Tips for boomers to find ‘flexible’ jobs

A growing percentage of Americans say their retirement will entail some paid work, either because they’re worried about their lack of savings or because they want to stay active. But that doesn’t mean retirees are yearning for a 50- or 60-hour workweek.

Sixty-nine percent of workers said they plan to work for pay after they retire, according to the 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

And more workers said they plan to delay retirement: 36% of workers said they’ll wait until they’re 66 or older to retire (fully 26% said they’d wait until age 70 or older), up from 11% who said that in 1991. Read the study here.

Another 7% of workers said they don’t plan to retire at all.

If you’re among those who plan to continue working but you don’t want to keep going full-tilt, what’s the best way to find a good part-time or work-at-home gig?

The good news is that, anecdotally at least, there are employers out there looking to fill part-time jobs with experienced workers, and a number of websites aim to help people like you find those jobs.

And “part time” doesn’t have to mean a job at a fast-food restaurant or in retail.

“Some of the jobs employers are trying to fill are not what anyone would think of as an average telecommuting job,” said Sara Sutton Fell, founder and chief executive of FlexJobs, based in Boulder, Colo.

“These are high-level roles. They are very well suited to an older demographic who values flexibility and has the skills to bring to the table,” she said.

Some of the current openings on her site include “infrastructure management senior analyst,” firewall engineer, human-resources generalist and senior tax associate, Fell said. Some of the companies posting positions to the site include PwC (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers), ADP and Xerox.

Tips for finding a job

Visit the job sites. You can search for part-time jobs,, and, among others.

Meanwhile, FlexJobs only posts jobs that are part-time or flexible as well as professional (meaning they have opportunity for growth). The company vets each posting to make sure it’s legitimate ( charges job seekers from $14.95 a month to $49.95 a year to see the listings).

Drop by. “If it’s an employer you know you want to work for, particularly if it’s a retail-based job, go in, meet with the manager,” said Kerry Hannon, a Washington-based career expert and author of “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+.” “Dress appropriately, drop off your resume and just say you’re available. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting with somebody.”

Don’t rule out full-time job postings. For the right candidate, employers may consider alternative work arrangements. “Often, job-sharing arrangements and so forth come up,” said Tim Driver, chief executive of and, in Boston. “It’s always worth exploring listings that are written as full time.”

Tap your network. Ask people you know whether they know of any part-time or telecommuting opportunities at their workplace—and whether they can put in a good word for you, Hannon said. “Employers love to hire people who they know or the people that work for them know,” she said.

Go beyond the big job websites. Interested in a nonprofit job, for example? “The Chronicle of Philanthropy has a great jobs board—that’s a good place to look for any kind of nonprofit job,” Hannon said, adding that “the nonprofits love part-time workers,” in part because those organizations often face budgetary constraints.

Ask your network about job boards, staffing companies and temp agencies that focus on your city or state. For example, a staffing agency called 10 til 2 focuses on part-time jobs in Colorado.

Hannon pointed to Flex Professionals, which lists jobs with flexible schedules in the Washington, D.C., area, and Special Counsel, which looks to place people in the legal profession.

Check with trade groups and your alumni association to see whether they know of or list flexible jobs. Also, college career centers often offer advice on career transitions, Hannon said. “A lot of them have great career coaches on staff who can help you with interviews and resumes.”

Visit universities’ online job boards. “Most of the big universities have job boards that you can check for part-time or full-time work,” Hannon said.

Avoid the scams

It’s no secret that many workers dream of working at home, and the idea is gaining acceptance among some employers, depending on the job type.

Still, “there’s been slower acceptance of that than even part-time work,” said Jill Ater, founder and chief operating officer of 10 til 2, the Denver-based staffing agency.

“Employers still want to see people, but sometimes you can start off in the office and transition once they learn to trust you,” Ater said. Job seekers might ask in the interview whether working at home is an option at some point. “See how the employer feels about it,” she said.

Unfortunately, the work-at-home dream is a target for scammers looking to separate you from your money, often by collecting fees upfront for equipment or information they say is necessary for their work-at-home “opportunity.”

As part of its premium service ($4.95 a month; you can cancel at any time), offers a “Work at Home Guide” that lists organizations it considers legitimate, plus tips to stay safe.

Here are some other ways to steer clear of scams:

  • Avoid ads that read like marketing copy. When looking for work, focus on ads that list a job title. “You want it to be a professional job posting and not marketing copy,” Fell said. “If it looks like they’re trying to get anybody to apply, that’s probably not a professional job posting.”
  • Be wary of requests for money. Fell said the scam often goes like this: “We’re going to give you your own computer. We’ll mail that to you, but we do need to install some proprietary software on there, so you need to pay $400 for that.”
  • Search for the company’s name on Google to make sure the website address given to you is legitimate. Sometimes scammers create fake websites that mimic real sites, to lure you to provide personal information or to send money. “They’ll mimic the names of the CEO, the director of HR, so the website really looks legit,” Fell said. “Unfortunately, they’re really good at it sometimes.”
  • Search the company’s name with the word “scam” or “complaint” to see what others are saying.
  • Be wary about sending personal information if the email address doesn't include the company name. “Make sure the job ad has the company domain name in it, rather than a general @hotmail or @gmail,” Fell said.

More resources

Here are some additional resources for finding part-time or flexible jobs:

Common Good Careers recruits for the nonprofit sector. Read more: Boomers: Get job recruiters on your side.

Idealist and Bridgespan also list jobs at nonprofit organizations.

Check out AARP’s page on working after retirement. offers a guide to finding work after 50.

Read more: Taxes, Social Security and your part-time job.

Andrea Coombes is a personal-finance writer and editor in San Francisco. She's on Twitter @andreacoombes.

Career and social media advice from one of the most influential recruiters in the world

By Neil Patrick

One of the things I love about writing this blog is the great contacts I have made because of it. Social media is such a powerful platform, that despite living in a forest in Wales, I’m in daily touch with amazing people all over the planet.

One of the most remarkable of these people is Axel Koster. Since 2002 Axel has been the General Manager of the Manhattan Group, a global executive search recruitment firm specialising in the luxury hotel, resort & event management sector, placing candidates from manager to VP levels. Axel is based in Melbourne, Australia.

Four and a half years ago, Axel picked up on the growth of social media and decided that it would be a powerful way for him to build a much stronger personal network. This would be beneficial to both his clients and job candidates. To say he has succeeded in his goal would be an understatement. Developing his own unique style of presenting relevant content, today he has over 360,000 followers on Twitter! This year, his Twitter following has increased every single month by around 10,000 people!

Axel has gone much further than most people in his industry and has created his own branded hashtag #AxelJob which helps spread his jobs fast and wide across social media networks. He has also created his #AxelHappy hashtag which is for motivational and inspiring Tweets. Axel welcomes other recruitment companies using his hashtags for the simple reason they give career seekers a better chance of securing suitable positions.

Axel Koster
Axel’s LinkedIn network currently includes 9,427 people, ranking him amongst the top 1% most viewed profiles on LinkedIn.

Kred scores Axel’s social media influence as 984 out a maximum possible of 1,000. He is now ranked in the top 10 people most influential people in Australia according to Kred. To put this in perspective, in January 2013, not one of the world’s largest pharmaceuticals companies with their huge marketing resources and budgets, scored more than 800 points on Kred. In case you are interested, the 3 highest scoring were Novartis, Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer.

But as you’ll discover when you see Axel's video below, he’s firmly of the view that big numbers should not be our goal in social media. He shares my belief that social media is about listening and helping, rather than telling and selling!

For the first 15 years of his career, Axel was a chef, rising through the ranks of his profession to become the Managing Director of the Templeton Marine Hotel in 1997. In 2002, he swapped the hotel industry for the recruitment industry.

