Advice for Older Job Seekers, with Lisa Lawrence
Finding a new job can present many challenges for anyone, but for those job seekers who are older, those challenges can sometimes seem insurmountable. While ageism is illegal, it remains an obstacle for many people hoping to change careers. On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Lisa Lawrence and I discuss how she overcame the stigma of being an older worker and used her years of experience to her advantage. Lisa also shares the necessity of educating yourself on your chosen field and finding common ground between the career you’re leaving and the one you’re hoping to begin. Learn more about Lisa’s career history below in this installment of our Success Stories series.
Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode 33: Lisa Lawrence
Advice for Older Job Seekers: Lisa Lawrence’s Job Search Success Story
Airdate: September 7, 2020
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.
One of the best ways to get good at job hunting is to talk to people who do it well.
That’s why, once a month, I interview a Mac’s List reader who found a job they love.
Our guest today is Lisa Lawrence. She’s an account executive at the Digital Mark Group.
Lisa Lawrence had misgivings about changing jobs. As an older worker, she knows ageism in hiring happens every day.
But in a story you can find on the Mac’s List website, Lisa says she didn’t let this challenge stop her. And for her new employer, her years of experience were an asset, not a liability.
Lisa joins us today from Beaverton, Oregon.
Lisa, why do you love your job?
That’s a great question. I love it because, in particular, this job at Digital Mark Group has allowed me to fully take advantage of everything I’ve learned over the last decade or more, actually, it’s close to 14 now. As you mentioned in your opening, my years of experience I thought might work against me. I might be considered too old to keep going in the profession that I’m going in, because digital marketing is considered, sometimes, a younger person’s profession, and in this case, I love it because they’ve allowed me to just blossom and do what I do best.
It sounds very gratifying, and in your article for us, Lisa, you said you not only wanted to change employers when you started your search, but you wanted to switch occupations. Tell us more about that.
Absolutely. So, prior to Digital Mark Group, my career had been a mix of newspaper, which is primarily print, and some other types of advertising that newspapers have worked into their regimen, but primarily print. Digital wasn’t at the forefront and it’s what I really loved. And so, while I was able to, so-called, “dabble,” in digital at the jobs that I had prior to Digital Mark Group, in newspaper groups, that wasn’t a priority, and I realized I had many opportunities to continue in the newspaper industry and dabble, so-called, “dabble,” but I really wanted it to be 110% of my day, all day, every day. That meant taking a leap, and really, yes, changing my career focus because being completely digital I knew was going to be kind of a challenge but at the same time, I knew I had the chops to pull it off.
While I was a little hesitant, I wasn’t completely afraid to go ahead and just get out of the newspaper industry and 110% into the digital industry.
What advice would you have, Lisa, for someone who’s thinking about switching from one industry to another? Many people in the newspaper world have made that leap, but so many others have struggled with that and it’s not just limited to newspapers. What was your secret to switching careers?
Yeah, that’s a really good point. I wouldn’t say, if anyone walked up to me and said, “I’m thinking about making a whole entire career change,” and I’ve done that once before as well…to get into the newspaper industry, I got out of the food industry. I knew absolutely nothing about the newspaper industry. I was literally reading sales/how-to books at stoplights, on the way to see clients, and trying to make sure that I knew what I was doing, so I wouldn’t recommend that as a sure-fire way to change careers.
What I would recommend though is if you have experience in your current career and you want to make that change, look for an alignment between the two. Unless you’re making the most drastic change you could ever imagine, like, becoming a paleontologist from being a newspaper person or something like that, most of the time you can find a connection between what you’re currently doing and what you want to do, and I would say, focus on those commonalities.
Focus on that alignment, and if you need to educate yourself or increase your knowledge in certain areas as you research the new career you want to get into, definitely do that. We’re in an age now where everything’s at our fingertips online, and we can educate ourselves to a certain degree on what we want to do. I would say, find that common ground.
Well, let’s talk about those common connections, that common ground. When you were planning your switch from the newspaper world, and that eventually brought you to Digital Marketing Group, what common connections did you see that helped you make that leap?
Yeah, definitely, the connections were…great question, because there were some that were glaringly obvious. When you look at digital versus digital you think, “Oh, okay. I’m doing some digital now, it can’t be that big of a leap to do digital all of the time.” But what I found was, especially when I came to interview, was that I thought I knew a lot about the digital industry and I learned so much more once I got in the door here at Digital Mark Group. I looked, in my interviews, when we were talking about what the job would entail, I made sure I made very good notes about what I needed to really educate myself on.
