A few years ago, Wendy Sachs found herself interviewing for a job at what she calls a “bright, shiny, digital media startup” in New York. Sachs, a media veteran, met with a Millennial interviewer. He noted her experience working as a press secretary on Capitol Hill, a job that had opened the door to her career as a network television producer. She thought he would be impressed.
Not quite. “It concerns me that you worked in politics,” he told Sachs. “I mean, I wouldn’t want you slamming down the phone and pissing people off.”
Sachs was shocked. “I, a Gen Xer, who came of age during Walkmans and Diet Coke, was more culturally disconnected from this Millennial than I imagined,” she writes in her new book, Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Their Careers. “Walking down Fifth Avenue, I realized my personal career pivot was going to be harder than I expected.”
Sachs has written an earnest, entertaining and essential guide for any Gen-Xer or Baby Boomer seeking to intelligently navigate the job market. She follows the personal stories of people who have successfully pivoted — overcoming job loss, failed businesses and time out of the workplace to raise kids. Here are six of her tips for career success:
1. There is no such thing as a career path. The only career goal you should focus on is staying relevant.
“You’re not only navigating your own career but the shift in technology that’s demanding a whole new set of skills,” Sachs told me over lunch in New York. “You need to figure out what the gaps are and what you can learn on your own.”
Subscribe to your industry’s email newsletters and take classes to stay current. Maybe you’ve been out of workforce and don’t know social or digital. You can pick them up by reading, watching YouTube videos or taking classes online at General Assembly.
If your next job requires Snapchat or Instagram, create a side project that involves those platforms as a volunteer at a school, church, synagogue or community center. “Do something on your own to figure it out,” Sachs added. “It’s about having a growth mindset.”
2. You have a story. Define it, own it, sell it.
Your skill set is likely transferable, but you may have to retool the way you describe it, said Sachs. Look at the bios of people on LinkedIn who have the job you want or are working at a company you desire. It will help you shape a clear and consistent story.
“There’s new language and a new trend of the day, but at the root of it, it’s a skill set you probably already have,” Sachs explained. “I truly believe in faking it until you make it. It’s how you represent yourself using language that’s really current and matches what you are looking for.”
3. Hack industry conferences.
Try to get a visible role at an industry conference as a speaker. If that’s not an option, call and ask if the event planner needs any volunteers to help out. That will connect you with the conference organizers, who can help make the introductions you’re seeking.