So how did this former chef turn from being an accomplished but largely unknown hotel industry professional to a social media phenomena?

Since I am lucky to count Axel amongst my circle of friends, I thought I should get his answers to what I think are some pretty important questions for readers of this blog directly from him. Because he has the double qualification of being both a senior recruitment industry executive AND social media expert, he’s probably just about the most well qualified person on the planet to ask.

So here are my questions and his answers:

How do you think social media has affected the recruitment industry over the last 5 years?

Social media (SM) has become a very important factor in many industries and certainly within recruitment markets. It has fundamentally changed the way many companies now communicate and respond to different situations.

Companies without an SM presence are losing out and new firms with a better appreciation of SM are rapidly building market share. SM has also allowed many individuals to start their own company and work from home. For these people it’s important to also have a detailed understanding in their field and of course a strong network in their industry.

It is crucial for companies and individuals to establish an effective SM ‘footprint’. Establish a roadmap so to speak which allows us to understand and follow through on our own objectives and progress.

How valuable do you think social media is in advancing our career ambitions?

SM is often seen as an advancement in social flexibility and it says a lot about your personality and character. The challenge here is that there are so many new SM sites coming online so frequently. Which ones should you use and which will give you the best return on your time and investment?

There is no doubt in my mind that individuals and organisations with good SM presence and understanding have an advantage over those that do not. We all have to respond to the fact that modern communications technology has reshaped our lives in the last few years.

What should a mature professional that hasn’t really started building their social media profile do as a priority?

The first question you should ask yourself is what do you want to get out of it and which is the best SM site for you? Then do some research to discover how well different sites deliver against your requirements. Some sites work best for family/friend relationships. Others are more geared to professional or business connections. Match your site choice to your personal requirements.

It’s often a great idea to speak to some friends or colleagues if you are new to SM and ask them about their preferences, experiences and recommendations.

My belief is that we should all start by walking before trying to run. Make a start now, show your willingness to commit and half the battle is already won.

What do you think are the most important do’s and don’ts for professionals using social media?

The two do's are very clear for me: I feel passionate about positivity and sharing information to all avenues of SM but I dispute senseless negativity, bullying and hatred.

For larger companies it is imperative to have a procedure around who does what and what the content is all about. I often feel that larger companies are far better off engaging an experienced and skilled SM firm to get their message out in the best possible way. SM must have boundaries and they must be comprehensively stated and understood by everyone involved.

Individuals on the other hand can achieve wonderful impacts through SM showing their professional talents and building an appreciative audience. People only need encouragement and a bit of start up assistance to become pros in their own way.

I'm really blessed meeting so many people through SM and I have endless contacts through Skype, landline or just DM's with people which I would have never met without the remarkable tool of SM.

Axel has also produced this YouTube video as part of his YouTube channel in which he shares some great detail and insights about his thoughts about how we should all approach building our social media profiles:

Axel's Social Media Chat Blog -YouTube

I’d like to thank Axel here not only for all he’s done to help me, but also the thousands of others who have benefited from his willingness to share his insight and experience. I've had the pleasure of speaking with Axel on various occasions now. What marks him out as special to me is his generosity, integrity, humility and down to earth personality. Perhaps these are the most valuable secrets of his success we can all learn from.

I cannot recommend strongly enough that you should connect with Axel in whichever way you prefer.

You’ll find him on Twitter @AxelKoster

You can also reach him and the Manhattan Group here:

Invite Axel to connect with you on LinkedIn here:

Subscribe to his YouTube channel here:

Why Pay Is Too Damn Low


A few weeks ago, Washington, D.C., passed a living-wage bill designed to make Walmart pay its workers a minimum of $12.50 an hour. Then President Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage (which is currently $7.25 an hour). McDonald’s was widely derided for releasing a budget to help its employees plan financially, since that only underscored how brutally hard it is to live on a McDonald’s wage.

And last week fast-food workers across the country staged walkouts, calling for an increase in their pay to fifteen dollars an hour. Low-wage earners have long been the hardest workers to organize and the easiest to ignore. Now they’re front-page news.

The workers’ grievances are simple: low wages, few (if any) benefits, and little full-time work. In inflation-adjusted terms, the minimum wage, though higher than it was a decade ago, is still well below its 1968 peak (when it was worth about $10.70 an hour in today’s dollars), and it’s still poverty-level pay. To make matters worse, most fast-food and retail work is part time, and the weak job market has eroded what little bargaining power low-wage workers had: their earnings actually fell between 2009 and last year, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Still, the reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have. Historically, low-wage work tended to be done either by the young or by women looking for part-time jobs to supplement family income. As the historian Bethany Moreton has shown, Walmart in its early days sought explicitly to hire underemployed married women. Fast-food workforces, meanwhile, were dominated by teen-agers.

Now, though, plenty of family breadwinners are stuck in these jobs. That’s because, over the past three decades, the U.S. economy has done a poor job of creating good middle-class jobs; five of the six fastest-growing job categories today pay less than the median wage. That’s why, as a recent study by the economists John Schmitt and Janelle Jones has shown, low-wage workers are older and better educated than ever.

More important, more of them are relying on their paychecks not for pin money or to pay for Friday-night dates but, rather, to support families. Forty years ago, there was no expectation that fast-food or discount-retail jobs would provide a living wage, because these were not jobs that, in the main, adult heads of household did. Today, low-wage workers provide forty-six per cent of their family’s income. It is that change which is driving the demand for higher pay.

The situation is the result of a tectonic shift in the American economy. In 1960, the country’s biggest employer, General Motors, was also its most profitable company and one of its best-paying. It had high profit margins and real pricing power, even as it was paying its workers union wages. And it was not alone: firms like Ford, Standard Oil, and Bethlehem Steel employed huge numbers of well-paid workers while earning big profits. Today, the country’s biggest employers are retailers and fast-food chains, almost all of which have built their businesses on low pay - they’ve striven to keep wages down and unions out - and low prices.

This complicates things, in part because of the nature of these businesses. They make plenty of money, but most have slim profit margins: Walmart and Target earn between three and four cents on the dollar; a typical McDonald’s franchise restaurant earns around six cents on the dollar before taxes, according to an analysis from Janney Capital Markets. In fact, the combined profits of all the major retailers, restaurant chains, and supermarkets in the Fortune 500 are smaller than the profits of Apple alone.

Yet Apple employs just seventy-six thousand people, while the retailers, supermarkets, and restaurant chains employ 5.6 million. The grim truth of those numbers is that low wages are a big part of why these companies are able to stay profitable while offering low prices.

Congress is currently considering a bill increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years. That’s an increase that the companies can easily tolerate, and it would make a significant difference in the lives of low-wage workers. But that’s still a long way from turning these jobs into the kind of employment that can support a middle-class family. If you want to accomplish that, you have to change the entire way these companies do business. Above all, you have to get consumers to accept significantly higher, and steadily rising, prices. After decades in which we’ve grown used to cheap stuff, that won’t be easy.

Realistically, then, a higher minimum wage can be only part of the solution. We also need to expand the earned-income tax credit, and strengthen the social-insurance system, including child care and health care (the advent of Obamacare will help in this regard).

Fast-food jobs in Germany and the Netherlands aren’t much better-paid than in the U.S., but a stronger safety net makes workers much better off. We also need many more of the “middle-class jobs” we’re always hearing about. A recent McKinsey report suggested that the government should invest almost a trillion dollars over the next five years in repairing and upgrading the national infrastructure, which seems like a good place to start.

