Why can’t I find an amazing position with all my experience? The fear of irrelevance as a middle aged founder with a mainly [single-industry] background is certainly setting in. – Fashion Executive
This job search question happens to be submitted by someone in fashion, but I get similar inquiries from other industries. Ageism is a fear of many mid- to late-career job seekers. The entrepreneur-to-employee transition is certainly tricky, as prospective employers question if you really want to (and are able to) make the change. Being pigeon-holed by extensive experience in one industry is a legitimate possibility.
That said, you never know for sure exactly why a job search isn’t working. It could be ageism, career change, too specialized, some combination of the above or other reasons altogether. More importantly, the specific concerns of this job seeker revolve around how others perceive them – too old, founder not employee, single-industry – which cedes too much control of their job search results to others. Instead, focus on the things you control:
1 – Are your job search efforts consistent?
Consistent effort means that you work on your job search week by week, rather than a flurry of activity one week and then a long gap. It also means that you continue working on your job search even if one, two or three leads look promising. You never let up on introducing new leads to your pipeline because nothing is a sure thing. Even if you are in final stages of an interview, the job opening might disappear as the company changes strategy or hires someone internally or decides to allocate budget to another opening.
Another measure of consistency is ensuring that you continually work on all types of job search activity – updating your marketing tools (e.g., LinkedIn profile and resume), researching companies, industry news and market trends, cultivating and maintaining your network. Too many job seekers focus on just one area, such as drafting and redrafting their resume but don’t get out and about. Or they might network with just existing connections and not generate new leads. Maintain variety in your activities so that you cover all aspects of the job search.
2 – Are you targeting the appropriate jobs?
A job is appropriate for your background if the level and scope of responsibility of the role matches what you can demonstrably handle. You also need to prove a fit for the size of company and type of company (startup v. established, turnaround v. growth). For example, the founder of a 50-person company could be a C-level candidate for a similarly sized company but a VP or even manager for a much larger company. Roles and titles don’t translate exactly from one company to another, so you have to do research, talk to employees and others familiar with your target company and make an informed guess.
3 – Do you reach the decision-makers?
Submitting your application to a job posting has merit because people do get hired this way. Job postings are also a great way to see what’s available right now, to get ideas for companies and roles you might not have considered and to uncover relevant keywords and phrases that can help you better brand yourself. That said, unsolicited applications are no match for identifying and reaching out directly to people working in your target area at your dream companies. When you apply cold, you don’t know if your material ever reaches the true decision-makers. Only direct outreach allows you to control the audience and the message you share. Take a hard look at your job search efforts to date, and manage your activity so that you reach the decision-makers rather than the general resume inbox.
4 – Do you appeal to decision-makers?
Of course, whether you get to the decision-makers by networking to them or by your resume making its way up the chain, you still need to appeal to what they’re looking for, what they care about and what will make them hire you over other candidates. This includes researching what the company priorities are and staying abreast of press releases and other information indicating new initiatives or changes in strategic direction. You need to prepare for your interviews, especially if you have not interviewed in years. While you want to keep your confidence up, you do want to be realistic about why other candidates may be preferable to you and address any gaps and preempt objections to your hiring.
5 – Do you really want the job?
Are you interested enough in the jobs you are targeting to do all of the above work in securing these jobs? Do you really want to change careers (in this case, moving from entrepreneur to employee) or do you want to improve the situation where you are? Do you really want the notable and therefore competitive jobs you are targeting or do you just think those are what you should be pursuing? If you are half-hearted about your job search targets, you will not have the motivation to persist through the inevitable ups and downs of the job search.
Don’t underestimate the power of enthusiasm
Having enthusiasm for the job isn’t just about how you feel, but also about how prospective employers feel when they interact with you. Genuine interest is palpable and a significant reason why people get hired. I have recruited for many roles where it comes down to few candidates, all of whom are exceptional, and the decision turns on the energy, desire and willpower one person exudes over the rest.
Enthusiasm matters a lot more than job seekers realize. When your job search isn’t yielding results, don’t lose hope. First of all, you absolutely can turn things around. Secondly, you don’t want to convey hopelessness to prospective employers and keep the negative momentum going.