Review: The Age Advantage: Making the Most
of Your Midlife Career Transition
We need more books about mid-career, midlife transitions.
Recently I came across The Age Advantage: Making the Most
of Your Midlife Career Transition, a paperback by Jean Erickson
Walker, Ed.D. (You can order
from my site.)
Walker writes straightforward "advice" with no
attempt to create the jazzy style common among self-help books.
It's easy to read, although I winced at the clichés
("It's not over till it's over"). You're definitely
out of the "dream-it-and-do-it" mode here. Look
for action tips, not inspiration.
The best part of the book comes at the beginning, when Walker
describes what it's like to go through a midlife career crisis.
Walker differentiates beginning, middle and endings people,
i.e., the stage of a transition where people feel most comfortable.
This scheme resembles Martha Beck's four stages (Finding
Your Own North Star) and my own distinction between jumpers
Midlife career change is defined as a change "when age
is a factor." Walker claims that attitude determines
whether age is an advantage or disadvantage, although I never
figured out the advantages that were actually created by attitude.
She later acknowledges that discrimination is a reality that
"should not be tolerated," but in fact is hard to
fight through the legal system. Here are some quotes that
led me to ask, "Where's the advantage?"
p. 204: "My coaching clients often tell me they've been
advised to show more enthusiasmYour calm demeanor may be interpreted
as a lack of energy."
p. 208: "Don't be competitive. Your age advantage is
that everyone expects you to have expertise and knowledge.
You can afford to be generous"
p. 294: "[C]ompanies do not hire someone over age fifty
with the expectation of 'developing' them. Promotions may
come, but they're rare..."
I also suspect midlife career changers will benefit from
the discussion of networking, one of the few directed to this
career segment. She points out the need to come right out
and ask for help, instead of putting on a front of, "Everything's
Her discussion of resumes is excellent, especially the emphasis
on "accomplishment statements." She suggests leaving
off the "objective;" I encourage clients to run
their resumes past someone who is active in their field. There
is no way any career consultant can learn the idiosyncrasies
of each industry and career field.
I also like Walker's reality checks. Finding a new job, especially
if you are changing fields, can take a long time. People often
need to acknowledge and mourn career losses. There is indeed
a downside to setting up your own business or consulting firm.
Her advice about learning a firm's culture seems basic --
until you realize that someone who's been in a job for twenty-plus
years is like a fish who stopped seeing the water.
That said, I believe Walker underestimates the effect of
identity on midlife career transition. She argues against
hiring an "overqualified" employee and urges the
midlife applicant to be careful not to intimidate employers
during a hiring interview.
Being overqualified does create stress among employees and
their coworkers and, if you have to worry about intimidating
others during the interview, you'll be tippy-toeing around
for the remainder of your career!
I also question the value of a detailed assessment program.
I find that people in their forties and fifties tend to be
self-aware and that abstract values and interests rarely help
them align with real careers.
Most people have a secret (or not so secret) dream or idea
of what they want to do. When they don't, they're usually
blocking themselves and standard exercises won't help. The
self-knowledge exercises here are commonplace, even banal:
I hope the author saves more dynamic tasks for her "live"
Finally, I find that many people would do better to start
a business instead of job-hunting, or as a parallel activity
to job-huhnting. If you're a high-profile person in your community
or you've had a very senior position in a narrow area, you
may not be able to find a new job -- certainly not a good
one -- unless you're a superb networker who's flexible about
I've been told that a former mayor of my town found himself
in need of a job after his wife left him, taking the assets
(mostly from her side of the family) with her. Nobody would
hire an ex-mayor. He ended up selling cars.
The Age Advantage was written about a year before 9/11, when
employees were in short supply, so some of her suggestions
seem dated. That's inevitable when you write practical guidebooks
instead of inspirational self-help.
A major gap is the lack of discussion of career resources
available besides her own book. Today, with so many coaches,
counselors and consultants, I think it's important to know
what you want and where to get it. These days, it's important
for people to realize that they may not need a coach or counselor
-- it seems like "everybody's" got one! On the other
hand, if you're feeling isolated or stuck, the right support
person can make all the difference.
I recommend The Age Advantage, especially for those who have
enjoyed a long career in corporate America Take what you find
useful and ignore the rest. But first I recommend you take
a look at Martha Beck's Finding
Your Own North Star.
A great quote from The Age Advantage:
P 156: "Note: the high tech industry has dramatically
changed the look of corporate America, where 'cool' and 'laid-back'
are the right lookIf you don't want to stand out like a sore
thumb, lose the pinstripes. It's not necessary to go directly
to rumpled blue jeans and tennis shoes, but you should look
like you could do so comfortably on a moment's notice. Nothing
says you're from a different generation quicker than being
too formally dressed."
My own comment: I love it! I've always been able to "do
so comfortably on a moment's notice." See Cathy's
story and photos.
The Age Advantage from my amazon.com Associates page.
Disclosure: Once you click through to amazon.com from my site,
I do receive a small commission on books you order. Costs
you no more and helps me maintain my site and ezine for your
|Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D. is an author, career coach, and
speaker. She works with mid-career professionals who want to make a fast
move to career freedom. Visit her site http://www.movinglady.com
or call 505-534-4294.