As Ellen DeGeneres quipped the other night at the Oscars, what we value most these days is youth. (Camera swings to Liza Minnelli and Kim Novak) But the youth trend is not just for Hollywood. As many jobseekers over 40 already know, being a "grownup" isn't always perceived as a "good fit" in today's workplace culture. This viewpoint has quickly given rise to new jobspeak: the R-word. AKA "resonate."
Increasingly, the R-word is hiring code for too old, too experienced, or even too opinionated. Managers often want to shape and mold employee thinking; not grapple with someone who's been there, done that. Over 40 can equal "difficult" and "dinosaur." To say nothing of companies who stack client meetings with enough twentysomethings to look like a Daily Candy post.
Infuriating? Yes. But getting zapped with the R-Word can also be a great way to smoke out job situations you want to avoid. Their "bad" can result in your good opportunity to vet companies and managers that don't fit your concept of work culture.
Example #1: A friend introduces me to a bigwig at a hip local company. We meet for lunch and chat about the company's pressing need for help with strategy. They have lots of projects that sound like they're right in my wheelhouse. I nibble on my politically incorrect cheeseburger and wait for the inevitable "So how busy are you?" I am a veteran of hundreds of lunches and discussions like this. I know how they're supposed to go.
But somehow, the words aren't coming. Instead I hear: "Do you think your kid would be interested in a job with us?"
I reach for a handful of fries, hoping to camouflage my surprise. No, my shock. Not that my kidlet isn't absolutely brilliant. "Well, actually your project sounds more like what I do."
Bigwig replies: "The (name of partner) wants someone who uh, resonates. With the team. Resonating, that's important."
Example #2. Colleague and I attend a meeting to discuss a potential "Mom-driven" research project. Our team is rich in relevant experience, and we've been highly recommended to the client. Our pre-meeting call went smoothly. But the mood changed once we entered the room. It was subtle enough that I figured I just needed more coffee. Later we heard that they loved us but they weren't sure we would "resonate" with the Moms.
But the news isn't all bad. In fact, in some significant ways, deciphering and being aware of the R-word code can be of enormous advantage. Why waste your time and energy trying to work with the wrong people? Spending too much effort on these dead-ends is bound to trigger feelings of anger and scarcity when the truth is, we all need to take a Beyonce-style attitude about our careers. Firmly deciding that no job or project is "irreplaceable" and that there will be "another (job) tomorrow" is far more productive than worrying about shrinking possibilities.
Some advice on Breaking the R-Code:
Face it and embrace it. If you haven't yet encountered the R-word, consider yourself fortunate but be prepared. What distressed me most about the conversation with the honcho was the utter shock of it all. Walking into the lunch, I figured it was business as usual. Now I know to be ready for off-putting questions. I am choosing to see that guy as rogue. Not everybody will view me the way he did. There are legions more who appreciate my expertise.
The Lure of the Entrepreneur. One of the leading questions I get from clients, especially the fortysomethings, is "should I start my own business?" Some have long dreamed of being the boss, but others believe they may avoid "the age thing" by turning entrepreneur. Often they see the juicy promotions going to younger employees and understandably, they're discouraged. Is launching your own company a good solution? Only if you you approach it for the right reason. Being 45 is not a good enough one. Being 45 and itching to finally bring your brilliant idea into being might be.
Geek is good. I'm not saying you need to be a Hackbright grad or an Instagram guru. Nor do you need a Klout score or a massive Twitter profile. But there is scarcely a position in any company today that does not rely on technology of some kind. Not "getting it" is a sure way to get stamped with the "does not resonate" label. A very smart friend of mine, someone with Masters degrees and a power career fifteen years ago, called me when she decided to return to the work world. She was frustrated because she'd found a job she wanted but couldn't make it happen. I asked her about her digital presence, knowing that being Google-able was a requirement in the creative industry she hoped to re-enter. The response? "I'm not really into email."
After a quick kick of caffeine, I explained that for 99 percent of today's careers, being fluent in email and Linkedin are the bare basics. For someone aiming for an advertising position, you'd better speak Wordpress, SquareSpace, Behance, Photoshop, Exposure, Medium, Hipstamatic, Pinterest, and sign up for a monthly account with Lynda.com to keep your skills razor sharp. Book your ticket to Austin for next March's SXSW now. You've already missed the wait list for Burning Man.
Born This Way. Digital natives are those born into the digital world. They've never known Princess phones or IBM Selectrics. They've grown up with the Internet. They sleep with their smartphones. Presumably, that makes them e-superior to those of us who weren't born with a silver flashdrive. It may make them better at spotting the next Whatsapp. But does it make them a better bet as an employee? Not so fast. A successful workplace environment blends multiple ages, personalities, skillsets -- and dogs.
What about you? Have you been zapped by the R-Word?