Recruiting Boomers To Ease The Talent Gap

I overheard a conversation among three boomers at a restaurant recently. What they discussed might surprise you.

“Hi Kelly. So good to see you!”  “Jim, I’ve been eager to chat and hear how your retirement is going.” “It’s been great. I’ve caught up on many projects and relaxed a bit. But to be perfectly honest, it’s not enough. I’m ready to get involved in something again.”

The conversation continued and, since my specialty is working with boomers in transition, I was eager to hear more.

Rather than a focus on leisure activities such as travel and recreation that most people associate with retirement, this conversation zeroed in on employment opportunities and ways to make a contribution that would add some structure to Jim’s life.

The “working retiree” phenomenon is real because of many factors: an increased life span of 30 years, boomers’ strong desire to have a purpose, and the loss of colleagues and daily structure that a career provided.

It is now estimated that 4 out of 5 retirees return to work of some kind within 18 months of retiring from a primary career. This is unprecedented and has the potential to positively impact the tight talent gap employers are increasingly experiencing in most states.

But, in order to tap this significant pool of talented, educated and committed boomers, employers will need to make a concerted effort to recruit, hire and retain them. This effort will also be unprecedented since most employers have been anticipating an exit of retirees with no thought of their return.

What is required is an attitude shift on the part of employers that will dispel their age bias and the myths about boomers that has prevented them from making an all out effort to bring them back in a way that creates a win/win for both parties.

How to Be More Promotable and Valuable by Having This Conversation

Engaging your manager in a “How can I be the most helpful?” Conversation is one of the best things you can do to set yourself up for a promotion, accelerate your career trajectory, and make the biggest, most powerful contribution to your employer.

Asking to have this conversation will also will also be music to your supervisor’s ears.

Two of the things supervisors over the years have told me they most long for from their direct reports are:

1.      A “How can I help you?” attitude versus a “What can you do for me?”

2.      A willingness to hear feedback on how they can improve.

“How can I be the most helpful?” Conversations enable you to satisfy both those desires.

In the rest of this article, you’ll find questions to help your “How can I be most helpful?” Conversation provide you with the information you need to make the biggest, most significant contribution, and…become more promotable.

How to Frame the Conversation

To make bringing up this conversation as easy and natural as possible, you can simply say something like:

“I was reading an article on how to make the biggest possible contribution to your supervisor and employer’s goals and wanted to make sure I am focusing on the activities that make the biggest contribution to your goals and your company’s or organization’s goals. Can we set up some time to go over this?”

Questions to Ask During the “How can I help?” Conversation

  1. “What organizational goals have the biggest impact on our team’s work and where we as a team need to put our attention?”

  2. What is most important to you for our team to accomplish this year? (Alternately you could ask “Related to your goals for us this year…am I correct in thinking that what’s most important to you this year are _______?”

  3. “I want to make sure I’m focusing my attention on the things that are most important to you and your goals. My understanding is that the things I can be doing to make the biggest contribution are state your understanding. Am I on track or do I need to shift my priorities?”

  4. “What’s one thing you would like to see me start doing that would make the biggest difference in my ability to be helpful to you?”

  5. “What’s the one thing you would like to see me STOP doing that would make the biggest difference in my ability to be helpful to you?”

  6. “What’s the one thing that you really like that I do, that you would like to have me do more of?”

  7. “Is there something that I’m not doing that you would really like me to do?”

Don’t Make It a One Time Event

Engaging your supervisor in a “How can I be the most helpful?” Conversation can be a game-changer both in terms of your ability to provide maximum value and to grow professionally.

After you get the information you need from your supervisor, create a game plan—or at the very least, a list--to keep you focused on doing those most valuable activities. Use it to assess, and stay focused on, how you are allocating your time and energy.

If the personal feedback you received from your supervisor involves developing new, more productive habits, or the development of new skills, create a professional development plan to help you address those areas and stay on track. Share this with your supervisor.

Check in every now and then for updates on this question and for your progress in utilizing your supervisor’s feedback.

Believe me, if you do this, your supervisor will love you for it and you will love the impact it can make in your job and career.

How To Recognize the Value You Bring - by David Lee

Two of the most common challenges I see job seekers and career changers struggle with is identifying their skills and abilities, and translating them into a job or career that works for them.

Why It's So Hard To Name What You Do Well

It’s natural for you to take for granted the things you're able to do easily, because you assume it must be easy for everyone since it is for you. You forget that what’s easy for one person is not easy for another.