And we really need the economy as a whole to grow faster, because that would both increase the supply of good jobs and improve the bargaining power of low-wage workers. As Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told me, “The best friend that low-wage workers have is a strong economy and a tight job market.” It isn’t enough to make bad jobs better. We need to create better jobs.

This post originally appeared here:

Can You Be Found? Why You Must Personally Invest in Social Media

by Ron Thomas 

Can you be found?

“Of all the millions of people on LinkedIn, we found you!”

I had never quite thought of it that way. This quote was a statement from one of our recruiters who was searching to fill my current role. Yes, that is how they found me for it.

This past Saturday with temperatures hovering around 115 degrees here in Saudi Arabia, I was ensconced in the cool of my house reading with the TV on as background noise. I was watching CNBC, which by the way, has the best business documentaries on TV. The first one was a documentary about dating websites and their industry, and immediately following that, there was one on LinkedIn.

A marriage made in social media.

One of the interviewers in the dating website documentary told the story about how he found his true love online. In an attempt to make the show more balanced, others told the story of how the dating sites had failed them. But the recurring theme centered around how to be found, or how to find someone, online. Believe it or not, being found today, even on a dating site, is much more of a challenge than it was in years past.

Following the show on dating sites was one on LinkedIn, with more stories about how to find or be found. I found this to be a fascinating dynamic. My book was put on hold as I intently listened. The philosophy around LinkedIn, for the most, part fit the same strategic profile as the dating websites. So, how can I be found - not for love, but as a working professional?

LinkedIn is a website that I keep live all day. It is one of my splash pages. I was told by someone within LinkedIn that I would be considered a “power user.” Following companies, following content, following my connections and what they are up to, keeps me abreast of what is going on in my industry.

But, it’s my passion as well. If you are serious about your career, how could you not be a fan of LinkedIn? The operative word in the previous sentence was SERIOUS.

A few weeks back, I got a text message from a friend of mine, saying, “Just now notified that I will be laid off. Do you have anything?”

I replied that I would keep my eyes and ears open just in case I did, and we would speak later about it.

Yes it is that SERIOUS.

When I got home, I took a look over at LinkedIn, and lo and behold, there was nothing there from this person. This HR professional, who has been on HR for a long time, did not even have a profile page set up.

That made me recall someone reaching out a while back through LinkedIn for advice on an employee value proposition project. I took a look at their profile and it read like a tombstone — date hired, date quit, and company name. Absolutely nothing else! I sent her a note back and said, “You are in HR, so there is no excuse for not being engaged on social media, especially on this site.

Another person who reached out to me for career advice was in marketing. Her LinkedIn profile showed that she had two (2) connections. Yes, two connections after 10 years in the workforce.

I asked another person I know, why no picture with their profile? Her comical response was that she “didn’t want to scare anyone away.” I told her that when they pull her profile up and see no picture, they are already scared away.

Each time I talked to someone about their lack of focus on social media, I got the same old song-and-dance response that spoke to a lack of focus: they were too busy, it was on their to-do list, they never thought that much about it, they didn’t want to sound like they were bragging, etc. In my book, to not have a professional profile on LinkedIn is career suicide, and to have one that says “private” is double career suicide.

Are you really in the game?

An important stat to remember is that 85 percent of companies use LinkedIn for recruitment, and that number is only going to increase. But people still do not get it.

I told an audience a while back that for any accomplishment or success that you achieve, Step 2 should be crafting a message, bullet point, or narrative around it and posting it online. That is, you do that if you are still hungry to build your career. If you have maxed out and you have reached the top of your profession, you have somewhat of a pass. However, remember what is here today can easily be gone tomorrow.

I frequently think about all the people that love what they do, work for a great company, and think everything is perfect. Well, it probably is until they walk in one day and get the call or the announcement that they are being laid off.

From being on the LinkedIn site daily, I have developed a keen sense of when things are not going well. When I see a name keep popping up with new connections after having been dormant for some time, I know that things are not well in careerland for them.

Let me share a piece of advice: it is a lot easier to write a profile, update it, and tweak what you have online when you are gainfully employed. The worst time to create something is when you are in the throes of trying to find new employment.

Where is your success list?

The reason you keep track of your accomplishments online is that you can then easily recall them at any given time. If you do not have a system for tracking your work highlights, you put your career at a disadvantage. This was always a major flaw of the yearly performance review - “Now think of all the great things you have done for the last 11 months.” If you do not keep track, you will invariably forget some.

Are you lost as to where to start? Search for your title at LinkedIn and see whose profile comes up. Read through a few and you should be able to create the framework for putting yours together.

Another key is to develop your career narrative in MS Word so you don’t feel pressured working it up on the actual LinkedIn site. Once you are pleased with what you have, copy it from Word and post it. You should also create an action plan that allows you to keep a success list of your accomplishments. Once something is documented on your list, post it, too.

Remember, you can’t be found if no one finds you interesting.

Ron Thomas pictureRon Thomas is a Chief Human Resource & Administrative Officer currently based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He formerly was Director, Talent and Human Resources Solutions at Buck Consultants (a Xerox Company) and is certified by the Human Capital Institute as a Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS) and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). He's also worked in senior HR roles with Martha Stewart Living and IBM. Ron serves on the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He also serves as a Faculty Partner and Executive Facilitator at the Human Capital Institute. He has received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence by the World Human Resource Development Congress in Mumbai. Contact him, or on Twitter at

LinkedIn may be the top job search tool, but real connections are still essential

By Susan Adams, Forbes Staff

According to a new survey of job seekers, hiring managers, recruiters and HR executives, close to 100% of job seekers use LinkedIn as their number one social media site for job hunting. Hiring managers also prefer Linked in over other sites by two to one.

The survey by Right Management, the talent and career management arm of staffing giant Manpower, polled 300 job seekers and 100 people on the hiring side, including hiring managers, recruiters and human resource executives throughout North America. Among the job seekers, two thirds were Baby Boomers and one third were members of Generation X. Some 95% say they are looking for a permanent job, up from 84% in 2010. Just 23% want to be entrepreneurs though slightly more Gen X job seekers, 27%, want to work for themselves. Right Management does the survey once a year. It ran this survey in the second quarter of 2013.

As any job seeker or hiring manager knows, technology now dominates the job search process. Print media barely registers anymore among recruiters, according to the survey.

Some of the other findings are striking, if not surprising. One of the new trends: the rise of video interviewing, both live and pre-recorded. The number of job seekers who say they have had video interviews in the past year more than doubled from a year ago, to 18%. One quarter of Gen X candidates say they have done video interviews.

As for those doing the hiring, the majority use Skype. Pre-recorded interviews are still rare, with only 3% of candidates saying they have done them. Among hiring managers, 45% say they expect video resumes to become more common. For now, just 19% of hiring managers use video interviews, roughly the same as last year, though more than two thirds say they predict video interviews will spike in the next three years.

Here are some other findings from job candidates:

- Some 94% say they prefer LinkedIn as their chief job hunting tool.

- After LinkedIn, job seekers are more likely to use Google+ than Twitter. Gen X candidates rank Facebook, Google+ and Twitter evenly.

- Some 22% of job seekers use smartphone job search apps.

- Macs are on the rise: This year 86% say they own a PC, down from 91% a year ago, while 33% own a Mac, up from 23% last year.

- Landlines are also on the wane, with only 34% of all job candidates saying they have one, down from 40% a year ago. Even Baby Boomers are letting go of their landlines. Only 38% say they have one, down from 41% a year ago.

Here are some findings from the hiring side:

- Social media sites like LinkedIn are the top way to search for candidates. Hiring managers and recruiters also still use company websites and employee referrals.

- Job boards and recruiters themselves are on the decline

After LinkedIn, hiring managers use Facebook, then Google+ and Twitter in a distant fourth place.

