My inbox is deluged with job-search queries. That's
understandable: the job market remains tepid, and
Kiplinger's doesn't see the unemployment rate
below 9% this year.
Some of my correspondents want suggestions on job-search
direction or particular employers. Most of them do not. The vast
majority of folks seek guidance on the ultra-specific Do's and
Don'ts in a job search. "Is it okay to wear capri pants to an
interview, if I wear a jacket in the same fabric?" one lady
"Is it true that aviator glasses are back in style, and are they
appropriate for a job interview?" a gentleman asks. Another lady
wonders, "Is pink resume paper still appropriate, or should I
switch to beige or white?" One fellow worries about the single
earring in his earlobe: "I'm 50. Does the earring make me look
creative or like Captain Hook?"
I expect a rash of these "Should I? May I?" job-search questions
from new college grads. But it's baby- boomers who are most curious
-- and anxious -- about granular job-search protocols.
Stop worrying about the "Shoulds," and, instead, focus on your
individual branding choices. Is it okay to wear capri pants (also
known as clamdiggers or pedal pushers) on a job interview? There's
about it; the capri pants are a branding choice, just like the
earring (or the empty earring-hole, or unblemished expanse of skin)
and the resume paper and the aviator glasses. We aren't going on a
job interview to please anyone, in 2011. We're going to find out
whether our brand fits with someone else's brand -- in this case, a
prospective employer. This is a hard notion for some folks of my
vintage to wrap their minds around. The Right Way and the Wrong Way
to job-hunt have been replaced by Your Way, and that's
disconcerting to many.
Twenty or thirty years of brewing in the hot water called
Convention have convinced many 40-, 50- and 60-somethings that the
people who hew most closely to the standard, recommended practices
will be first to be hired and last to be let go. That's astonishing
to me, because we rule-following boomers have been so brutally
affected by the wholesale offshoring of jobs and other massive,
disruptive shifts in the employment marketplace. I sometimes call
us the Bushwhacked Generation. We played by the rules, kept our
noses to the grindstone, drank the Kool-Aid ("work hard and you'll
get promoted, keep your job and retire from here with a party and a
gold watch") and yet watched the corporate ladder crumble to
sawdust under our feet.
Today, it isn't the pleasingest job-seeker who gets the nod.
It's the person the employer most believes can solve its problems.
Do's and Don'ts are mostly out the window (except for the Do's and
Don'ts that apply to every interaction with other people: don't
spit in the potted plants, don't curse at the interviewer, and
don't ask him or her on a date). The question to ask isn't "What is
acceptable?" but rather "How do I want to present myself to this
employer?" This query begs the related question, "Who am I, at this
stage in my life and career?" Many boomers have toiled away for
decades at jobs they didn't love. Why force ourselves to fit into
another job that doesn't inspire us or bring out our talents? Show
up at a job interview (or in a resume, for that matter) as
yourself, and you'll be all the more compelling to employers -- and
all the more likely to end up performing work you love. You might
as well let them meet the real you if you're going to consider
working for them.
Boomers � many of whom only found Facebook a year ago
-- aren't generally well-versed in personal branding. "Who I really
am" and "How I present myself to employers" are non-intersecting
circles on most boomers' personal Venn diagrams. It's a new day for
job-seekers, and job-holders for that matter. All of the choices
are ours, from resume-paper options to interview-conversation
topics and even decisions about capri pants on interviews. You've
got a brand. The right employers will love it, and the wrong ones
will shun it (and you), and that's just as it should be. After all,
if an employer doesn't get you, s/he doesn't deserve you.
I believe it. Do you?
Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR exec, an author and speaker
on career and HR topics and the leader of the
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