Tip: Flip this point of view. Examine what comes most easily to you. These could be your "super powers": your unique strengths, talents, and skills with which you provide the most value to any employer, and differentiate you from other job candidates.

Analyze Your Work Experience Carefully For Your Key Competencies

Tip: While there are a number of tools and techniques for getting clear on this, the following recommendations should help you identify your particular marketable skills:

  • Make a list of your primary tasks and accomplishments for each of your work or volunteer experiences.

  • Focus your attention on those: 1) you excelled at 2) enjoyed doing 3) for which you received external positive feedback 4) that provided the most value to your employer.

  • Since people can sometimes see you more clearly than you can see yourself…Ask people who know you best—preferably in a work context: “When have you seen me at my best and why was it at my best?” and “What key skills and attributes did I demonstrate?” 

  • Do an internet search for “Transferable Skills Checklist” and download 2-3 different ones. Pick the one you find the most useful and use it to identify the transferable skills you demonstrated in your tasks and accomplishments exercise.

  • Come up with examples of when you have demonstrated these skills. Keep a list of these examples because you will want to share them with any prospective employer.

Now That You Have Your List of Marketable Skills and Stories To Illustrate Them, What's Next?

Practice telling your stories to friends, a career coach, or into a recorder. Get feedback on whether they are clear, concise, and compelling, and if not, what you need to do to make them so.

Now you’re set to have strategic conversations with people who can help you transition to new work. You'll be able to communicate what you bring to the marketplace and cite examples.

Will Spring Herald A New Beginning? by Barbara Babkirk

If so, then keep in mind that any transition calls for a significant level of trust. A fear of the unknown that’s inherent in any transition can take its toll even on the most courageous.

There’s just something about a blank slate of possibilities that prompts creative minds to conjure up lists of “what if” scenarios—most of which elicit fear.

Our clients consistently express nervousness about their career changes that is based entirely on what they fear will happen, as opposed to what they hope will occur. In some instances, that is because they want to feel prepared for the worse case scenario. But, the cost of this focus can hinder positive movement in the change process.

Any transition involves facing the unknown and that typically triggers anxiety. So what do you do instead of getting stressed out in a transition?

  • While you may believe that your negative projection into the future is necessary to feel prepared for anything that might occur, it actually works against you. 

  • This often spontaneous and habitual thought process is a waste of time, energy and attention because it is likely to interrupt your momentum or stop you in your tracks.

  • Successfully maneuvering through a transition requires nimbleness and openness to possibilities. Fear elicits the opposite in anticipation of some threatening outcome.

  • Consciously thinking about what you desire is an effective alternative to the scenarios that typically make you want to pull the blanket over your head.

  • I’m not suggesting that you just “think happy thoughts”, but rather, that you become clear about the intention and desired outcome(s) for your transition.

While you cannot control all aspects of any change, you can control your thinking and your response to your transition. In so doing, you will shift your attention from what you don’t want to occur to more appealing prospects. With this shift to a more trusting mindset, you should feel calmer and more able to move forward and complete the tasks that will make you successful.

"As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live." - Goethe

Stay Calm if You Lose Your Job - by Barbara Babkirk

You thought it would never happen to you.

Yet, an average of 1.5M Americans lose their jobs each year due to a variety of reasons from restructuring to company closings.

If you’ve been laid off or terminated, you’ll likely feel an initial shock. Then you can expect a series of emotions that come and go in no particular sequence. These emotions often reflect the stages of grief including: denial, anger, depression, and acceptance. It’s important to know that these feelings are normal and that they will pass.

One of the most difficult aspects of being laid off is feeling that something has happened TO you. If you had been thinking about resigning for a while, you might even become self-critical that you didn’t act first.

Rather than dwell on the circumstances, begin to create a plan to regain control of your work life.

You may be asked to sign a document outlining the terms of your separation and requesting certain conditions of confidentiality.

Under these circumstances, you might seek legal counsel before signing to make sure the terms are clear and to determine the fairness of what is offered in light of years of service, position and particular circumstances.

While there is no Maine law that mandates a severance package when a person is laid off or terminated, in my experience, it is common for employers to offer one.

This may include compensation for a period of weeks (often it’s one week of pay for each year of service), continuing health benefits, and outplacement/career counseling services to help you transition to new work. It’s always a surprise to me that not everyone who is offered this service takes advantage of it.

Even if you feel confident about your ability to find work, outplacement/career counseling services are offered by experts, and chances are you’ll learn something that will help you transition more effectively and quickly.