- More than half use social media to post jobs and three quarters use it to find possible hires.

- Some 65% also use job boards. Company websites rank third.

Even with all this social media use, the most effective way to get a job remains the old-fashioned method: People find jobs through people they know. The Right Management survey comes with a telling quote from Senior Vice President Monika Morrow: “Success almost always comes down to the candidate making a personal connection with a person or persons on the hiring side. The technology, now so integral to the job search, is just a tool, not by itself a solution.”

Just today I got a comment from a frustrated job seeker on a story I wrote about young people and technology jobs: “I have personally applied to hundreds of such jobs, and haven’t even received so much as the courtesy of a response from the employers.” I fear this job hunter is making the mistake that so many people make: They use technology to the exclusion of human contact. It’s far more effective to apply to two or three jobs where you can find a personal connection than it is to apply to 100 jobs where you know no one and you can’t communicate with a real person beyond an automated application process.

As I’ve written many times, it’s essential to have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile so hiring managers and recruiters can find you. It can also be useful to hunt for openings using LinkedIn job listings or company sites. But it can also be more effective to figure out what you want to do and where you want to work and to find a way in before a job is listed.

If you find an online job listing that seems right, use your networks, both online and off, to make a human connection. Reach out through LinkedIn, Twitter, or better yet, by email or phone, and try to set up an in-person meeting. At the least, find out whether the job opening exists, or the listing is out of date. If it’s real, do your best to find a personal connection to the person who is doing the hiring. Technology is a great tool but it still doesn’t replace human contact.

This post originally appeared here:

The best interview questions you’ve never seen before

By David Hunt, PE

“Since before your sun burned hot in space… I have awaited a question.” - The Guardian of Forever, Star Trek episode City on the Edge of Forever.

Questions are the lifeblood of an interview. The interviewer asks the candidate questions. Too often, though, candidates do not ask questions in reply. This should be a conversation, not a one-way interrogation. Reading the online literature from job search coaches, they all discuss the need to ask questions as a part of the interviewee’s presentation. Questions show interest, motivation, and they give the interviewee information to judge the employer, not to mention their potential boss, in turn.

Multiple sites and columns exist with scores upon hundreds of questions for candidates to consider asking in an interview. If you search with google or bing the phrase “questions to ask on/during an interview” you will find more questions than you can possibly imagine – many are good, and when interviewing I try to ask them if I can get a word in edgewise. But I’d like to discuss a few of my favorites which I’ve not seen elsewhere.

Who will introduce me to the people outside the department with whom I will need to interact to get my job done?

Not “Will I be introduced”, not even “how”, but “who”. This puts a spotlight onto both the company’s and hiring manager’s onboarding process, and the role of HR. It also highlights their commitment to you as a new person to help you get up to speed. A lack of this basic action as a standard part of the process implies weakness in other aspects of your coming on board – the “Here’s your anvil, now go swimming” mentality is not going to be conducive to your success. Body language can speak volumes here, especially if they have no such process. I’ve seen people literally squirm and shift uncomfortably when I ask this.

How are decisions made here?

This is actually a double-whammy question. The first is that it gives insight into how the group functions. Are big decisions done by committee, by one person, etc.? But it’s also an insight into the perspective of the manager… because decisions are not made by teams, but by a person. Teams can recommend courses of action, they can agree on a consensus or majority path to choose, but ultimately the decision to do X and not Y has to be made by a person, even if that person decides to accept the recommendation of a group.

How long have you worked here, and what is your story of how you ended up here? How has it measured against your expectations?

This is a chance to learn more about the career history of your potential manager. This is also a chance to see how the company’s marketing to potential employees, and their self-serving spin (and they all do self-serving spin, just as candidates do), matches the reality. In particular watch their body language as they describe the correlation between their own expectations vs. reality.

If you could change one thing here, what would it be? And is that a local phenomenon, or is it global to the whole company (if a large company)?

This is another chance to see what a potential sore point your manager might have about the place. It’s also a great question to ask a potential colleague who also reports to them. Ideally, do both. First, you get to see how peoples’ perceptions of organizational weaknesses align with the different perspectives of position. It’s also a good segue to learn more about your possible new boss from their subordinate, without specifically asking.

How long ago did you move from being an individual contributor to a manager? What induced you to make that switch, and do you have any regrets?

Again, this is a chance to learn more about your potential boss’ history and motivation. But there’s more. If they’re new to their level of responsibility, they might be nervous about someone gunning for their chair, and scared they’re not up to their new responsibilities. And if they have regrets, that’s a warning sign they might micromanage and possibly meddle in your day-to-day activities, because they want to keep their hands in the business of their subordinates, as opposed to managing it.

What happened the last time a big project went awry? What did you learn, and how do you keep these issues from happening again?

A number of things can come from these questions – so ask several people. The first is that there is no organization that is so fine-tuned that projects don’t go off the rails to some degree. A company that says it’s never happened either has a really poor collective memory, or people are hiding reality. The second thing is that it gives an indication of how flexible and adaptable the organization is. It’s also an opening for one of the people to descend into finger-pointing, which can teach you a lot about how the company handles people who make mistakes. And last, informal companies fight fires but are unable to prevent them from happening again. Good companies document and disseminate such information formally. Where are you interviewing?

Describe the best, most successful project that you’ve seen done here.

The answers to this question can reveal if the company does projects well, if things going right is considered normal or not, and what’s involved in a successful project.

I’m curious; what are the top three things about my background that interested you?

This forces the hiring manager to bring to mind specific things they liked about your background (as opposed to the question about any shortcomings or objections, which forces them to think of negative things). It also gives you insight about what the company values in general, which can help you color your answers to emphasize the traits that led to the accomplishments they cite. Lastly, if you know you are an “imperfect fit” for the position, it can indicate what they value enough to bring you in anyway despite those things that are lacking.

Have you ever abandoned a significant project (or cut loose a client, or whatever is suitable to your profession)? What went into that decision?

Not everything in a business works out. If they’ve never done this, they’ve either been blessed with extraordinary success, or are so desperate for revenue or cost savings that they don’t dare give up anything, or are too stubborn to cut their losses on something… among many possible reasons. Regardless of the root cause, this is useful to know.

Stock questions have their uses, and many are good and worth asking. But just as good candidates have created stock answers to stock questions – and there are a million “best answers to top interview questions” articles and books – so too have veteran interviewers created stock answers to the canned questions from candidates. Just as interviewers try to ferret out information from candidates, candidates must do the same.

In the sci-fi masterwork novel Dune, which I’ve praised before (don’t bother with the movie IMHO; I suffered through it so that I could recommend you avoid it – instead read it, and then immediately start reading it again), arch-villain Baron Harkonnen is gloating to his nephew Rabban about having suborned his enemy Duke Leto Atreides’ trusted employee, Doctor Huey. The doctor, a graduate of the Suk medical school (famous in that novel’s universe for the loyalty of their students to their employers), has conditioning and training that supposedly precludes exactly this type of betrayal. Rabban asks “Does the Emperor know you’ve suborned a Suk doctor?”

The Baron was surprised and paused, thinking “That was a penetrating question.”

Surprise your interviewers. Ask penetrating questions.

© 2013, David Hunt, PE

David Hunt is a Mechanical Design Engineer in southern New Hampshire looking for his "next opportunity" that allows him to design new products and shepherd them to stable production. His LinkedIn profile is:; he blogs at and tweets at @davidhuntpe.

Why management teams are making their employees sick

By Neil Patrick

A great deal of this blog has focussed lately on the recession and its impact on jobs. This has led me to post a lot about how mature professionals can find work in these difficult conditions.

