at 47. And what that means is that, even though we think we're gonna keep making more money, because we're getting better and more train, actually, when you factor in cost of living and everything, our salaries never go beyond, or our earnings, what we're making it 40 or 47. Now, there are, of course, are exceptions to this. And, and we we want to all be that. And that's what my book looks at is how to make sure that you're still in the running, you're still being protected and advanced and all of those things instead of sidelined because they assume you don't know what's going on.

And thus, for many older professionals, correct me if I'm wrong. And it's okay, if we disagree at times, I just want to be clear about that. For a lot of older workers, they start wondering why they have to do things.

You are just totally hitting that my heart with that one. Because it's so frustrating. And it's so insulting. You work your whole life to get treated like crap. Like, what . . . what is that. We should, after serving so hard and working so hard, we should be brought in and loved and respected. And instead, we're constantly told, we don't know enough. We have to learn this. We have to prove ourself again. And unfortunately, that's just the way it is. And so I have a core coping strategy that, if you ask me about, I'll share.

Okay, fine. Tell me or would you prefer that I call you "firm?"

Fern, Trevor. It's, well, it's just that though. It's pretty regular that people mess it up. And I just finally thought I'm gonna say something and and then I was wrong.

That's showbiz. You said "if I ask, you'll tell us.

Yeah, okay. So you know, I had a mother that was paralyzed when she was 66. And this is not a sad story. So don't, I mean, I'm sad. But she coped with everything and she was paralyzed from a stroke and then get Alzheimer's, so 20 years of illness. And I learned through that, that when you start focusing on what you've lost, you don't focus on what you have. And if instead you find a way to adapt so that you enjoy what you have, you still have a lot. So that at that point when she started to repeat herself 100 times a day, instead of saying, "Oh, my G-d, do I have to hear this story again," I would just say, "I'm going to enjoy the sound of her voice because the day will come when I don't hear it." And then, you know, when it just came to be only able to say a few words, even just I love you, I treasured those words. And then when she couldn't talk, I treasured that I could see her and feel that whoosh of love. Because I know there's a big difference between life and death. And so I had this mantra, and I use this a lot when I speak. And that is that the faster you learn to accept, cope, and adapt those three things--accept, cope and adapt, the faster you live your life. So during the whole COVID mess, people freaked out. It was horrible as this big scary change. And the first thing I did when I saw what was happening. And believe me, it hit the speaking business like nobody's ever could have dreamed, because no events, right? And I just posted something on Facebook-- a meme, it just said accept, cope, adapt, because I knew the faster I did that, (a) the faster I'd get my business back on track and figure out what's going on. And then (b) that I wasn't going to waste a day, a month a year to something that I couldn't control.

So hard for people to do. I know it took me a while to figure it out. And my version of that language is, "it is what it is." Right? I can I can fight with it. But what good is it?

That is, you know, I mean it, it is what it is? And have you noticed that we don't get to write off a day of our life or a year? We're still getting older either way. So I don't feel like we have any time to waste. And especially since my mom was 66, when everything unraveled for her, I learned this can happen at any time. So why not treasure every day. And as long as you're not sick, and you're you're not bottoming out financially, go with what you've got. And Newsweek did this interview with me about my book and said, "Well, how did you manage 2020." And I said, "Business was a challenge. The kayaking was fabulous!" So I just I made sure I had a great year.

And that is fabulous. Because what you did was acccept one of the things you could not change and have the wisdom to know that there were things that you could do and things that you couldn't do.

It turned out that that was one of the best years of my life. I had a great year. So and it's only because I said "Accept. Cope, Adapt." And all of you can do that no matter what the challenge is. The faster you accept, cope and adapt, the faster, you can be happy

For the older professional or the person who's been out of the game for a while for whatever the reason is, who's now trying to transition into the workplace, and they're facing resistance. "But I really want that job. And I really need to get back into work" because, you know, cash is getting a little tight and it's time to get out of the house, acceptance sounds complicated.

Well, there, you have to be in a very active mode, if you're in that situation. And my book looks at that a lot.

