The Age Advantage: Making the Most of Your Midlife Career Transition by Jean Erickson Walker, Ed.D.


The corporate ladder is gone and you're on your own!

About The Age Advantage

The Age Advantage was written by Dr. Jean Erickson Walker, after recognizing the difficulty that experienced and knowledgable mid-aged people were having both maintaining their current jobs and finding new positions. Dr. Walker brings to this book a wealth of experience gained in over 20 years experience in Career Counseling, Marketing, Management, Education, and Entrepreneurship. Combined with B.S., M.A., and Ed.D. degrees from Montana State University, University of Colorado, and California Coast University, respectively.

More information about the author is available, but this section speaks to the purpose of the book, addressing the following areas in Dr. Walker's own words.

    Why Write a Book About Mid-Life Career Transition?

    It just made no sense to me that older people have so much trouble getting jobs. Over the last years, I have counseled thousands of people who have lost their jobs; the majority have been mid-age. Why aren't they grabbed up the minute they hit the street? After all, they are experienced; they are knowledgeable; they have good work ethics. They generally get along well with co-workers. In many cases, they are willing to work for less salary and lower titles than their last jobs. Yet, the fact remains that their job searches are twice as long and much more difficult than younger people experience.

    When a 25 or 30 or 35 year old loses a job, it's an irritant; when a 50 year old loses a job, it's a trauma. Expectations are different; self-image is different. Frank R., a 50 year old client of mine who lost his job as a manufacturing manager, expressed it all when he said, "It's not just a job; it's my life!" People who are middle aged were raised to believe that work has value beyond earning a living. It tells them and everyone else who they are, and where they fit in society. To lose a job means failure to them, and no amount of rationalization with fancy words can change that perception.

    When Is Mid-Life?

    Mid-life is a moving target, including the "Youngsters" who are surprised to find age discrimination waiting on the other side of their 40th birthdays, the "Elders," in their late 50's and 60's, who were offered early retirement and quit working at the peak of their careers, and of course, the "Baby Boomers," who are hitting mid-life like a tidal wave. One of them will reach age 50 in the United States every 7 ½ seconds for the next ten years. As with every other stage this group has entered, their numbers alone demand attention to their concerns, and there is no question that career transition is a major concern. Baby Boomers are often characterized as ambitious, independent, and energetic; consequently, falling victim to a corporate downsizing or re-engineering is a shattering experience because it threatens their whole sense of control.

    I wrote The Age Advantage to provide the resource people of mid-age need to take charge of their careers. A "How-to" book with an attitude, it sees mid-life not as "over the hill," but at the top of the hill, where the view is the best.

      It provokes thoughtful consideration of the issues involved in mid-life career transition;

      It inspires and motivates readers to challenge their own expectations and stretch their limits; and

      It teaches specific strategies and techniques for getting a job when the competition is stiff and you're no longer 35.

    What are the Issues that Make Mid-Life Career Transition Different?

    People of mid-age almost all bought into the patriarchical world of corporate America, where careers were built on climbing the corporate ladder, and loyalty to the company was paramount. A "job jumper" was suspect and pins were awarded for length of service. They wore their pins proudly, for they were "Company Men and Women." The company paid good wages, provided health care, invested savings for them, and secured their retirement through pension plans.

    The 30 year old has an entirely different perspective. As Kelli Pelligrini, a 27 year old co-worker, and Doctoral Candidate in Psychology, says,"To think about a time when professional careers could be built by literally starting at the bottom and climbing the corporate ladder is amazing. Today the experience is more like jumping from ladder to ladder, hoping that occasionally you catch a higher rung. Careers are no longer dependent upon ladder climbing skills, but on the ability to make strategic jumps with fluidity, and a certain amount of fearlessness."

    Unlike the older generation, younger workers are not tied to their companies, and their identities are not entwined with their titles. When they lose a job, it's not like falling off a ladder; it's just another "jump" to the next ladder. It is not uncommon for younger clients to have three or four professional jobs before age 30. Instead of being a handicap to their job search, it's an asset. Recruiters view their backgrounds as demonstrating flexibility, the ability to learn quickly, and high marketability. They are looking for jobs where they are the most plentiful, at lower levels and lower pay than older workers and, as a result, they can expect to find them in almost half the time.

    For the person in mid-life transition, it's a different story. In addition to the personal life crisis, they have extensive responsibilities. Unlike their children, who may be able to come back home to Mom and Dad when they lose a job, the mid-life career transitioner has nowhere else to go. Mortgages, kids in college, parents needing attention, friends who expect them to continue on the same social track: all take their toll during sleepless nights. Just at the time when they thought they had it made, their lives are thrown into turmoil.