All the while though, I have been conscious that I've written very little about the experiences and needs of those people who are in jobs.

The annual survey of Job Satisfaction was released in June by The Conference Board. A survey of  5,000 US households conducted by The Nielsen Company in the fall of 2012 indicates that 47.3 percent of currently employed Americans are satisfied with their position. This is a negligible change (less than 0.1 percentage points) from 2011 to 2012.

Critically however, the 47.3 percent of satisfied respondents this year is very low compared to the observed levels in 1987 - the first year the survey was run - when 61.1 percent of respondents indicated satisfaction with their jobs. Since that survey, overall satisfaction had steadily declined before levelling off in recent years. Specifically, since 2006, results remain consistently below the halfway mark, indicating the majority of U.S. workers are not satisfied with their jobs.

But these statistics reveal little about the real misery of millions who are suffering every day because of their experiences at work.

Ridea Richardson has a great blog entitled, Just Quiting This year, she ran a poll which had 278 responses. One question was ‘Why do you want to quit?’ Here’s a fairly typical sample of the responses:

I don’t feel valued. I don’t trust my own team. I don’t feel like I can maximize my value to the firm. The stress is making me physically and mentally ill. I’m not doing the work I love. The company’s values are inconsistent with my own.

I have been working hard with very few breaks since I was 15. In the last several years, I have been trying to shoe-horn my life into my job rather than the other way around. All the travel and long hours are making it impossible to focus on things that are more important to me. My health is suffering. Physically, I am unable to consistently make time to work out; I eat out for almost every meal; do not get enough sleep; have an inconsistent schedule; and I haven’t been to the doctor in years. Mentally, I am affected by the sleep, schedule, and stress. I have difficulty focusing on my job and have lost most of my passion for it. I do not feel that I am learning or that I am in charge of my life inside or outside of work. I am constantly near the boiling point and get angry very easily when I feel that my company has done anything to negatively impact my life again. My work has become boring and repetitive, and it forces me to skip many activities that I enjoy, even when they are after normal business hours and all my friends can make it. The job is significantly hindering all my relationships. It is difficult to maintain existing friendships, let alone make new ones, and I am not able to spend time with family anywhere near as often as I’d like. The relationship with my girlfriend is also suffering from undue stress due to all the travel and time spent forced apart. On top of all this, I am paid less than employees at other companies with comparable skills and experience that work fewer hours with little to no travel.

In addition to providing no challenge, or fulfilment - my current job is completely unrelated to my personal interests and values. I fell into the position because it paid very well and came with a certain degree of prestige, but I’ve never truly been interested in the work, or the industry and I’ve been looking for a way out since I hit the 3 month mark (I’m currently a week shy of 2 years). I’m not able to use my natural strengths, and I am 100% confident that this job is in no way related to my true purpose. I can also no longer tolerate working with my manager or as part of a “corporate” culture.

I studied very hard thinking that I would live a good life after I graduate but I think I’m the unhappy person. I hate this place. I don’t care about my job anymore. I feel like this is punishment for something terrible that I did. I am a lot happier when I’m at home, with my family, with my friends, with my boyfriend. I’m happy even when I’m in class and doing everything else outside my job. My job is tiring and makes me feel sick and the worst thing is the night shift. I feel like crying like a baby when I have to come to work at night. I want to start a business outside my career. I want to do something that will make me feel good. I want to study further. I am not proud to tell people about my job because I feel that it is stupid. I complain to everyone and they seem to think that I don’t know what I want. I want to relax and have fun for a while, take a holiday. I’m just tired, so tired that I can’t even take care of myself anymore. I can’t dress up to look good anymore. I don’t even do my hair anymore. My body is always tired and I’m gaining weight because of the stress making me eat and sleep.

Burnt out, bad management with no hope of changing. Bad team.

I am physically sick. I have anxiety every day when I enter work. I have even gone to the bathroom because I thought I was going to puke from the amount of anxiety I have. I also got vertigo while there in April, and it hasn’t gone away completely since – it is now August. I work with manipulative people, they act like they are in high school – they expect you to know things that you were never taught, they try to keep you at the lowest possible rung with no way of getting out of it, and they dump all of their work on you and don’t help.

I dread going to work. I don’t like the direction the company is going. I feel very unfulfilled in my job and there are no opportunities for advancement in the company. My health is suffering and I believe it is the stress of the job.

Because being at a job for over 19 months that I didn’t go to school for is more than enough. I need to gain experience and have an interest in what I am doing. I don’t enjoy the majority of the people I work with. My boss is an ogre who leaves at hours at a time only to give me minimal instruction or support. I don’t have any benefits and the only thing that keeps me there is the pay which is higher than most jobs at my age.

If this was a romantic relationship, my friends and family would be begging me to run.

Repetition at work, bosses are speaking down to me yet I am one of the top 5 employees (by survey metrics / completed assignments) out of my team.

I can’t take it anymore! I’ve been working in the advertising field for 9 years, and I have been working in my current agency for almost 7 years. The idea of quitting had been haunting me for the past 3 years, but I always tried to oppress it by trying to highlight the positive side of my job which is mainly the working environment and how lucky I am to have a sweetheart boss, and how I am being appreciated at this job regardless of the stress, late nights, my boss’s swinging mood, crappy clients…and lately the feeling that I don’t fit anymore with the crowd in the agency. I hate Sunday nights, I drag myself out of bed every day to go to work, I get stomach cramps when I get a phone call from my boss on my mobile. I don’t feel motivated anymore! When a new client calls in, I wish and pray that they don’t proceed with us as I don’t want any more extra work! Nothing excites me anymore in this job. And last but not least, I don’t see myself in this career in the future. However, I feel so lost, I want to quit but I don’t know what will I do next, I don’t want to stay home doing nothing, I know I can go crazy! As well as everybody thinks I am crazy to take this step!

My current job and boss is making me feel so miserable and useless. It is a small company (3 people), and having just moved countries it’s important to have human contact and meet new people - I can literally go 8 hours having only spoken to just my boss. He puts me down, asks me inappropriate questions or makes comments which are unethical. He’s totally under paying me, does not know how to manage people or work and thinks that everyone he works with or for are useless. Most nights I come home and cry, which is obviously effecting my relationship with my partner and my unhappiness is stopping me from going out there and meeting new people and having fun.

My job is taking its toll on my physically and emotionally. Every day is like a never ending marathon of things that you never enjoyed doing.

I know you can question the validity of this sample – it’s fair to say that people who love their jobs are not likely to respond to a survey on a blog called Just Quit. But this is the qualitative side of the situation and the Conference Board data pretty much conclusively spells out the quantitative situation.

You could also argue that businesses exist primarily for the purpose of making money, not making their workers happy. But this misses the point. If we accept that happy employees do a much better job, how much money is being wasted by firms that don’t properly look after their people?

I have lost count of how many times I have heard CEOs say things like, ’Our people are our greatest asset’. Great, so if that is the case, why are so many of them so miserable in their work? And what are you doing about it?

I’d go further too. If the organisation had a non-human asset, like say a building or a capital deposit, I’d venture that most organisations would be taking better care of those assets than their human capital.

Some will point to failures in HR teams as the root of the problem. While I think many HR teams are merely administrators, when they really should be acting like asset managers, the prime responsibility isn’t theirs. They do what the Exec team tells them to do.

In my view to quote the old leadership cliché, ‘the buck stops here’ and that’s with leadership teams.

So next time you are considering joining a firm, I’d suggest that you take some time to try and check out the attitudes and beliefs of your likely line of management all the way up to the CEO. By my reckoning around half of them are going to disappoint you and quite possibly make you ill in the process.