For those who are listening on the podcast, she held up the book at that moment,

Right? No, it's it's that Okay, first of all, if you're older, for some reason, every company denies this, but the algorithm for an online application somehow magically bumps you out. Okay? They claim it doesn't. It does. So you need a big strong network. That means you get on LinkedIn, start adding people at the companies that you desire to work for. And you comment on what they post before you ask a favor and do that for a few weeks. And then say, "Hey, I liked that article that you posted. Blah, blah, blah, and start a little conversation. And then finally say, "I'm really interested in your company. It is it possible that we can do a zoom and a cup of coffee, so I can find out a little more about how to break through? Because your network is everything if you're older. And if, let's just say, 60% of older people, just pick a number, I don't know what is are going to hit the wall. 40% aren't. So what you have to do is figure out how to get in that 40%. And that's what I focus on in the book. There are strategies that will get you employed. Absolutely. I believe this completely. Is it harder. Yes. Can you do it? Absolutely.

So a couple of strategies.

Okay, well, one would be stopped talking to negative people and people who are struggling like you are because that defines your reality as one of hardship and expectation that it's not going to work. Another thing is you have to paint yourself as relevant. So you get on these two websites and And start looking at the technologies that you need to drop into conversations that you've studied, like artificial intelligence, blockchain, big data, machine learning robotics, I know that some of you don't know some of the things I just talked about. And you say you want to Google how blockchain will affect blank industry. And you don't get intimidated by what you know. Because if you're being honest, most of us, most people, over 50 are behind. They just are. And so you just need to figure out what you need to learn. And and you don't have to be a programmer, you just have to learn something. So you know about it. And so blockchain is a great example, I found that concept so hard to understand. It's the idea that a piece of data moves away. And then it's an independent piece of data. So that's how cryptocurrency operates, but also supply chain. So there a lot of business implications. And I couldn't get it because confusing. So I looked it up, couldn't get it, did some YouTube videos, couldn't get it. And then I found a four minute YouTube video on how to teach blockchain to a child. And then I got it, teaching five year olds. So go to the simplest way and get it. And then when you have conversations with people, you can drop into. Yeah, I was taking a class on innovation from MIT. I did that doesn't that sound like I'm really smart. But I didn't need to get an A in the class. I didn't need the degree needed the information.

So many people stop learning.

Yeah, you have to demonstrate insatiable curiosity. And that makes you one of the with it people who then if you show your with it and relevant, then your experience does matter. Because they think, "Oh, this person really may know what they're talking about."

A lot of the baby classes, I'm going to call them that, because, you know, it's my slang for really simple stuff you can get on LinkedIn Learning. You know, just go on to LinkedIn. It's the old platform that was called Lynda. And

Right, right,

They now have access to 1000s of courses on different subjects that will help you with fundamentals. I don't see a lot of depth in there. But the basics that can get you started to go to edX, and Coursera, YouTube and other places where there are people who are giving more complex information that you can build off that base.

You know, when I was in graduate school, I was I was young, I think I was 21. But I've never been great at math. And I knew I was going to have to take statistics to get out of there. So I took it at, you know, on graduate levels of 6000 level course. But I didn't have to take a 6000 level statistics class, which was going to be very hard. I took it at a 2000 level. So like a community college level, took the very basic statistics, because that's all I needed. And so figure out what you need, and just make it easy on yourself. Again, you don't have to be a programmer.

I remember when I did my Masters in social work, there was one mandatory statistics class. And these are basically social workers in the field and I was thinking of being a therapist In private practice, and why we need statistics, right? No reason, but I had to get through the progeram. And she got it. The instructor got it. She said, you just got to make it through the class. Once you get into the field, no one's gonna ask you what your . . . what your grade was in statistics?

Well, no one's going to ask what your grade is in a class that you're auditing. So don't even worry about that That first time I took a class, I was getting all type A about it and trying to figure out what I had to do to get, you know, score big on that test. And I thought, it doesn't even matter if I flunk this class. Nobody needs to know. I need the information. And so you go and you take these classes. Again, it's and You take those places.. You can study with professors at Harvard, and Stanford and Yale and Oxford. And, you know, and if you're really lucky, my alma mater, the University of Florida, and it's free, and you just get the information. And that's all that matters. You don't need the degree and then you can put these on your resume to show continued study, but not to show that you were a student at Harvard, because you're not. That only go so far.

Agreed. What else can people do that will help them?

