Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Stop Saying "When I Was Your Age"

This is a frightening time for everyone in the workplace, when fears abound about what latest economic downturn will result in layoffs. One of the most vulnerable groups of employees are the experienced workers with their higher salaries and richer benefits.

Older workers need to understand that this is the time to ratchet up their game. They need to be seen as vital by going after new clients, taking on new projects and just being seen as a dynamic voice in the future of a company.

And, most important, make sure you look the part of a vital employee. For example, are you still wearing the tie you got from your kids in 1990? Does your hairstyle involve a comb-over, anything with AquaNet or is hard enough to crack an egg on? Do you complain openly of your aches and pains and have no idea who Kanye West is?

If so, it’s time for some updating. Consider:

Visiting a personal stylist. Of course, you’d look ridiculous with a tongue piercing, blue spiked hair and biker boots. But you also need to have someone qualified analyzing your appearance from year to year. Visit a department store cosmetics counter (preferably with younger employees), a hair salon that caters to younger professionals and look into getting some new duds, even if it's just one or two more updated pieces. Also, nothing makes you look worse than clothes that are too tight, too loose or too worn, so get them altered or get rid of them if needed.

• Keeping up on current events. Not just what's happening on Wall Street and in politics. Pick up a copy of Rolling Stone magazine. Check into some of the television shows and movies being talked about by younger staff members. Look at some of the popular videos on YouTube and even visit Facebook so you understand the concept of how it works.

• Saying “When I was your age…” Never, never, begin a sentence this way. You might as well ask for a box of Depends and some denture cleaner. Try not to recall your glory days, but rather offer opinions based on experiences in your career that are timeless and universal.

• Offering contacts. There’s nothing quite as valuable to co-workers and company brass than the relationships you have formed over the years with vendors, customers, competitors, etc. There is be a certain level of trust among those with long relationships that can be highly valued in a competitive environment.

• Keeping the edge. Don’t rest on former glories. Always appear enthusiastic in offering new ideas or accepting new challenges. Don’t have a “been there, done that” attitude that says you’re bored, but you’ll do it because you get paid to. Use new technologies to implement your strategies. If you don't understand how to use some of the latest hi tech stuff, learn. Take a class or enlist the help of a younger worker in exchange for some mentoring from you in other areas.

• Making sure your game is sharp. Keep track of your daily accomplishments, goals met and problems handled. This will be a valuable record when it comes time for performance evaluation — or a discussion of your future with a company. Keep documentation of all projects you worked on, kudos from co-workers or bosses, and even favorable notes from customers.


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Al T. said...

good post Anita.
I particularly like the advice to keep a record of your accomplishments.
going back through logs, notes and especially prior work goals and reviews is good way to check how you could do better and a really great way to prep for creating cover letters and resumes.
You'll be surprised at some of the good things you've done that you had forgotten. Many of these might be a direct hit for the job openings you are looking at.

Anita said...

You're right...listing those accomplishments not only helps us do better now, but helps prepare us should the time come to look for another position. I think it's also a good ego boost...we can sit back and say, "Hey, I really do have something special and I really do add value." I think more experienced workers often take it for granted, and they get blase about it.

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks Anita! As I'm about to turn 50, I'll need to be sure to follow your advice.

I did catch myself the other day telling a table of gen Yer’s about what life was like before email, cell phones, and the internet. That probably fell into the “depends and dentures” category, right?

Anita said...

It happens to all of us. I just heard a 30-year-old lamenting that a radio station with music from the 1990s was now called an "oldies" station, and he about croaked.