Baby boomers must learn how to sell their experience

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As a career strategist with CareerBuilder, I’m on the phone with job seekers from all walks of life. Some  are just getting ready to leave college for the first time at 22 years old; others  have returned to school as a non-traditional student ready to start the next chapter of their working career, often in a brand new profession. Talking to baby boomers over the years, I learned one thing that is fairly consistent in all of our conversations – they’re usually not too comfortable with the idea of “selling” themselves.

The funny thing about this is that of all the people in the workforce who should have the most to talk about, it’s baby boomers. Years of experience and knowledge are what employers want to hear about. In our conversations, individuals of a certain age often find it awkward to talk about themselves. Perhaps this is the trait of a generation  who spent a lifetime believing that work should speak for itself. Yet, that kind of modesty just doesn’t cut it when hiring managers are looking to fill open positions in today’s competitive and fast-paced workforce.

One job seeker that I spoke to, Jackie, had worked for years in customer service oriented roles in Texas. When I spoke to her, she had just applied for a customer service specialist position and was told by the recruiter that, if hired, she was going to start out at $12.85 an hour. She was distraught. She felt that her 10+ years of experience were seemingly not doing anything to earn her more money.

As I worked with Jackie, I explained how her experience should make her more confident about being a fit for this position but also in her ability to openly negotiate for a better wage. I talked her through some of CareerBuilder’s salary data that is available in our Talent Compensation portal, as well as how to navigate the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to show her the average earnings for someone in her position with her level of experience and years of service.

Fortunately, when the hiring manager reviewed her résumé, they realized Jackie was overqualified for the entry-level position and offered her to start in a role that was actually two levels above the position she applied for, starting at $19.00 an hour. But had the hiring manager not reviewed or valued her experience, Jackie would be stuck.

With Jackie’s situation in mind, I see three things that all baby boomers should keep top of mind when on the hunt for a job:

1. Experience is an asset to any company. Forget talking about age and focus on all the things you’ve learned throughout your career. Have you managed projects or teams? Talk about that. What were tasks or projects you worked on where you went above and beyond to improve processes, reduce costs or increase output or sales? Many boomers feel age is a road block to interviews, but I remind them that experience matters most, so focus on what you have to offer to an employer, not what’s (theoretically) holding you back.

2. Learn how to talk about your career. Many baby boomers want to say that they just showed up and did the job that they were supposed to. The problem is that there’s so much to be said about the work ethic and level of personal responsibility many boomers feel toward their work. As you work on your résumé, be sure to list the facts and quantifiable points that made your work a success. It’s okay to talk about how your creativity, tenacity, commitment all made you a valuable employee in previous roles. Consider finding a mentor and working on practice interviews to help you get comfortable in learning how to “sell” your experience in the interview situation.

3. Networking to find jobs you want. Another scenario I run into with older workers who are looking for jobs is that they frequently apply for jobs that they don’t actually want. Whether that’s because they’d rather take any job that is available or that they’re too hesitant to let others know they need help in finding jobs they want, it’s a common but detrimental occurrence.

I remind job seekers to tell friends, family, local community members about their desire for a new job and that when you ask for help, you more likely to receive it. Find opportunities to talk to new people who may work for companies in your area that you’re interested in. Conduct informational interviews to learn about specific employers or roles. Once you’ve become comfortable in talking about how your skills and experience can help an employer during an informational interview, you’ll be ready to do the same in an actual interview.

The skill of talking about or ‘selling’ your experience is challenging and one that needs practice. But in time, you’ll find that it’s less awkward and it actually boosts your confidence about what you’ve achieved and accomplished in your career and helps you see yourself as a beneficial part of any team.

What other challenges or difficulties do you face if you’re a baby boomer? What has worked in your job search or what advice would you offer up to peers who may be struggling to find a job in their area? Share your experience & thoughts in the comments below!

  1. Thank you Wendell for your insightful comments. Baby Boomers are not accustomed to bragging about their accomplishments in part, because they are painfully aware of their shortcomings. Millenials do not share this awareness, so they blissfully trumpet their accomplishments, and win over the crowd. In today’s fast paced world, we only have time for small sound bites, forcing us to make decisions with very little information. Therefore, it would behoove baby boomers to practice their elevator statements, putting their message out there confidently, just the way their younger counterparts are doing.

  2. As if any of this is going to get you the job. The person who brags the loudest…. Heard all that before. Agree that nepotism is the most useful way to get a job. And if you ask for a higher salary, you will get shown the door. Most customer service jobs have gone overseas anyway. What little is left pays a pittance and there are 100 candidates for every job.

  3. Lots of great comments here! As Wendell points out when he was working with a job seeker who ended up netting a much better position, it’s all about speaking up for yourself, AND how you say it. Find quantifiable bragging points that point to how you saved money or improved business, which can be much more effective than simply stating you want more money. And be specific with your network about what you want and what you do.

    Most importantly, your attitude in your job search will open more doors than you’d expect! Stay positive and optimistic, and your soft skills (like team support, flexibility, communication) will impress employers.

  4. I also liked your article. I find it true to form that the different generations take something differen from the same article. The number one problem I have had is being seen and heard, so I am able to communicate what I have to offer and why my offering adds value to the company. My resume alone gets knocked down by generalizations, seeing the resume through a person’s individual paradigms lacking the true ability to see the future of business and the types of people who will be required and you have already done. I am there waiting for someone to see me and realize that I am far more accomplished that the last 5 people who sat in the chair. They will realize that I can sit in that chair and 6 other chairs, but I am not looking for more money, because I have my terms too. I just want to work as hard, thoughtfully, ethically and properly as I can, in exchange of being allowed to work at a job that just happens to be at a lower level than my last job and the wise senior management realizes that the ancient, overused term of overqualified does not apply here. I am an added value candidate and there is a very large difference from the person that carries the overqualified label. HR professionals must be able to select correctly. Unfortunately, too many just through us all out since its too much work to pick the right one. I laugh because no matter who they pick from their current applicants, it will be a wrong choice. One year later, they will be looking again. The metric of turnover, should be coming back with a vengence. Goodnight all.

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