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Job Seekers: Change The Rules Before They "Change" You

There’s a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on. Exhibit A: the unretired. Business Week has a strong piece on the thousands of retired Americans who are streaming back into the national work force, driven there by disappearing 401k’s and plunging home values.

Exhibit B: Floyd Norris’ piece this weekend in The New York Times citing a spike in Gen Xers and young Boomers lining up for unemployment benefits in the wake of this autumn’s financial meltdown.

If you are a working executive, this affects you in several ways. First, your success over the next 18 months may depend to some extent on your ability to sort through this tidal wave of qualified, available manager candidates and hire the best of them. Secondly, their presence in the work force threatens your job security. Your boss will be getting bombarded by inquiries in the months ahead from these same bright lights and she may be tempted to upgrade your slot if things aren’t going well. So if you still have a port in this storm, it would behoove you to understand these emerging trends, take advantage of them, and don’t be victimized.

If you are an unemployed executive, you really need to game this out. Fortunately, most retired execs can probably withstand this downturn but some may wander back into the competition. And if they do, they may “work for less” since their nut is smaller than yours. The bigger problem is the army of 25-45 year-old management types who have been or will be whacked in the current maelstrom of downsizing that is sweeping the nation. Many will be competing for the same kinds of jobs you want and they may offer certain advantages.

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So it’s more important than ever to crystallize your personal “executive brand.” On top of everything you’ve always done, you need to frame that brand in a demographic framework. If you are between 45 and 59 years of age, it’s advisable to position yourself with the generalized attributes from every generation. For example – though I wouldn’t say it exactly this way – a 49-year-old female executive might say that she has the internet and technology awareness of her 20-year-old daughter; the willingness to embrace teamwork of her 36-year-old niece; and the experience and wisdom befitting her age and resume. Only someone your age can get away with straddling three generations, so go for it.

Finally, ask yourself these questions as you head into interviews:

  • Where are you exactly on the experience curve?
  • Are you willing to take a step back in your career track to land a position?
  • Are you willing to take less pay than your prior job to compete with younger & older competitors?
  • How will you assemble your attributes to be a “generational chameleon?”

The playing field and the players are changing dramatically, which means the rules will be rewritten. Better that you should do the writing than having them written for you.

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Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. Mr. Sorenson, 52, oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company. He is widely regarded as an expert on media strategy and industry trends, with experience spanning radio, local and network broadcast television, cable and syndicated TV, and the Internet. From 1998 through 2004, Mr. Sorenson served as president of the MSNBC cable news channel. He has won more than twenty Emmy awards as a writer, producer, and television executive.

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