7 seconds - why that's all you may have to succeed or fail at interview

By David Hunt, PE

Two animals meet – in a diorama played out countless times across hundreds of millions of years. Within seconds, each must size the other up. Is this a friend or foe, predator or prey? And if of the same species, an ally, a rival, or a potential mate? Each animal must make an instinctive judgment about the other based on sight, sound, and smell with three drivers that are axiomatic:

1. Speed of decision. When an animal meets another for whom they might be on the menu, they need to decide quickly whether it’s “fight or flight”. Similarly, an animal looking for a meal needs to decide quickly to pounce before the other reacts. In either case, animals that take their time risk being lunch, or missing it.

2. Even if of the same species, while cannibalism is exceedingly rare in most cases, strangers are often rivals – for food or for mates, likely both; never mind other possible same-species threats. Again, this drives the need for a speedy judgment about the other to evaluate them against multiple possibilities, the majority of which aren’t good.

3. A bias towards fear and dislike. Any animal that gives another the benefit of the doubt risks not living to pass its genes along.

So making snap judgments about another is hardwired into us with a bias towards being distrusting. This is backed up by research – most communication is non-verbal as is routinely cited in innumerable places. How we appear, how we move, and sound, and smell. Many people in the job search business coach that a good first impression is the key to a successful interview, and in my own efforts to help others I tell people that most interviews are over in the first few minutes, with the remainder of the time being dedicated to the interviewer looking for things to justify the decision they made.

By pure coincidence several articles have come across my computer’s screen right as I was writing this article.

The first, Why Qualified Candidates Don’t Get Hired, cites several factors that can make or break a good first impression, to wit: your clothing, your handshake, your breath, your general enthusiasm. He cites William Knegendorf, who is a consultant, speaker, and author on hiring strategies for individuals and organizations:

While surveying 327 Hiring Mangers on how long it takes (on average) for them to decide NO to hiring an applicant after the beginning of an interview, [Knegendorf’s] data showed an average time to rejection of 4 to less than 10 seconds. And what did the hiring managers he surveyed say was the cause of their rush to judgment? “I didn’t like them.” Skills or talent was never mentioned.

Reread that quotation and mull it over a little. Less than ten seconds and the interview might be over. The door is still open, or it has closed in the time that you, the job seeker, have smiled, shaken their hand, and said “So nice to meet you.”

The second article, 7 seconds to a stronger first impression, seconds this fleetingly-fast time. Pulling from research done at New York University’s Stern Graduate School of Business, the article states that people make decisions about others in seven seconds. The article then goes on to highlight things to do to improve how others perceive you in those critical first moments.

Yet another article, Dressing to Impress and How That Can Have a Huge Impact on Your Professional Career, discusses research from the University of Oregon:

Dr. Frank Bernieri, an associate professor of psychology at Oregon State University, recently conducted just such a study in which he probed employers about the traits they deem most favorable of prospective applicants. Conservative, polished dress and a well groomed appearance was at the top of the list. Dr. Bernieri also found most employers make a decision in an interview about an applicant’s rightness for the job within 10-30 seconds of a first meeting.

The article goes on to state that appearance has been found to be so critical in interviews that the University of Illinois Extension has a mini-course and series of online tutorials about the importance of appearance, style, grooming, etc.

As skilled professionals, however, let alone as sentient beings we should rightfully take umbrage at the idea that it is on superficial aspects like how we dress, how we groom, etc., that take precedence in an interview over what we know and what problems we can solve. After all, a great American man once said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Yet we will be so judged – on innumerable things having absolutely nothing to do with our ability to do the work.

Weight and how you move / carry yourself will be used as a proxy for your energy level, drive, health, and stamina. (I again will take the liberty to brag about the fact I’ve lost almost 50 pounds after reading the book Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes and taking his recommendations… with, hopefully, another 20 to go.)

Appearance – clothing, accessories, grooming, tattoos, and piercings – will be taken as a proxies for your attention to detail, respect for the positions of the people you are meeting, and your judgment in thinking about the long-term consequences of your decisions.

Body and breath odor will be taken as a proxy, again, for your attention to detail, your physical health, as well as your consideration for others.

And so on. Body language is a strange thing. Some aspects of reading and using body language can be taught, and I’ve found the book How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less quite helpful. Another book I’ve read is Contact: The First Four Minutes, and while this is more intended for those courting a mate, many of the principles apply.

A good friend of mine, Greg Chenevert (side plug: check out his dog treats and other pet/animal related products) once gave a very interesting and informative seminar on the psychology of interviewing and decision-making. Anyone who knows Greg will smile and nod in total agreement if told Greg is so persuasive he can talk a hungry dog off a meat truck. He knows his stuff. (In full disclosure, I’ve written a recommendation for him on LinkedIn, and vice versa.)

'WOW - I want THAT one!'
In his seminar I learned just how emotional decision-making really is. Most people, per his seminar, make decisions emotionally – and then seek out facts and information to rationalize this emotional decision. Having been in the automotive industry, specifically,Ford Motor Company and its components-and-subsystems spinoff Visteon Corporation, the adage is that “style sells cars.” Yes, things like impact resistance, gas mileage, etc., are all important – but what’s critical is the WOW! factor. Companies want people to walk into the showroom and go WOW I want that one! Gas mileage, safety, etc., will be used to rationalize the emotional WOW! decision after-the-fact; things that don’t meet the predetermined desires will be rationalized away. (As an example, I cite automotive lighting in which I spent four years of my career. Lights with the optics in the lens, as opposed to in the reflector, are significantly cheaper to make. But clear lenses showing shiny, reflective light interiors are much more glitzy and attractive. The WOW! factor of clear lenses trumps the added cost… something accounted for in their on-going use.)

Personal experience verifies this. My wife and I own a minivan – brand-spanking new. Why? Because my wife felt instantly comfortable in it. Looking at used ones, as was the original plan for cost purposes? Never happened. My wife – then mid-way through her pregnancy – felt comfortable and safe. That settled it.

So is this seven-seconds-to-judgment fair? No.

But fair or not, it is what it is. This is reality: making snap judgments about others as people meet is hardwired into us as a survival trait, a trait selected-for over millions upon millions of years. And while effort and time can overcome an initial bad impression, you as a job seeker may not be given the chance. Making decisions emotionally based on sight, sound, and smell is hardwired into the limbic system, the seat of emotion and memory in our brain – and probably the oldest structure in the brain (I’d like to definitively say the oldest, but apparently this is the subject of some debate these days).

So what can people do?

The first thing is to know what’s costing you that good first impression. Sit your friends and family down for a real, honest feedback session. Solicit trusted networking contacts the same way. Tell them you want them to pull no punches. You need to know. You’re unemployed. And if you are a skilled professional – and odds are you are one! – you are watching the calendar tick over day after week after month with, if you’re lucky, interviews. But still no offers.

So get that feedback. Read up on how to polish your first impression, and then reinforce it with non-verbal communication like body language. One article I just found comes from Britain: First impressions count: how can you overcome interviewer bias?

And then take action. Skills, knowledge, a good resume, references… all will help get you in the door to meet people. But your next job depends on the visceral, instinctive reaction you provoke in your potential new boss in the first few seconds of your introduction. The sooner you truly grasp that, the sooner you’ll land.

(c) 2013, David Hunt, PE

David Hunt is a Mechanical Design Engineer in southern New Hampshire looking for his "next opportunity" that allows him to design new products and shepherd them to stable production. His LinkedIn profile is:; he blogs at and tweets at @davidhuntpe.

Proof at last - older employees are not less innovative than younger workers

For decades now, there have been several highly persistent myths about older workers which have negatively influenced organisations' behaviour and had a detrimental effect on their performance.