Well, you just . . . the biggest thing is keep your head in the game. You make up your mind, you're gonna win because it's the ones who say this is hard, it's never going to happen. And they, they get frustrated and they slow down or they stop. And I always use this story to explain what you have to do. So, I've got bad feet. And I like to walk long, long distances on the beach frequently. So that would be 10 to 13 miles. But, by mile seven, my feet are screaming, and they're screaming "stop." And, and I learned a long time ago that if I just go left, right, and then keep taking the next step, and then the next, sooner or later, I get where I need to go. And that's really what we're doing here in a competitive job hunt. When we're in a hard to place category is it's all you can do is keep taking the next step. So if your day calendar says that you have to get on LinkedIn, and be on that for 20 minutes a day, and then you're going to comment on these things. And you have, and you're going to write certain people in your networks, and you're going to do X number of video chats with people to brainstorm every week, you're going to keep moving forward. It's when you slow down and stop that you fail. And I think failure is stopping or slowing, because sooner or later, you're going to break through if you keep taking the next step.

I am a former marathoner and there was a time . . . a marathon is 26 miles, 26.2 miles plus 385 yards. Because that represents the original marathon run by the messenger in Greece, who ran that distance and got there and then died. So ultimately, when you run a marathon, at the beginning, you feel great. Now I'm an amateur. There, there are people who are professional marathoners. And, you know, I ran New York many years ago, and it was a tough day it was 80 degrees out, 78 degrees out, which is too hot to run the race. Ideally, you want to be running in the Upper 40s, maybe 50. And on that day, I developed heat exhaustion. And I knew I was in trouble that day. And ultimately, all I decided I would do is put the next foot out. Because if I kept doing that, and I didn't start walking, which I saw a lot of people doing much earlier than I considered it. I wouldn't I may have emotionally been in trouble. But I could get there.

Let me ask you what were the hardest miles out of 26.3. What

I knew I was in trouble. I ran New York. So at about the 20 mile mark, which is when "The Wall happens. We were crossing over a bridge from the Bronx into Harlem. And I noticed I'm starting to cry. Because I I knew I was going to finish the race at that point, which should be tears of joy. And I said, "Oh, I'm in trouble." Because I don't I've been grinding away this entire time on a hot day. And I'm crying too soon, too soon. So I realized for myself that I had hope. But I also wasn't in control anymore. I was in machine mode during the race.

I think that's really interesting because you know, I'm a cyclist. And I and I think it's very different from running because he can power through a lot on a bike. Running's hard on the body. And so when you do a century, for me, the hardest miles are miles 60 to 80. And this is relevant to anything that we're up against. Because when I'm writing a book, I know that when I hit mile 80, when I ride my bike, then I'm going to get to 100. Once I hit 80, it's done. It's easy from then on out. It's joy, because it's . . . I've got you know, 20 more miles, anybody can do that. Right? And I know when I'm writing a book when I'm still at mile 60 of the book, and when I'm when I know that moment when I get to mile 80 when I've got it licked. And unfortunately, when we're facing adversity, we don't alwHimays get the memo that we're at mile 80. And you don't know when your pain is going to stop. So if you keep getting rejected or experiencing difficulties on a job search or at work, you don't get a memo saying "Oh, it's gonna get easy now. Oh, you've got it licked." And all you can do is like that whole thing on the beach is just keep taking the next step because you never know when you're going to get there. You just have to take the next step, knowing that you will get there.

And, thus, it begs the question, emotionally, what do you do at a time where it feels hopeless, like everything that you're going to do isn't going to turn out well. Like how do you pull it together?

You focus on what matters most in your life because If you think about it, when we die, we want to have meaningful careers and to have success and financial stability and all that. But all it takes is one family emergency for you to understand what is the most significant part of your life. All it takes is a health crisis to know what really matters. And so, if you're having the difficulty, slow down a minute, and feel some gratitude for what's going right, and if you are breathing, well, and having a beautiful day, and you can always go outside and when, when you're going through this to create hope, do things that give you a chance to feel it. And that means get moving exercise. If you meditate or pray, do that. All the things that can trip your breakers so that you have the best odds of getting through it, you need to do it. Self care is so important. And if you start to feel hopeless, find a goal. And that goal doesn't have to be related to work. It can be, "I'm going to walk 20 miles over the next week, out in the woods, so that I can think again." Find something else, because the only things that truly matter in life is that you lived it, really. So that a lot of what you are having anguish about is something that at the end of your life, you're not going to worry about. Now, the caveat there is, if you are legitimately concerned that you're financially going to bottom out, I want to tell you, I understand that and I just send so much love and hope. But all you can do is all you can do, and you just have to have faith, you'll get through it to the other side. You'll get there. You will

Funny, my article today on medium is called "You can do what you can do."

