An interview with career expert Gail Liebhaber about
Ways to demonstrate years of experience are an advantage
Gail Liebhaber has been involved in the field of career development for over 25 years as a trainer, consultant, coach, and counselor. She was interviewed by Larry Elle, president of the Professional Development Collaborative, by email. Gail’s holistic career counseling practice (Career Directions) is dedicated to the mission of coaching adults through career transitions with effective and empowering results.
PDC: What special questions do older workers ask when they come for career counseling? Are many of them concerned about age discrimination? How do you suggest they deal with this issue?
Gail: There are specific questions I often get asked by people over age 45. They are wondering if they will be seen as viable candidates or if their age will be held against them. My response is: yes there is age discrimination — unfortunately it does exist. I would be doing you a disservice if I did not help you recognize and understand that possibility. However, there are ways to mitigate this which include keeping your skills as up-to-date as possible, making sure your physical appearance is in style and reflects the mores of the industry you are going into, and making sure you are a vital and enthusiastic person. The most important trait is to exude confidence, curiosity, and expertise.
PDC: How can older professionals talk about their years of experience in a positive way?
Gail: I coach my clients to remember that they have years of experience that are both technical and personal, which can be very valuable to their chosen industry. But how they talk about this experience is crucial. I coach them to manifest this experience through who they are, not by telling stories that start with, “Since I have over 20 years of experience…”
I suggest they give an example of how their expertise can help them solve a problem. I also remind them there is a good chance they will be interviewed by managers who are much younger than they are. When this is the case, they need to exude confidence while at the same time be respectful, treating this manager as they would any senior-level person. It’s also helpful for them to talk about how they use their own technology tools, as this shows that they are experienced in up-to-date 2019 technologies. One way to do this is pull out their smart phone to check their calendar, or take notes on this smart phone, rather than bring a [steno pad] notebook to take notes.
PDC: At what age are people saying age discrimination affects them?
Gail: What I have noticed in recent months is that people younger and younger are thinking about age discrimination. It used to be only for people 55 and older, and now I am hearing it from people 45 and up. I hear it more often from people who have been in the IT industry. They worry that they are not seen as flexible and savvy as younger people. They also are concerned they might be too high in their salary needs compared to younger people with similar expertise. This is not an easy problem to solve. My best advice is to understand salary ranges for your profession to see if a prospective company’s offer is within that specific range. As with all clients, I coach them to have a salary range more than have a specific number in mind.
PDC: Is an older client’s years of experience a blessing or a possible liability?”
Gail: I explore with clients their strengths and their value proposition. For example, having strong experience in management can be an older client’s saving grace as they can be compensated for those particular skills and experiences. One client was able through her network to find a job where the technical team had been floundering and needed a manager to create a vision and lead the team toward their goal. In her interview she was able to communicate her past successes as well as her leadership skills managing conflicting personalities. This won her the job.
Several years ago I had a client who was targeting corporate employee communications but had no management experience. I advised him to join the historical society in his town, and become a committee head to gain experience to put on his resume. Not only did he enjoy the volunteer experience, but having a management position on his resume led to increased interviews. He also made new friends, increased his network, and gained confidence through his committee work.
PDC: Are many older workers considering consulting as an option?
Gail: I have found that some of the best options for my older clients have been consulting opportunities. Over five years ago I developed my “encore” career program for those not needing the same income but still wanting a career or volunteer opportunity where they contribute using their skills and mentoring others, or a situation where they completely change their professional focus. One client went from marketing with a well-known job board to becoming a personal trainer because of his interest in staying fit. Another client turned her interest in interior design into a job in real estate.
Both of these clients were at a point in their lives when high income did not matter as much as lifestyle and having time for other things that were important to them. They were very excited to be free of the stresses and strains of their previous jobs.
Although I am realistic and practical with my older clients, I also am very enthusiastic about coaching them to see how their wisdom, expertise, and emotional intelligence can be a plus as long as it is paired with updated skills and realistic expectations.
PDC: Thank you Gail for sharing your ideas about the challenges and opportunities facing today’s older professionals as they seek to extend and grow their careers.
Gail Liebhaber has a M.Ed. with a specialization in career counseling. She is a MBTI Certified Practitioner for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Step I, II, and III. She also employs the Strong Interest Inventory and SkillScan.
In addition to her private practice, Gail was the Director of Career Services for the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge from 1997-2002 and the Director of Career Services at Harvard Divinity School from 2002-2008. You may contact her with your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 781 820 5310.