The widespread negative stereotyping of older workers has led to many managers believing without a scrap of scientific evidence to support it, that older workers:
  1. Have poorer health and thus greater absenteeism and lower productivity 
  2. Have shorter job tenure, demand higher salaries and pension benefits and hence are more expensive 
  3. Are less technologically competent 
  4. Are more rigid and resistant to change 
  5. And last but not least, are less innovative and creative in the workplace and their jobs. 
Myths 1-4 above are relatively simple to disprove through even the most cursory scrutiny of available data and research. For example, earlier research by Ng and Feldman (2008) showed conclusively that, ‘older workers exhibit stronger extra-role performance and less counter-productive behaviour than younger workers’.

Firm conclusions about creativity and innovation however have proved elusive due to the complexity of acquiring reliable data. Until now.

Last month, The Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology published new research by Thomas W. H. Ng and Daniel C. Feldman from the University of Hong Kong and The University of Georgia, respectively.

Titled excitingly (!) ‘A meta-analysis of the relationships of age and tenure with innovation-related behaviour’, this research proves conclusively that older workers are no less innovative or creative than younger workers, and under the right conditions are much more so.

By the year 2020, Americans who are over 55 years old will comprise close to 30% of the residential population of the United States and a similar percentage in the UK and Eurozone countries. The over- 55’s will also by that time comprise c.25% of the workforce.

Not surprisingly therefore, this topic is assuming a greater than ever degree of importance, not just from the point of view of fairness, but also from the perspective of the maximisation of the value of organisations’’ human capital.

‘Innovation-related behaviour’ (IRB) was the focus of this latest research. As innovation has become more critical component of an individual’s contribution to an organisation’s performance, an accurate assessment of the relationship between employee age and IRB is becoming even more important for managers to understand.

Moreover, as Sternberg (2001) and Choi and Chang (2009) have emphasised, ‘creativity only adds value when the people who generate new ideas can persuade others of their utility and can convince others to implement those ideas. If new ideas do not gain widespread attention, are poorly implemented, or are never implemented at all, they have virtually no impact on the organisation’s ability to innovate’.

The often superior levels of communication and influencing skills displayed by older workers give them a distinct advantage in this valuable respect too.

The methodology adopted by Ng and Feldman involved the meta-analysis of 98 empirical studies. Put another way, this means that no fewer than 98 separate previous studies and their respective data were selected and aggregated to create not only a diverse but also an up to date sample. The results therefore have a high degree of statistical reliability.

The research conclusions are summarised in the research report thus: 

  • Contrary to common belief, the results of this study show that age and tenure are not negatively related to innovation-related behaviours. 
  • Older and longer-tenured workers do not engage in less innovation-related behaviour than younger, more junior workers 
  • These results hold true even at the high end of the age and years of service continuum 
  • This study concludes that the negative stereotype that older and longer tenured workers are less innovative is not based on accumulated empirical evidence.
  • As such excluding older workers from innovation-related tasks is counter-productive. 

Sadly I do not think that this report will be the end of the matter. Stereotyping takes years to eradicate in all areas of life, but I am hopeful that gradually, the findings of this important piece of work will filter through to organisations and start to eliminate the perpetuation of these myths and falsehoods. It’s vital not just to older workers, but to all of us and the success of the organisations we work in.

Unemployed Boomers Need Help NOW

By Alinda Tugend

I WAS recently talking to a friend at a party whose husband - in his 60s - has been unemployed for more than two years. While there are many challenges, she said, one of the hardest things is trying to balance hope with reality.

She wonders how to support him in his continued quest to find a job in his field of marketing and financial services while at the same time encouraging him to think about what his life would be like if he never worked in that field or had a full-time job again.

“I wanted to move to what I thought was a healthier place. I wanted to turn the page,” said my friend, who asked to be identified by her middle name, Shelley, since she didn’t want to publicize her family’s situation. “He saw it as vote of no confidence.”

For those over 50 and unemployed, the statistics are grim. While unemployment rates for Americans nearing retirement are lower than for young people who are recently out of school, once out of a job, older workers have a much harder time finding work. Over the last year, according to the Labor Department, the average duration of unemployment for older people was 53 weeks, compared with 19 weeks for teenagers.

There are numerous reasons - older workers have been hit both by the recession and globalization. They’re more likely to have been laid off from industries that are downsizing, and since their salaries tend to be higher than those of younger workers, they’re attractive targets if layoffs are needed.

Even as they do all the things they’re told to do- network, improve those computer skills, find a new passion and turn it into a job - many struggle with the question of whether their working life as they once knew it is essentially over.

This is something professionals who work with and research the older unemployed say needs to be addressed better than it is now. Helping people figure out how to cope with a future that may not include work, while at the same time encouraging them in their job searches, is a difficult balance, said Nadya Fouad, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Psychologists and others who counsel this cohort need to help them face the grief of losing a job, and also to understand that jobs and job-hunting are far different now from how they used to be.

“The contract used to be, ‘I am a loyal employee and you are a loyal employer. I promise to work for you my entire career and you train, promote, give benefits and a pension when I retire.’ Now you can’t count on any of that,” she said. “The onus is all on the employee to have a portfolio of skills that can be transferable.”

People in their 20s and 30s know that they need to market themselves and always be on the lookout for better opportunities, she said, something that may seem foreign to those in their 50s and 60s.

If a counselor or psychologist “doesn’t understand how the world of work has changed, they’re not helping at all,” she said. “You can’t just talk about how it feels.”

In response to this concern, Professor Fouad and her colleagues have drawn up guidelines for the American Psychological Association to help psychotherapists better assist their clients with workplace issues and unemployment. It is wending its way through the association’s committees.

Of course, not everyone who is unemployed and over 50 is equal. For some, the reality is that they need to find another job - any job - to survive. Others have resources that can allow them to spend more time looking for a job that might have the salary or status of their former position.

In the first case, Professor Fouad said, “You need to decide what is the minimum amount of money you can make and how to go about finding it.” In the second case, she said, it’s necessary to examine what work means to you and how that may have to change.

Is it the high social status? The identity? The relationship with co-workers? It is important to examine these areas, perhaps with the help of a professional counselor, Professor Fouad said, to discover how to find such meaning or relationships in other areas of life.

Sometimes simply changing the way you look at your situation can help. My friend Shelley’s husband, Neal, who also asked that I use his middle name, said the best advice he received from a friend was “don’t tell people you’re unemployed. Tell them you’re semiretired. It changed my self-identity. I still look for jobs, but I feel better about myself.”

He also has friends facing the same issues, who understand his situation. Such support groups, whether formal or informal, are very helpful, said Jane Goodman, past president of the American Counseling Association and professor emerita of counseling at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.

“Legitimizing the fact that this stinks also helps,” she said. “I find that when I say this, clients are so relieved. They thought I was going to say, ‘buck up.’ ”

And even more, “they should know the problem is not with them but with a system that has treated them like a commodity that can be discarded,” said David L. Blustein, a professor of counseling, developmental and educational psychology at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, who works with the older unemployed in suburb of Boston. “I try to help clients get in touch with their anger about that. They shouldn’t blame themselves.”

Which, of course, is easy to say and hard to do.

“I know not to take it personally,” Neal said, “but sure, I wonder at times, what’s wrong with me? Is there something I should be doing differently?”

It is too easy to sink into endless rumination, to wonder if he is somehow standing in his own way, like a cancer patient who is told that her attitude is her problem, he said.

Susan Sipprelle, producer of the Web site and the documentary “Set for Life” about the older jobless, said she stopped posting articles like “Five Easy Steps to get a New Job.”

