This past month, we’ve had a strong surge of clients going through the interview process with various companies around town, so we’ve been heavily engaged in helping people prepare for these opportunities through interviewing strategy sessions and “mock interview” role-playing simulations.
Along the way, however, we’ve noticed a significant pattern forming. While our clients were presenting themselves well in a variety of respects, such as acing the common questions and listening carefully to the employer’s needs, they were universally failing in one critical aspect. They were talking at length about the “experience” they had to offer, in the form of past jobs and accomplishments, but were sharing nary a peep about the “wisdom” this experience gave them in the form of lessons learned, insights gained, and increased future effectiveness.
While this may sound trivial, keep in mind that wisdom is perhaps the single greatest weapon that older, more experienced job seekers have at their disposal. In today’s dog-eat-dog hiring world, where age discrimination is a constant concern, employers are constantly wrestling with the decision of whether to forego hiring a more experienced candidate in favor of a younger, less experienced candidate who they can train from scratch and who is likely (so the stereotype goes) to work harder, faster, and cheaper. For this reason, older workers need to think hard about how they are going to overcome this perception and showcase the unique value they can offer over less experienced candidates. Again, we maintain that this value comes primarily in the form of “wise insights” that have been earned the old-fashioned way, through time and experience — but you have to put some real thought into it. It’s not enough to simply rattle off war stories or trudge through 20-30 years of past work history.
As an example of the types of insights we feel fit the bill, one of our clients was recently called in to interview for a job where he would be managing the installation of a large new computer system at a local medical clinic. If hired, he would be in charge of recruiting and leading a cross-functional team from multiple departments in order to pull the project off successfully. When we first asked him to talk about his experience in this area, we got the standard shopworn litany of project management cliches, combined with an extensive monologue about related projects that he’d worked on in the past. Not very compelling! When we “rebooted” the exercise, however, and asked him a more focused question about what he’d learned as a result of these experiences, and what he felt the “secrets of success” were in such situations, he offered a much more intriguing insight. He said that where most companies went wrong was that they picked people for these cross-functional teams based solely on their technical expertise, or longevity with the organization, instead of considering the depth of their interpersonal skills and whether or not they had a reputation as team players. In his experience, it was far more important to build a team that could work well together than to ensure you had the absolutely most experienced people on board — and he had a specific way of interviewing potential team members that would accomplish this result without causing too much political or diplomatic strain within the organization.
Agree or disagree with this observation, you’ve got to at least admit that this latter response is much more interesting than the original answer that was offered, and that it clearly highlights the unique value that this candidate feels he can bring to the organization. So when you’re getting ready for your next interview, don’t just memorize your resume and rattle off your work history. Think hard about all of the valuable insights, shortcuts, and lessons you’ve learned over the years that never get taught in a textbook — these critical “pearls of wisdom” are what employers are looking for!