Most of us have seen it happen time and time again to family, friends, and colleagues -- corporate professionals in their early 50s being laid off. Too young to retire and too old to easily find another job at a commensurate level, pros over 50 can feel especially vulnerable, as many of us at this age face the additional financial responsibilities of kids going to college and parents needing care. The best way to avoid such a crisis is to be far less expendable with the enviable combination of a new business mindset with the wisdom that comes from years of experience.
When I was coming up through the ranks of corporate life, companies required at least 10 years of experience to qualify for mid-manager positions. As I approached that requirement in my early 40s, a shift happened, and I was suddenly over-qualified for those same positions. "Over-qualified" was code for "too old," as companies looked to hire younger talent perceived to have better working knowledge of technology at lower salary levels.
Despite what felt like a high demand for younger talent, however, friends looking to hire told me they felt challenged. They complained that the younger job candidates didn't have sufficient business savvy. The younger candidates could do the job tactically, but they typically didn't have the experience needed to manage people and politics. In the same breath, hiring managers also noted that the older candidates, despite being business savvy, usually didn't have the understanding of new technologies and thinking.
This is where the more experienced pros have the advantage. While it takes younger pros years to earn business acumen, more experienced pros can adapt to new technologies and business practices rather quickly, provided they are voracious learners and open to change. This is the cure for the mid-career crisis: have an insatiable curiosity to learn new ways of doing things and then adapt those lessons into the day-to-day work.
Question how things have always been done and experiment with new ways of tackling problems, even when the old solutions work. Adapt to new technologies and ways of thinking, especially when that means learning from the up-and-comers in the company. Understand that new business practices are not a fad, and that the companies and people who remain steadfast to traditional business practices are on an exponentially quickening timeline to extinction.
Some ways to start down the path of practicing a new business mindset include:
• Follow Thought Leaders Online: Use apps, such as Flipboard, to aggregate news coming from thought leaders, not only those in business, but also TED speakers, global news organizations like the BBC, and innovative minds on the Thinkers 50 List.
• Question Your Assumptions: Make a list of how you are currently doing things at work. How do you communicate with co-workers? How tied are you to your desk? What processes might benefit from using new technologies? Experiment with doing some key things differently.
• Co-mentor with a Younger Pro: Volunteer to mentor someone starting out in their career in exchange for having them mentor you. Ask them a lot of questions about how they think, what tools they use, and how they work. Try adopting some of their practices into your routine, even if this initially takes you out of your comfort zone.
• Manage Your Professional Reputation Online: Whether or not you proactively shape your image online, the Internet is making a first impression of you to your business partners, those you have yet to meet at an upcoming conference, and recruiters at the ready with your next career opportunity. The most important place to start is with your LinkedIn profile. You can use the 21-Point LinkedIn Inspection checklist as a guide to begin reflecting your professional best online, because the best time to prepare for your next job is long before you need one.
Aging out of the workplace is not about how old you are; it is about having an outdated mindset. Companies are evolving as technologies impact society and consumer behavior. The mid-level and senior managers who demonstrate that they are adapting their business practices to that change will be best positioned for continued growth through the second-half of their careers.