Consider the following tips if you lose your job:

  • Let yourself experience a range of feelings and know that you’ll get back on an even keel later in your job search process.

  • Carefully read the severance agreement from your former employer and whether you want to seek legal counsel before signing.

  • Request outplacement/career transition services and ask to work with a local company. If your employer offers services with a national firm, they are not likely to have information on the local marketplace. (A typical range of outplacement services is from one to three months, often depending on your length of time with the company and the position you held.)

  • Ask your former employer if they will support your pursuing unemployment benefits and whether or not they will provide a reference for you and/or recommendation on LinkedIn.

  • Avoid unproductive conversations with former colleagues who want to “fill you in” on current chatter in the organization. These conversations will impede your efforts to move on and keep you mired in a sea of difficult emotions.

  • Update your resume and LinkedIn profile and line up professional references.

  • Contact your local Career Center and find out how to file for unemployment compensation as well as the amount you’ll receive and when you can expect your first check.

  • Establish a plan of action that focuses on strategic conversations with people in your field or in a new arena you’d like to pursue.

  • Seek assistance from a qualified career counselor/outplacement consultant for help with your plan.

  • Stay positive and think about the outcome you want instead of what you fear might happen.

Your Path to a Purposeful Retirement by Barbara Babkirk

With an expectation to live 30 more years than the previous generation, baby boomers are heralding a “longevity revolution” that will invite increased options to fill the extended years of life. With these “dividend years” in mind, over 70% expect to work well beyond their parent’s transition to a strictly leisure-focused life.

The Mature Market Institute, MetLife’s organization that provides research on issues of aging, released a leading-edge study—Discovering What Matters: Balancing Money, Medicine and Meaning. The study explored the role that purpose plays in the lives of people over 50. As the study states, “…for most people, their primary goal is not financial freedom or good health, or even free time—it is to have purpose and meaning in their lives.”

Since today’s boomers nearing an end to their primary careers lack models to emulate, their task of creating meaningful options for themselves is challenging.

With the desire for purpose being central to the next chapter, boomers might consider asking these simple questions for further clarification of goals and plans:

  1. What is the significance of this stage of my life? What would give it more meaning?

  2. What are the primary skills, competencies and talents that I’d like to offer at this time?

  3. Where in the world is there a match between my skills and what would give me a sense of meaning and provide an opportunity to leave a legacy?

  4. What topics and issues engage me?

  5. What might I do next to investigate possible options?

There’s a new way to retire these days. It might be going back to school to develop new competencies, spearheading a community-based initiative, or serving as a mentor or advisor in your career field.

Taking time to consider ideas, possibilities, and changes that are aligned with priorities and talents can create a whole new sense of purpose and fulfillment for your next stage of life.

Heart At Work Associates, a career and outplacement firm in Portland, Maine has developed an innovative initiative called “The Boomer Institute”. This program, scheduled to begin this year, is a unique matching between talented and experienced boomers and opportunities with Maine employers. Consider signing up to be the first to know when it launches.

Do you negotiate a job offer?

Are you among the 49% of Americans who never ask for more than what is offered, despite the fact that 45% of employers fully expect to negotiate a job offer? (By the way, more women than men accept what’s initially offered without any negotiation.)

Compensation has been a lively topic of conversation with clients recently—some of whom have received multiple job offers. That’s a good sign for the Maine economy, as well as a statement about how well prepared our clients are for the marketplace.

We often encourage our clients to negotiate an offer and request additional compensation and/or benefits. This is always based on two factors: the value they bring to the organization and what the marketplace is paying for similar positions.

When done well, the negotiation results in a win-win for the candidate and the employer.

Take Janice for example–a Pharmacist with a recent Doctoral degree and considerable experience. Her colleague encouraged her to apply for a position at a progressive pharmacy that stressed consultative services to customers—right in line with her preference and skill set. But, the new salary offer came in lower than what she had been earning, and she was told that the base salary was the maximum for this position.

After communicating the value she would bring to this new position and her disappointment with the compensation, Janice was offered a generous sign-on bonus and an increase in her bonus structure over time. Janice accepted and the company was thrilled to have her join the team.

Research shows that if you feel in control of your life and believe you can make things happen, (as opposed to believing that others control your circumstances) you are more likely to ask for what you want, and, therefore, influence the outcome.

However, if you believe your fate is in someone else’s hands, you may not even imagine there are options other than those presented to you.

Follow these tips and negotiate the compensation you deserve:

1: Think about what you really want and the value you’ll deliver, not just what you assume is possible.