“People are so frustrated,” she said. “They don’t want to hear, ‘Get a new wardrobe, get on LinkedIn.’ ”

As one commenter on the Facebook page for Over Fifty and Out of Work said, “I’ve been told to redo my résumé twice now. The first ‘expert’ tells me to do it one way, the next ‘expert’ tells me to put it back the way I had it.”

Some do land a coveted position in their old fields or turn a hobby into a business. Neal, although he believes he’ll never make as much money as in the past, recently has reason to be optimistic about some consulting jobs.

But the reality is that the problem of the older unemployed “was acute during the Great Recession, and is now chronic,” Ms. Sipprelle said. “People’s lives have been upended by the great forces of history in a way that’s never happened before, and there’s no other example for older workers to look at. Some can’t recoup, though not through their own fault. They’re the wrong age at the wrong time. It’s cold comfort, but better than suggesting that if you just dye your hair, you’ll get that job.”

What Mark Carney should be telling you about your career plans

By Neil Patrick

Unless you are particularly interested in the financial markets or economics (as I am) you probably didn’t pay too much attention to the news that the Mervyn King shaped hole at the head of the Bank of England had been filled (partially at least) by Canadian Mark Carney.

Mr Carney has a very good record we are told, having steered Canada’s economy skilfully around the economic crisis that swamped the US, UK and the Eurozone from 2008 onwards.

He’s wasted no time either in putting his stamp on the way the Bank of England conducts itself, and the first of his measures is the announcement that from now on the Bank will issue what he calls ‘forward guidance’ on its plans for interest rates.

Carney used the same ‘trick’ in Canada. On the face of it, it’s no bad thing; it allows businesses and markets to get a greater level of confidence over the medium term environment and consequently plan better and have fewer short term shocks to cope with. So in principle, I think this is a good thing.

But in practice, right now in this climate, it’s quite another. That’s because he’ll almost certainly be telling us all to expect near-zero interest rates for many years to come.

What he should be saying is that interest rates will have to rise one day, that the government is too deep in debt to keep most of its promises and that as soon as the cheap debt disappears i.e. as soon as any sort of economic recovery starts to happen, real wages will not rise for years.

So was Mr Carney really the saviour of Canada whilst the rest of the west fell into recession? The Bank of Canada first used the forward guidance idea in 2009. Carney slashed interest rates promptly but also pledged to Canadians that this low rate environment would remain in place for a long time to come.

The policy was credited with helping Canada steer its way around the recession and paved the way both for the creation of Carney’s reputation as one of the world’s cleverest central bankers and ultimately him getting the transfer deal from Ottawa to London.

But I suspect that the true value of Mr Carney’s measures have been massively over-hyped. The reality I think was that Canada’s salvation was as much due to the innate conservatism of its banks, high commodity prices and the fact that Canadians carried on happily spending and borrowing, as it was by anything that the central bank said.

To put it another way, are we really sure we are comparing apples with apples here?

So whilst I think this question remains open to debate, I am quite definite that this forward guidance obscures the emergence of a really dangerous situation for most working professionals.

Let’s not forget that 0.5% interest rates are an aberration. They have not been this low for the last 300 years. At some point in the future they MUST rise again. So if you’ve become used to paying your mortgage or business loan or whatever at today's rates, try doubling or trebling that monthly cost and ask yourself how comfortable you’d be in that situation?

If the answer is 'not very', you need to start doing something about it right now.

Next, let’s not forget either that the Bank England does not control the prices that you pay for the financial products and services you buy. UK banks have had a hard time as we all know, and whilst you may smugly argue that they got what they deserved, the fact remains that they will be using every trick they can muster in the coming years to generate profits again. The demise of free banking is already on the horizon and you can fully expect that as central bank base rates rise, customer prices will rise at least as fast and probably faster.

The next point is that as we all know, the UK government is in a state of near cataclysmic debt. It has the biggest deficit of any country in the developed world and simply cannot expect to continue without huge future reductions in spending. And as you’ve probably guessed, this means you can expect to see the costs of pensions, education and healthcare increasingly passed on directly or indirectly to you.

Last but not least, the growth of the last two decades in the UK was based mainly upon debt and house price growth which meant almost everyone felt they were getting richer. We weren’t, it was an illusion and only the ongoing supply shortage and of course the latest government house buying subsidy madness is keeping house prices from collapsing to their true value.

Only one thing really creates real wealth growth and that is rising productivity, and whilst some recent reports point out that this has increased slightly in recent months, it’s a far cry from being any sort of major turnaround. So, without the artificial stimulus of rising debt, real wages are unlikely to rise any time soon and may even continue to fall.

Couple this with the outlook for living costs I’ve outlined above and you can see that if you want to see any sort of improvement in your standard of living, or even just maintaining the one you have now, you’ll need to have a plan to earn a great deal more money over the coming years.

Of course no-one in the government or the Bank of England wants to highlight these points – after all who wants to hear this sort of truth? The reality for most of us is that we will have to work harder, save more and spend less. That’s the sort of forward guidance that Mark Carney ought to be giving us.

What I know now – 9 lessons from my life

By Jim Langendorf

My last post was about my realization that my life was at half time and that I now knew the things I wish I'd have known when I was 23.

Upon further reflection, I thought a list of those lessons would be helpful.

I have nothing to fear if I am not liked. The most important lesson, which is applicable to business and professional life alike is that I am worthy of respect, if not affection. I don't like everyone and they are as unharmed by my lack of affection for them as I am of theirs for me. 

Time is fleeting but patience is rewarded. One must act with conviction, but be prepared to wait for results. It is often not clear what the consequences of our actions will be, but if you believe you are right, then you should act.

Consistency and diligence beat flashes of brilliance. Some of the brightest students in law school were unable to pass the bar exam. They could bring it to an essay exam for a class, and get As, but they could not maintain their focus and concentration at the big moments in July and February. Better to be regularly competent than only infrequently extraordinary. (See, Thomas Edison).

The front line of any organization is what gets work done. If you want to assure failure and rejection, then treat the waitresses, clerks, cashiers and janitors with disdain and disrespect. Almost everyone has to start somewhere. Some people start and stay lower on the "ladder." But they are mothers, fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. They are important in their own way in their own world. Almost everyone is doing the best that they can. Understand and respect them and thank them for their efforts.

Tip generously when it's deserved. Tip generously in advance to guarantee great service.

Show up and act like you belong where you are. If you believe, then other people are inclined to believe it too. If you believe that you can do anything and be anywhere you want, then you can be. It may be that simple.

There is a virtually infinite amount of money circulating the planet. You can have as much as you want, but you have to make an effort to get it. It will not automatically flow to you. Trillions are flowing all of the time. You only need a small part of that flow to be wildly rich. If I knew exactly how to do it, then I'd be rich too. I'm still working on the mechanics.

Go big. You can spend an hour digging a ditch, or selling industrial supplies, or learning how to finance a rental property with no money down. The hour digging a ditch pays quickly but only a little bit. The closed sale, or the refinanced rental may take a little longer to actually happen, but the payoff is far greater. Put your time into high return efforts and act on them, consistently.

Be courageous. Ask yourself what is the worst that can happen? Or remind yourself of the worst thing facing you a month, or six months, or even a year ago and recognize that you made it. It passed. Be bold. It pays off.

On that note, I am off to work. I have to litigate, settle and ideate for a while. Check out my website,

Jim Langendorf is a law firm operator and an entrepreneur who spends much of his time in federal court recovering unpaid overtime wages for his clients. When he isn't practicing law, he is on a mission to self-improvement, wealth and health. He is always looking for opportunities where everyone wins.

Jim authors two blogs, Rashinal Thoughts the more legal industry focused Donning and Doffing, http:// He welcomes new followers to both.