As with any job, there are probably multiple interviews, so when I came back for my second and my third and my fourth, in this case, I was able to trace back and go, “Hey, you know we talked about, in our second interview, a certain digital product and what it does for clients…” And I started to build that bridge on my own, between my current knowledge and the knowledge that I knew I needed to have to get this job, and I did it during the interview process, showing the employer that I was on board.
That I was willing to learn, that I was learning on my own time, and I think that was one of the main things that I noticed, was that I was able to really identify where my knowledge was missing and fill it in, as quickly as I could.
That’s interesting because some people may come away from a conversation and think, “Gosh, I didn’t know the answer to that and I’m worried my candidacy might not move ahead.” But your reaction was to study up on it and learn about it.
Tell us more about that, Lisa.
Yeah, absolutely, and you know, I don’t know how people…I know it’s tough when people get out there and, you know, especially when you’re job hunting, you’re in a mindset where you want your potential employer to like you. You want them to choose you, you want to get that job, so I feel like you’re a bit vulnerable. I pushed that feeling, because I felt that way too, I pushed that vulnerable feeling down and thought, okay, what do I need to be the best candidate they could possibly choose for this job? And a lot of that push comes from…you know, I don’t often share the fact that I was homeschooled, so my life has been about education. My mindset, whenever I’m faced with a situation where I know I need to know more, that’s what I do, that’s where I go.
I immediately go to, what do I need to do? What do I need to know? What do I need to learn? So I feel like if you can push yourself out of feeling a little bit vulnerable, that, “Okay, I hope they pick me,” Maybe flip that on its head and say, “Okay, I’m going to do my darndest to make sure that I’m as knowledgeable a candidate as anyone they could possibly interview.” And that’s how I approached it here.
How did they react in the moment? Obviously, you got the job, but when you went back for that second, third, and fourth interview and you were acknowledging these earlier conversations where there were gaps in your knowledge, how did you bring the subject up and what kind of reaction did you get from the interviewers when you talked about the study and the homework that you’d done?
Yeah, absolutely, they were pleasantly surprised and I think that, I say that too with a caveat because I could tell that there was a little bit of a gleam in the owner of the company’s eye when he was interviewing me. He had that look, that, “I figured you’d do something like that. I figured that you would go back and gain some more knowledge and come back and talk to me on a little bit more of a higher level.” He just had that look when he was talking to me that I recognized like, “Okay, I think I did something here. I think I wormed my way in,” so to speak, and got him to really get on board with what I was trying to prove to him.
It actually came out in our conversation. He was pushing back with scenarios, “Well, what about if you’re faced with this? And what about if you’re faced with this?” And I finally said, and I looked at him and I said, “You know, I firmly believe that I have the chops to do this job.” And he looked back at me and said, “I do, too.”
That’s very impressive. In your article for us, you talk about at the start of your search, you had some misgivings about making the change, leaving the newspaper industry; what were you worried about, Lisa? What were your concerns?
Yeah, so many things. First and foremost, shoot, when I made that job change back at 40, I thought I was taking a huge chance. I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m 40. I’m almost unhireable.” And I scrambled a little bit, got into the newspaper industry, and thought, “Okay, I’ll stay here for the rest of my working life, and I’ll retire out of this industry.”
Not knowing what the landscape was going to bring to me, and so my major misgiving was, unfortunately, my age and learning to accept that…I know there’s ageism. I know that the digital world is sometimes skewed towards that younger demographic.
You know, there’s a lot out there that seems to portray digitally savvy people are in their 20s and 30s, so I thought that that would work against me. And then I realized I just needed to embrace my age, embrace what I’ve learned and what I know, and present it as that, but that was a major misgiving for me was the ageism factor.
How did you, when you say you embraced your age, what does that mean? What did you do exactly, Lisa?
Well, it came from a lot of different sources. It came from friends and family, of course, supporting me. It came from having people that I’ve interacted with in the past. Not everyone was always kind and I’ve had remarks said to me along the lines of, “You know, you know a lot about digital for someone your age.” Meaning I’m fairly older, so I probably shouldn’t know this much. So, I channeled some of that like, “Hey, I’m going to overcome that and people aren’t going to be able to say that or think that.” Friends and family supported me and then I looked out into…there are some podcasts and some people that are out there on LinkedIn that I follow that are very pro-age.
Embrace your age and bring it to the table and don’t be ashamed, and it still takes me every day to really embrace that but I knew that I had to do it if I was going to move forward. I have to say, if you have support, talk to people, talk to family, talk to friends, talk to mentors, and don’t believe the negativity that you tell yourself. What I do a lot as well is I pretend that I’m someone going to me for advice and what I would tell them? And I definitely wouldn’t tell someone looking to someone for advice, the negative things that I tell myself and I think that’s important to remember. Don’t get caught up in that negativity that you might be telling yourself, and listen to the people who might be really building you up and that really does help.