    People in mid-age career transition have often been in the same field for their whole careers, frequently with the same company. As a result, they find it difficult to imagine doing anything else, and they fail to realize they have options. The job loss is usually unexpected, separating them from their professional associates as well as the corporate structure, and their first reaction is to just "fix what's broken." They want a job, any job. However, their confidence has been shaken, and they find it difficult to sell their qualifications convincingly to a prospective employer when they have lost faith in themselves. Many are so locked into the idea of retirement at a specific age that quality of life in the present isn't always a high priority; they are headed for the finish line. When a mid-age client suggests the idea of becoming a consultant, it frequently means they have either given up in the job search or are afraid to begin. For most, the idea of owning a business just seems too risky at this stage in their lives. Their options seem non-existent.

    On the other hand, my clients under age 35 understand they have options. They know they can find another job, some even surprise me by their confidence in deciding to open a business or go into consulting. I must admit it is a rare occasion when they seriously talk about retirement, as such, but they certainly are independent in their ideas of how and when they will work, often talking about working for a couple of years, and then taking a few months off to travel or just have fun. The Age Advantage focuses on helping people in mid-life career transition to believe in the future, to see mid-age not as an ending, but as the beginning of what can be the best third of their lives.

    Perception of age, both by the person in mid-life career transition and by potential employers and the general public, is a major part of the problem. The Age Advantage reports on research that counteracts the perception that older people are not intellectually capable of learning new skills and handling new challenges, studies like The Seattle Longitudinal Study, The Commonwealth Fund Study, and the work of the Andrus Center for Gerontology at the University of Southern California. The research provides substantial evidence that the intellectual capabilities of older people are not only retained, but in many categories of cognitive functioning, they actually improve with age.

    Reluctance to accept change in the workplace is often the underlying reason people lose their jobs at mid-life. It is also a major factor in age discrimination in hiring. Too often, people in this age group are determinedly entrenched in, "The way we used to do it." In many cases, they are still insisting on riding bicycles, when the rest of their companies are operating jet planes and getting ready for space travel.....or so it seems. In conversations, I hear negative comments about diversity, women bosses, teams, process work flows, E mail, Total Quality Management, and lack of secretarial support that arouse my suspicions that perhaps they are something other than enthusiastic supporters of new management strategies! The Age Advantage provides the updating mid-life career transitioners need to become current in today's workplace.

    Feelings are a very real issue in successful mid-life career transition. Typically, introspection is uncomfortable for my older clients, another area where they differ greatly from their younger friends, who generally love being asked how they feel and what they think about various topics. Yet, the loss of a job can be a terrible blow to mid-lifers and they need to spend time dealing with the pain before they can go forward. Families and close friends are an important part of this process, for no one goes through a major life trauma alone... whether or not they realize it. The Age Advantage provides sensitive awareness and sound counsel that reflect the author's experience and understanding of the issue.

    What Strategies and Techniques Work to Find a Job at Mid-life?

    General strategies and techniques designed to find a job simply do not work for someone who is mid-age. The biggest advantage to hiring an older worker is their depth and breadth of experience; yet, this quality is the hardest to show without intimidating the interviewer or giving the perception of inflexibility and unwillingness to be a team player. People in this age group are usually not novices in their fields, and the over-eager, over-enthusiastic approach advocated for younger workers is inappropriate for someone older. They're used to being in positions of authority, either by rank or experience, and they're used to being listened to. However, it's very likely they will be interviewed by someone younger who has substantially less experience. Their first challenge is to come across with dignity, without appearing too authoritative.

    What works in an interview, and what styles of interviews are probably going to be the most effective for the older worker?

    How do they write a resume that not only tells about their accomplishments but also shows why and how they are successful?

    How do they negotiate a win/win, when they are probably going to be perceived as over-qualified?

    When is it smart to step back a career step just to get a job, and when does their willingness to do so make them unmarketable?

    How do they use their network effectively? When is it all right to ask and when are they almost guaranteed to be rejected?

    The Age Advantage provides the specific strategies and techniques they need to get... not just a job... but the ideal job, when they're mid-age.

    By far the majority of people who lose jobs at mid-life have never looked for a job, so "finding a job" is not one of the skills they've acquired. There are numerous job search resources for younger people, books on how to find that first job, how to write resumes if they're right out of college, or female, or in a technical field. Clever strategies for negotiating the offer or "Getting to Yes" are featured on book store displays everywhere. Behavioral interviewing, responding to "power" questions, dressing for success, and knocking their socks off within the first 24 seconds may work for someone who's under 30, but they sound pretty silly for a 50 year old.

    The Age Advantage tells it like it is. For a person at mid-life, a job is much more than a job; it is livelihood, identity, opportunity, and insurance all wrapped up in one package. The Age Advantage is for everyone who is mid-life, who knows someone who is mid-life, or who will be mid-life... the best time of all.

      "To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life."
      -- Baruch Spinoza

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