This is the second installment in Peter Weddle's three-part series, “Putting the Boom Back in Baby Boomer Careers.” Read Part One here, and for a virtual book signing of Peter's new novel, A Multitude of Hope: A Novel About Rediscovering the American Dream, visit here.
Ageism is still a malevolent presence in the job market as virtually every Baby Boomer knows. While its impact is undeniable, it is not the only factor that is undermining our efforts to find a new or better job. The gaps that appear in our resumes when we’re in transition are just as damaging. Unlike ageism, they are an obstacle that we can and should remove on our own.
Historically, experience and the wisdom it produces trumped all other forms of workplace capability. Book learning was helpful, of course, but applied knowledge – the ability to get things done in the real world – was the single best guarantor of employment. That was a truism most Boomers came to count on in their careers. Now we can’t.
The value of experience has gone the way of the copper penny. It isn’t worthless, but its perceived utility has dropped so far that it no longer commands attention or respect among many employers. In today’s economy, the gold standard is state-of-the-art expertise.
This change has occurred for two reasons:
- American employers are no longer competing against overseas organizations with cheaper labor. They’re competing against employers with smarter labor. The knowledge and skills of workers in China, India, Germany, Brazil, Korea and other countries is increasingly up-to-date and well developed.
- New ideas and information are now constantly changing the definition of what it means to be “qualified” in an occupation. For example, if a person goes to college today in a technical discipline, by the time they reach their junior year, 50 percent of what they learned in their freshman year will be obsolete.
That breathtaking pace of knowledge growth isn’t limited to technical fields. It affects virtually every aspect of human endeavor. Illustrating that new dynamic is that in 2008, we humans created 4 terabytes -- 4 followed by 20 zeros -- worth of new knowledge. We produced more new knowledge in that one year than in the previous 5,000 years of human history.
Now, some would say that this situation presents us with a choice. We can either ignore this tsunami of new knowledge and hope it doesn’t overwhelm us, or we can keep up with the flow and let it carry our career forward. But, of course, that’s no choice at all; we humans are hardwired to survive. Therefore the only feasible course is to reset ourselves as a work-in-progress and add state-of-the-art expertise to our experience.
Yes, that means the rules of the game have changed just as we were about to cash in our chips. And yes, it means becoming a student at a time when most of us considered ourselves teachers. It’s unfair; it’s gut wrenching. But, it is our reality. And surprisingly enough, it also provides a way to strengthen our job search credentials by eliminating the gaps in our resume.
Putting Today’s Reality to Work in a Job Search
In the conventional view, the Experience section of a resume details the work a person has done either for an employer or a client. It lists the tasks they performed and the accomplishments they achieved. Its purpose is to demonstrate what a person can do and how well they can do it.
When that person isn’t working, there’s nothing of value to describe and a gap appears in their resume. That hole undermines their competitiveness in the job market because it signals to employers that they are out of practice. Their inactivity produces a degradation of skills and knowledge and thus a reduction in their ability to contribute on-the-job.
But, what if it didn’t? What if the person saw the gap in their resume as a personal gap and resolved to plug it? What if they decided to employ themselves and work at upgrading their skills and knowledge? And, what if they featured that commitment and the skills and knowledge they were acquiring right at the top of the Experience section of their resume?
If experience is now considered less valuable than state-of-the-art expertise, going back to school while we’re actively looking for a job actually makes us a more valuable potential contributor than others in the job market. By highlighting that personal development “work” on our resume, we send two powerful subliminal messages to employers:
- We communicate that we recognize the rapid and ongoing growth of knowledge in today’s workplace
- We demonstrate that we take personal responsibility for keeping up.
Those two attributes are like catnip for employers. They describe a prospective employee who is not only at the state-of-the-art in their field today, but one who will keep themselves there into the future. In effect, we give the employer a choice: they can either hire us to benefit from our sustained contribution, or they can hire someone else and watch their contribution diminish over time.