What positive messages were you getting from friends, family, or mentors, or might you give to somebody who came to you for advice, and maybe you should be telling yourself as well?
Yeah, friends and family, of course are, they’re always on your side and I think people should use that to their advantage. Call up your closest friends and family who really think that you’re awesome and just talk to them about your misgivings because 110% of the time they’re going to tell you, “No, no, Lisa, don’t think that. You really are awesome at what you do. You’re really detail-oriented, your work ethic is impeccable, you’ve done some major things in your career, you’ve led teams of salespeople to success.” Embrace all of that and take that to the table, and those are some of the things that I heard, and I know that quelled the negative feelings inside of, “I’m too old. I’m not good enough.”
“This is all digital all the time, there’s no safety net. I have to know what I’m doing.” So, I would tell people, and I would tell anybody who walked up to me…that way as well. I would say, “Hey, you know, let’s focus on the positive. What are the major successes that you’ve felt you’ve had and let’s talk about why that makes you very valuable to your next employer.”
There is so much in there. There’s so much in there that people carry around with them and unfortunately, it’s mostly negative and I believe it’s a daily job to push aside the negativity and focus on that positivity, and it’s not easy. Especially as a woman and especially as an over 50 woman in the job market.
Lisa, what didn’t work in your job search?
I would have to say, I applied and got turned down for several jobs, never even attempted an interview. I just got those letters that say, “Thanks. But no thanks.” What I’ve noticed is that I also have to admit that I went after some things that were out of my wheelhouse. So, I thought, “Oo, that’d be cool.” And I applied and I thought, “I’ll just see what happens.” And of course, it didn’t come to fruition. The things that didn’t work were things that were completely alien to me, or people I didn’t know, or companies that I didn’t know.
What I’ve realized over the last few years is how important networking is, how important knowing someone in your industry or where you want to be, the industry you want to be in, how important it is to know someone there, as well. What didn’t work for me was when I went after things that really weren’t a good fit for me. And I got a little carried away, to be honest, because I thought, “I’m going to make a major change. I’m not even going to stay in newspaper or digital. I’m going to go completely off on a limb.”
That would work in some cases. If someone really, really wants to do, that I wouldn’t tell them not to, but in my case, it was just too far out of my wheelhouse.
You mentioned networking and the importance of connections; you had some ties to Digital Mark Group, didn’t you, before you applied?
Yeah, tell us about that.
I did. I was actually a client of theirs when I worked for the ONPA, the Oregon Newspaper Publish Association. I sought them out to help us serve our clients with digital marketing. So, I was familiar with what they do and I was familiar with what they’re capable of, and this was probably 3 years ago. So, they were maybe 4 years into having this company put together; they were still very small. So, the funny story is, they never advertised for account executives. So, when I saw an ad pop up on LinkedIn, I reached out to the account executive who, I had been his client, and he said, “Yeah, sure give the owner a call and see what happens.”
Yeah, there was that little bit of familiarity there. But I have to tell you, the owner admitted that they were really looking for something a little bit more dynamic than what they thought I brought to the table. And the owner admitted that, “Hey, you know what? I really liked working with Lisa in the past. Sure, we’ll have coffee and see what’s going on.” But he didn’t think that I’d be a good fit for DMG, and ultimately, on that 2nd, 3rd, 4th interview, things clicked and I was able to change his mind. And I thought that was pretty cool and I appreciate his honesty with me in the aftermath, after I was hired.
Yeah, so the connection you were able to leverage into a conversation, but it was only the start of the process, it didn’t get you the job. You had to, in the interviews, sell yourself and address the concerns that came up.
Yes, absolutely, because, especially in that conversation afterward, where the owner was like, “You know, I really didn’t think you’d be a good fit but man, you really were, and I’m so glad that we got to talk and I’m glad that you’re on the team now.” So yeah, that’s another good point to not always…your connections aren’t always going to come through, they might not work out.
Well, Lisa, finally, what’s your number one job hunting tip?
Network. Have a brand of some sort on social media, on LinkedIn. I work really hard to make sure that my LinkedIn reflects everything about me and that does help with networking, but I would say those two top things. Once you’re known in an industry and for what you can do, whether it’s the industry you want to stay in or an industry you want to change to. That would be my number one thing to do.
Well, Lisa, thank you for sharing your story.
To learn more about Lisa Lawrence’s job search, visit macslist.org/stories.
And check out the Mac’s List website for dozens of other success stories.
On the second Friday of every month, we add a new interview with a Mac’s List reader who has found a dream job.
Go to macslist.org/stories.
In the meantime, thank you for listening to today’s bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job.