Today was a “pay it forward” day, coaching someone who’s been out of the job market for 5 years, and now wants back in. Alice needs help thinking about options, identifying what’s new or changed in the business environment and her own professional arena. She’s struggling to find her best self while exploring how and where to re-enter the job market.
Although career coaching is not my forte, I’d agreed to this meeting at the request of an Apple colleague who thought I could offer some useful perspective and thought-provoking questions. Before the meeting I forwarded Alice some web links just to get her creative juices flowing. That set a great context for our conversation.
When Happily Ever After Doesn’t Last Forever
It’s the kind of situation you see here in Seattle (or the Silicon Valley, Austin, etc.): Alice retires early, thanks to an IPO from a famous Seattle success story. Marries, has kids. Happily ever after — or for as long as the stock holds its value. A fairy tale come true, or so it seems.
Fast-forward 5 years, Alice’s kids are now in school, boredom sets in, perhaps money is no longer stretching as far as it once did.
But what’s really motivating Alice is the emotional need to re-engage with what she calls “a tribe.” Reconnecting with adults, away from the playground with the nannies and other moms. Forming bonds with other like-minded professionals who love to do great work, with and for others. Learning new skills, testing oneself in the challenges of the work environment. Helping “the tribe.”
Alice had been an accomplished experience (UI/UX) designer for a local company with global brand recognition. She has some important accomplishments on her resume, but no professional achievements to speak of for the past 5 years. Her time was invested in being a mom, volunteering at the preschool, and so on.
A lot has changed technically in the world of digital experiences, online marketing, social networking, etc., since Alice left the workforce 5 years ago. For designers it’s been a virtual tsunami of change…
The First Step on Her Journey
Alice knows she has a lot to learn, so the question is where to start, where to focus her time and energies. What to do to refresh her portfolio, her personal branding, her “show and tell” materials. Should she go back to school, get an advanced degree or professional certificate, or find an entry-level role and essentially start over…
Alice’s self-esteem is somewhat fragile; she’s out of practice with “selling herself” to a prospective employer or client. She’s heard that employers or clients prefer kids fresh out of school, who command lower payscales than experienced designers like Alice. (And let’s not even go down the path of the higher value placed on developers versus designers these days…) It’s hard for Alice to imagine how to sell herself against a younger person with more up-to-date technical skills — 5 years being a virtual lifetime in the web world.
Sadly, age bias in the workplace is very real, even in liberal places like Seattle. As a Boomer it’s painful to see age bias rear its ugly head as an employment issue even for relatively young women, people in their mid-30’s like Alice.
So we talked about ways Alice could seek opportunities that might value her strengths, rather than focusing on her near-term skills gaps. Some of these areas, like the “visual thinking movement,” were off the radar screen when Alice was still working. Some offer real promise for talents like Alice’s.
At the end of a long conversation, I was able to steer Alice toward some opportunity areas that might value her strengths, wisdom and career experience. It felt good.
But what was most rewarding was seeing Alice light up, excited by notions about where she could still make a difference, even if in different forms or media than 5 years ago. I hope she finds her new tribe.