Manage Your Career Expectations — Then Respond To Them!


A print edition headline “Older workers, gray expectations” in a recent issue of the Boston Globe caught my eye. In it, older workers talk about their inability to land a full-time job – preferably with benefits. Let us be clear, the old world of long-term employment with benefits (which in the US means health care and pension benefits) is not coming back. There is potentially helpful legislation in place against age discrimination in hiring. However, word on the street has it that companies avoid hiring older workers, in part, because the legislation makes it hard to get rid of them.

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What is the older worker to do? The straightforward answer is to do what younger workers usually do, take the world as you find it. Work doesn’t come in neatly wrapped 40-hours-week bundles available for years at a time. Technology and global markets will continue to prevail against that. However, a great deal of work is available in smaller packages. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of employment law, here are some pointers for a different search strategy.

Health Care. This problem is unique to the US. So much so that a recent edition of The Economist touted the possibility of universal health care across the globe. If you don’t have health care, and your spouse can’t help you, you need to find your own solution. Perhaps you can negotiate health care with part-time work? Perhaps you can earn enough from two or more part-time jobs to pay your own way? Perhaps you can economize to make health care affordable? Any solution is better than holding out for what’s no longer there.

Contract work: This has been looked down on by some commentators, and contract work companies worked hard to undermine the traditional notion of a dependable “good job.” Yet, contract work provides a wide range of opportunities for employment outside the traditional system. It also gives you a means for testing the market for your skills and broadening your network. And while your initial purpose may be to apply the skills you already have, contract work can provide grounds for fresh learning as well.

Who needs your skills? Another way of looking at job opportunities is not to ask who might have a job for you, but what is the market for your skills? Why should, for example, a supply chain manager only work for one company? And how can the skills of a supply chain manager be applied in related work on say, parts management or customer services? Can you think more widely about the potential market for your skills outside the box of full-time employment?

Getting out the word: People see the world from their own standpoint, and pride is often a factor. When you read accounts of those unable to find work, you wonder how much they are waiting for formal job postings. If that’s what happening, pride and familiarity with the past are getting in the way. Self-employed workers and small businesses need help in all manner of ways. How can you bring your skills to those people’s attention? How much can your personal network help you?

Personal branding: Ouch! There’s a term to make any traditional employee uncomfortable! Isn’t an employer supposed to recognize good work, rather than expecting you to blow your own horn to get noticed? Maybe one response is to take small steps. For example, if you’re going to get out the word through your personal network, how do your business card and LinkedIn pages look, and are you a member of the obvious professional or trade associations?

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