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Reinvention Review: Turn Prior Experiences into Current Capabilities

Reinvention Review: Turn Prior Experiences into Current Capabilities

After three decades as a radio engineer, a 50-plus woman suddenly finds herself downsized. With the radio industry in a tailspin, what are her prospects for continuing the work she loves?

Pretty good -- if she repositions her skills and reinvents her experience as relevant to employers seeking engineers knowledgeable about podcasts and MP3 downloads.

Is she alone in worrying about how to keep working? Hardly.

Older Workers Face Many Barriers

According to Linda Wiener, expert on Monster's Age Issues forum and a workforce consultant specializing in issues related to older workers, "This is huge. I see more ageism in employment now than in the past 20 years." But Wiener adds, "I don't know if there will be a worker shortage in the future, but there definitely will be a skills shortage."

A 2005 study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that younger workers were 40 percent more likely to be called for interviews than those 50 or older. In fiscal year 2011, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission fielded 23,465 charges of age discrimination and collected $95.2 million in settlements.

Part of that bias lies with an increasingly younger corps of human resources personnel and hiring managers who, in the words of Granny @ Work editor Karen Riggs, "may have concerns about the ability and inclination of older people to perform."

Unleash Your Curiosity

However, Riggs -- an older Baby Boomer herself -- says that her generation has many ways to show potential employers they are more than up to the task. "Unleash your curiosity," Riggs advises. "Roll up your sleeves. Poke around the computer to learn more skills. Pay attention to the technology your kids are using, and learn from them."

Understand Your Expertise

But simply learning new programs is not enough. To actually reposition yourself in the workplace, you must first examine your current position.

"Look at your job description, capture your own experience," says Riggs.

For example, Wiener knows a 50-plus information technology project manager who was downsized three times while caring for her aging parents. She realized her technological skills could be used in gerontology, helping elderly people move from one residence to another. "She overlaid her current skills on her current life and filled a new need," Wiener explains.

Riggs advises: "If you feel that your skill set no longer fits with your organization and you have the luxury of time, go back to school. Take a couple of classes to recover your skills or get to the next stage."

Accomplishments, Not Laundry Lists of Skills

Riggs urges older workers who are repositioning themselves to focus on achievements. "Let's say you've been a sales representative for 15 years," Riggs says. "You're an expert in maintaining client relationships face to face, by phone and letter. But now, through the miracle of technology, there are more expedient ways. So look at what you're doing, highlighting the number of relationships you retain, and how deeply and successfully they're held, rather than the methodology of maintaining client relationships. Focus on results, not how you achieve those results."

If you helped your division increase sales 20 percent while you were working, talk about that, Riggs says. "It doesn't matter if it was 20 years ago," she says. "It's still an accomplishment."

Many hiring professionals now search online for background information. To be noticed, create an online presence. Emphasize your work and credentials, not your personal life; include links to articles about you or testimonials from colleagues and supervisors.

The key to repositioning yourself is to highlight skills and experiences that never become obsolete. A manager in a manufacturing plant, for example, should look past a downsized industry and offshored production. Instead, Riggs suggests, "highlight your decision-making skills that benefit time and efficiency and supervising people. These are applicable to any field with products that must be moved and people who must be handled."

Always think of what you've done, how you've done it and who can benefit from your talents and experiences today. "Find the touchstone in your professional career," Riggs advises. "Don't massage it or doctor it; just formulate it sensibly. People don't like to connect the dots. Your job is to connect them for them."

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