Yes, right?

That's it, you just focus on what can I do now? Maybe you step it up a little bit, because, out of procrastination or fear, and the fear of rejection is so strong, especially in older professionals who feel like they're hit over their head time and again, maybe that's getting in the way. And you've got to get through it.

Can I take that? Yeah, so in my book, one of the things I make a very big point of is this is not personal. Yeah, it feel it feels personal, right? But it is . . . it's not. And when my first book was being rejected by every publisher in the United States, this is a long time ago, people, it's it's a long time. But I'd quit my job to write it. it winds up being a best seller and an Oprah book. But I didn't know that at this point. All I knew is I had quit my job to write it and I was bottoming out financially, I had to do something. So, I thought I'm gonna apply for a job. So I lived in the Tampa area. And down in Bradenton, Florida was Manatee Community College, where I'd gone for a year after high school. And they needed a journalism professor. Now who better than someone who is a four time Pulitzer nominated investigative reporter, right? I'd worked at major papers, Washington Post, Miami Herald, I really done a lot. And and I had taught for 12 years as an adjunct, right? And even for grad students. So I thought for sure I was a lock on that job. And I never even got called for an interview. This is not personal. And this story taught me that because having been an investigative reporter, and knowing the public records law of Florida, I thought, well, who did they interview, and I requested it. And saw they interviewed one person. One person! And his, his only credential was that he had been the host of a radio show on Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa. That was it. And I knew someone who worked at the college, I said, "Why did they pick that guy?" And she says, "I'll find out." She came back. She goes, "Oh, he's been teaching part time there for years. They only posted it because they had to." You don't know what's going on behind the scenes. So, if you get rejected, it's not you. They're never rejecting you. You are still as talented and brilliant as you always were. None of that goes away. You just have to add to it and have faith that your moment will come. And I know it's excruciating, but don't say this means you're any less viable or valuable. You've still got it. You always did. It's just we got to get you to the person who recognizes it.

And folks, the tendency is to focus on the "Oh, woe is me," instead of reminding yourself that winners find a way to win. Yeah, they focus on winning, not the licking the wounds. Keep pushing for it. What haven't we covered yet that we really should?

I would just say the thing about what you just said, which is so good is that I'm somebody who in my life has had a lot of obstacles, careers do not take one straight shot to the top. They don't. They go up and down and up, and then up and down. And the biggest lesson came from me when I was writing that first book and getting rejected so many times, and then figuring out the problem and then getting that book sold, and then getting it the day before 9/11. That's when it was released. And then having to fight to get my book out there and go everywhere. It's like one obstacle after another after another. And if my book had been published, when I had Himfirst tried, it may have been a midlist. seller, I probably never would have thought to be a professional speaker, likely would have had to go back to work in newspapers, a dying profession. But because of my obstacles, I wind up in this awesome field. I get to be a speaker and I get to meet people and I have so much time, the best life because of it. And I learned when that happened was it's about your obstacles. You just have to be able to say, "oh, here's an obstacle, what am I going to do about it?" Instead of "Oh, my God, here's an obstacle, I'm going to stop." You don't stop, you find a way.

So this has been wonderful, folks. And we'll have a link to the book in the show notes. How can people find out more about you, your other books, stuff like that?

Okay, and I sent you a link to my freebies, I think that I've got two things people can get. One is a PDF on how to recharge your career during COVID. The other one is on how to just keep taking the next step. Go to my website, also, which is And that gets you links to the book, the book is everywhere, and that's called "Coming Back," but I got a lot of other books too. So

And I'll have links to the other stuff in the notes as well. Thank you, and folks will be my pleasure. We'll be back soon with more. I'm Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter. I've got a lot in my blog at Go there go Exploring. There's a lot there to help you. And if you're interested in one on one coaching, have a question for me, want to schedule a free discovery call, at the site, you can do all that, as well. But if you're not ready for that, minimally put that website, in your phone for the time that you actually need it. Again, Last thing I'll just mention to you, connect with me on LinkedIn at Hope you enjoyed this. Hope you have a terrific day and most importantly, be great. Take care.


Jeff Altman, The Big Game HunterJeff 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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2 Responses
  1. Terry Welsh

    Just finished listening to Fawn /Firm. !
    Súper motivational
    Yes I I listened to all 32 minutes !

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