Have You Been Zapped By The R-Word?

If you haven't you're probably under 40

closeup of a pensive middle...

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?

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John O'Engineer

Too old? Too white? Too male? Too American? There is a way, read on. "I don't care if he's Einstein, NO white males over 40. PERIOD!". I was not supposed to know the words of the HR bimbo who put the 8-ball on the pleas of the tech staff to bring me in, but friends on the inside who set up the interview did clue me in. I had exactly the skills and assets they needed, in this case dynamic finite element analysis. They needed it bad, but not as bad as HR had it in for old white guys. They are not doing so good now, serious unsolved problems with their product. In another case I was with a defense contractor who was forced to make a sweep of all old white guys after an ITAR inspection that found nothing...but did notice the dominant "Old white guy" demographics of the Engineering staff. We were the core of their tech capability (technology can be machines, not just net, software or geek stuff). To keep the projects going at all, were hired back as temps and moved into the factory with our computers while "correct" but incompetent new hires slept in our old offices and were, at least on the org chart, our bosses. I am now doing much better on my own, working my trade, often in cleaning up after the expensive boo-boos of whiz-bang kids and even more, foreign H1b's with their questionable creds and absolute lack of practical skills. These biz weenies now pay 2-3X as much for me to come in, gray hairs and all, as a "consultant" than they would as they would to hire me as an employee...if they would hire me as an employee which they would not. No "diversity". BTW my mixed race adult daughter owns my consulting business, which is how I avoid the "diversity only" roadblocks and feed my family. While we are on this, there is NO need to bring in STEM H1b's, most of the over 40 while male Engineers I know are unemployed or permanently temporary, not because they are obsolete, just not the favored demographic. HR wants to hire foreigners, kids and diverse, exclusively. Lets start a dialogue here, I'm always finding work for other old white guys fixing the work of kids and foreigners, there is hope for you too if you are good.

March 18 2014 at 6:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Totally agree, Bingo! Have you been zapped by the R-Word?

March 12 2014 at 12:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

career builder should have a job search site just for persons 50 and older.

March 11 2014 at 2:55 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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