Boomers Workin’ A College Town

canstockphoto11973745This article was inspired by Hank Amundsen‘s comment on my post, Connecting People and Opportunity, and seemed topical again with the advent of the new Anne Hathaway movie The Intern and timely as we recently finished up National Employ Older Workers Week. Hank wanted ideas on how older people could compete in the labor markets of college towns, where the competition for jobs is youthful and fierce.

In response, I looked back to when I lived in San Rafael, CA, from 2003-2009. It is a college town (Dominican University of CA) in a region of academic abundance: USF, UC Berkeley, San Francisco State and Sonoma State are all within 30 - 40 minutes. At the time, I was attending Dominican to finish my business degree and living like an expatriate – renting a room, away from my family. I chose a traditional MBA program, rather than an executive program, which meant that many of my peers were in their early twenties. As the oldest student in the program, this experience transformed me and how I see the talent landscape. So, fellow boomers, here are some things I learned.

If you are looking for a job, be prepared to be interviewed by and work for people who are young enough to be your kids. If your mindset sees them as juveniles, you may come up short in your job search or struggle when you land a position. This happened to a dear friend who was hired by a non-profit after being unemployed for over a year. He found himself hampered by his inability to let go of the fact that his boss was his daughter’s age. It bothered his sense of order in the universe and affected his office interactions. He struggled to see the woman as his colleague and resisted her as a boss. Rather than work with someone younger, he quit and went into retirement. This was tragic because, while he may have missed the income, he also missed out on the opportunity to share his gifts. All this because he didn’t realize the reason he was being alienated at the office wasn’t his age but his attitude. You must let go of preconceived judgments and learn a different way to see your world. If you can’t see the value in your coworkers, whatever their ages, how can they possibly see your value?

The first thing anyone over 50 needs to be able to do is let go of the idea that we are entitled to anything because of our age and experience. Respect must be earned, not given, even if the respect you are seeking is from someone your junior in years. These younger leaders “get” that they don’t know everything. In fact, they appreciate our wisdom and experience, but no one wants to be treated with heavy doses of condescension and disrespect. We are not their parents or professors and handing out lectures does not make a collegial relationship. So use these three simple steps I took to help you refocus your own perspective and see these younger people in an accurate light – as your equals.

canstockphoto1873225First, I asked my kids for their advice. They gave me great insights into topics such as texting protocol, using Twitter, Facebook resources, when to email vs. text, and the latest trends in communication that you may find weird, pointless or a flash-in-the-pan – such as Instagram and SnapChat. By asking the younger generation, you get a different perspective on how to use “#trending” resources. If you don’t have kids, reach out to nieces, nephews, or your friends’ kids. By staying in touch with younger generations, you open yourself to a whole new world of career resources.

Second, I worked on projects with much younger people. These were team projects for school, but you can find a myriad of similar opportunities around you such as volunteer-based programs like Habitat for Humanity. The goal is to put yourself in a peer position. For my school projects, we had to work together to accomplish our goal. Working as peers enabled me to see with fresh eyes and realize the value of working with smart, capable people of any age. As we ate lunches together, I learned about their world and they learned about mine.

Third, they became my friends as well as colleagues. The best thing a boomer can do to be competitive in this market is to make friends with the notion that we can collaborate, rather than compete, across generations. This mindset, combined with our knowledge and experience, will help us demonstrate our own value and attract opportunities. So called “young” people are pretty darned smart. They know tons of things and are great at ferreting out information. They can teach us and they want to share what they know. They also want us to share what we know. When we see younger job seekers as potential friends and networking partners, we expand opportunities for everyone. Plus, there is nothing quite like hearing a young friend refer to you as really smart, really cool and really valuable.

It is possible for Baby Boomers to find a good job in any (college) town if they just do a little perspective shifting. Find opportunities to make friends with students, learn from them, and leverage your experience and wisdom to work with, not against, them. Remember, when you go into an interview, the hiring manager is thinking, “What would it be like to work with this person?” By following these tips, you’ll be prepared to show them that you’re the right fit because working with you is enjoyable as well as productive. Use the best tested job search strategies (i.e., networking, informational interviews, building up your online profile) but with a new mindset that values a youthful perspective. It may feel odd to defer to a younger person, but it will open whole new areas of opportunities.

Accelerate your journey – visit for access to more career resources including exclusive interviews with industry leaders such as leadership selection expert Dr. Tom Janz. Want personalized help? Sign up for one-on-one Career Catalyst coaching or check out our new workshop, The Corner Office Guide.