2: Articulate your professional value as a rationale for your request.

3:   Know what the marketplace pays for your position by doing research online and locally ( as further justification for any increase.

4:   Request a meeting to review your job offer. Express appreciation for and interest in the offer before you present your counter-offer. Keep in mind that vacation time, a flexible work schedule, additional time without pay, and other benefits, can all be part of your final negotiation.

Will You Be a “Working Retiree”? by Barbara Babkirk

A recent study from Merrill Lynch determined that nearly three out of five retirees will launch a new work chapter after they retire from primary careers.

The term “working retiree” may seem like an oxymoron, but it’s a new reality that is here to stay. It’s projected to have a significant impact on the marketplace due to low population growth and high talent needs.

If you’re wondering why this shift in retirement mindset is coming about after just one generation, think about the characteristics of this baby boomer demographic:

  • best educated in history

  • commitment to lifelong learning

  • healthy lifestyles and

  • desire to make a difference (think sit-ins and demonstrations of the 70’s)

But, not all boomers who want to work after retirement share the same reasons or priorities around work. Ken Dychtwald, gerontologist, author and expert on aging issues, has identified four “core profiles” of today’s working retirees:

  1. Driven Achievers (15%) who have consistent derived their identity from work and continue to be driven to achieve

  2. Caring Contributors (33%) who are motivated to give back and make a difference in the latter part of their lives

  3. Life Balancers (25%) who see work at this time of their lives as fitting into larger priorities and want work to be fairly stress-free and fun

  4. Earnest Earners (28%) who need to work to meet financial obligations, whether or not they want to continue working. Since a significant number of boomers have not adequately saved for retirement, this group is predicted to grow.

If you’re among the significant number of retirees who leave work and after 6 to 18 months, miss the structure, camaraderie, or sense of purpose, then you may be joining the emerging group of working retirees.

Identifying your “core profile” from Dychtwald’s list as well as knowing what is motivating you in this next life phase, is essential to forging a successful path.

Discover who you were meant to be - Barbara Babkirk

I was organizing a bookshelf recently and came across an article by author and activist, Parker Palmer, titled “Now I Become Myself.

I took time out from the task at hand to read my newfound treasure. While I believe I had read it before, the article had particular relevancy on this day because of a career counseling client with whom I had just met.

Palmer wrote that we spend the first half of our lives abandoning our essential talents and true nature in quests for approval and ill-fated attempts to establish ourselves in the world.

The sense of a “lost self” increases with age and reveals itself in career and work choices that don’t align with who we are meant to be. That could certainly contribute to the current high incidence of dissatisfaction in the workplace.

It is predictably at midlife and beyond that we find this discrepancy unacceptable and set out to reclaim “the person we’ve always been.”

The serendipity of my finding Palmer’s piece just after meeting with a 42 year old client was uncanny. Jen, as I’ll name her, had just come in stating that, after spending decades in the workforce just “falling into jobs”; she was now excited to take charge of her career.

She was ready to do the work of retracing her life’s path and recognize the truths about herself that would inform new options for her work in the world.

In making connections beyond the obvious about what we’ve done and who we are, we uncover gems that reflect true facets of ourselves.

These treasures can provide precious clues that reveal who we are meant to be and broaden how we see ourselves in the world.

What to do about your job search during the Holidays

The Holiday season is here and you’re exploring job opportunities. Do you put your efforts on hold, or carry on? While conventional wisdom may say: “Chill out, no one is hiring in December because budgets are spent.” We have a different perspective at Heart At Work.

Just think about all the people you see only once a year at Holiday events, plus all the new people you might meet who may be great connectors to your next employment opportunity.

However, if you are not clear about your career direction or job target, you might cringe at the thought of people asking what you’re are up to, or worse still, what you want to do.

Once you’re prepared for the inevitable question, you’ll be set to welcome informal conversations and offers of help for your transition. If someone suggests a contact and says, “use my name”, know that this approach rarely works.

You’ll need to then say “Thanks! Would you please make an email introduction for me and I’ll take it from there?” Then you can be certain that the email will not end up in spam or the trash since it came someone known to them.

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years can be a particularly effective time to expand your network. With many executives curtailing work travel schedules to make themselves available for end-of-the-year planning and office events, you may have easier access to decision makers at this time.

With an attitude of “anything is possible”, and a challenge to your assumptions about this time of year, you may find yourself in a prime position of opportunity and even a new job to celebrate in the New Year.