I’m so many people: balancing our many sides in job search

"I'm so many people."

“I’m so many people.”

“I’m so many people.” When Mad Men creator Matt Weiner put these words into the mouth of protagonist Don Draper’s teenage daughter Sally, he could have been speaking for all of us.

From the moment we graduate college, and often earlier, we are coached to put our best face forward, showing the side of ourselves that is most marketable to potential employers. The problem is, showing just one side can make us look — and feel — pretty one-dimensional at times.

As we evolve as professionals and as human beings, the many “people” inside of us compete more aggressively to be seen and heard. I’m not talking about a Sybil-like scenario with true multiple personalities, but rather the chameleon-like qualities that allow us to adapt and contribute, on and off the job.

The question is, when it comes to job-search protocol, how can we showcase the best of our many sides without deviating too far from the script? I’ll start by sharing my own multiple dimensions and how they have contributed to my professional identity, and invite others to do the same.

PTA Mom — With my son about to finish middle school, I’ve logged thousands of hours between two schools since he was five. Through this experience, I have met some of the most interesting and accomplished individuals in my lifetime, many who have become dear friends. Moreover, it has challenged — and ultimately strengthened —  my leadership abilities more than 20-plus years of professional managerial roles.

Daughter and Parent Advocate — About 15 years ago, when my own recruiting business was at its peak, both of my parents became seriously ill in the space of six months.  Over the next decade, my magnificent mother lost her life to a rare and wretched form of blood cancer, while my father endured a series of progressively debilitating strokes that left him unable to speak for himself.  As an adult only child and a new parent myself,  I was suddenly navigating unfamiliar and terrifying territory both medical and logistical. I had to put aside my own emotions, which ranged from devastating sadness to resentment at the overnight role reversal. While learning to apply the kind of rigor and persistence that felt more familiar in a business context to increasingly complex medical issues, my ultimate lessons were all about grace and acceptance.

Volunteer Career Navigator — Years of supporting and advocating for my parents  highlighted  my preference for directly helping individuals.  As a search consultant, while I truly cared about the well being of candidates, my primary allegiance, by definition, was to the employers that hired them. My evolution into career counseling felt organic and put a name on what I had been doing informally for the past two decades. Before making the leap, I tested out this premise by volunteering with a local non-profit providing a range of supportive services to women in transition.  I ultimately chose to work with a population of college students, many of them first generation, and this experience was contributory.

Lifelong Learner — While this one might sound cliché, I’ve earned the designation. Returning to school at 50 to earn an advanced degree in higher education counseling, complete with internships, after years of running my own show and speaking and writing as an industry expert, was both affirming and humbling.  It led to my choosing employment at a college career center  versus counseling students as an independent practitioner, yet another learning experience, and one that also allows me to contribute knowledge from my recruiting background.

Relationship Builder —  In a professional context, relationship building is often code for business development. While I have done my share of this successfully as a business consultant, it is the personal relationship building that better defines me.  From a 31-year marriage to real and enduring friendships across geographies, jobs, neighborhoods and volunteer experiences, relationships remain my most deeply held value.

Bringing this back to job search, I recently had the chance to bring all of these “people” to my own search process for my first non-internship role in higher education.  This did not mean that I told these stories on every interview.  What it did mean is that I kept these dimensions alive, introducing them as appropriate, when speaking about a deliberate mid-life career shift. They also informed an internal decision-making process to evaluate potential opportunities and work environments, holding out for one that would honor more than what was immediately apparent on paper. I am so fortunate to have found that.

In the case of the fictional Mad Men character, Sally Draper, life has compelled her to become “so many people” at far too early an age.  One can only hope that in whatever afterworld viewers imagine after the series concludes, that she  grows up to honor and integrate these dimensions into a rewarding livelihood. Personally, I’m holding out for child psychologist.

What about you?  Who are your many people?














Over 50, overqualified…and everywhere

When I was 32 and just starting out in the recruiting field, I admittedly had blinders on about the whole working over 50 thing. Sure, very few hiring clients asked for professionals with 25 or more years of experience, and 15 years was a typical top range stated for pretty senior talent. And though I never hesitated to present qualified — and motivated — candidates who exceeded that experience range, I will cop to not giving much pushback when less experienced individuals on a candidate slate were selected to move forward.

When I did push back, the counterarguments made sense on the surface of it.  Candidates with considerably more experience than a job description called for might grow restless and leave for greener pastures when a better opportunity arose, the thinking went. Flash forward about two decades, and somehow I’ve grown into the over-50 group.  I don’t recall anyone giving permission for this, but nevertheless I’ve arrived.

As a recruiter and career advisor, one of the gifts that has come with 50 has been a broader and more seasoned view of the workplace in all its multi-generational splendor. With the benefit of more contemporaries in the over-50 demographic, now I can see so clearly the fatal flaw in the “greener pastures” argument for not hiring beyond a pre-set range of experience.  It’s all about life stage, and how every individual defines and modulates career aspirations.  Still more confounding, the conventional wisdom around how to assign age ranges to life stages just doesn’t work anymore.

Consider a stereotypical highly accomplished working woman who “off-ramped” for a decade to focus on family and now wants back in.  Even a generation back, she might have stepped out at 30 and re-entered at 40. Today she might not even take that off ramp until around 40, potentially pushing back re-entry to the half-century mark. Or the seasoned manager in his or her  early 60s who needs — and wants — to stay in the workplace for years to come but who would rather play the role of a senior individual contributor role than people manager. Or…the ever more common over-50-something pursuing an encore career in a different field that leverages existing skills and experience.  

I might say we could “imagine” each of these scenarios leading to an application that looks “overqualified” on line or on paper (even the career changer), but the truth is, we don’t have to imagine very hard because we all know so many people in these circumstances. There has been a seismic cultural sea change putting these applicants front and center of potential candidate pools. I speak with hundreds of these individuals every year and take in their acute frustrations, from on-line applications with forced data fields for graduation years to fears about not looking or acting young enough to compete. Should their resumes ditch all that hard-earned experience from more than 10 years ago? Does anyone still wear stockings? (No, not necessarily, on the first count, and regrettably, yes, on the second).

So here’s not the part where I presume to dispense catch-all advice to my 50-plus cohort.  Instead I offer a call to those in the hiring seats to think more expansively than I did 20 years ago.  Consider candidate motivation and life stage on an individual rather than on a group basis.  While there will always be candidates in every age group using an opportunity as a short-term placeholder, the non-traditional, overqualified hire may well be worth taking the risk.