Then the inevitable moment arrives when we pause and, with determination, plan for the New Year, with a list of goals and a dollop of dreams.
Here are six ways to get started.
1. Be bold about social media networking. Spend time each day on social media sites, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. On LinkedIn, search for people you know and invite them to connect with you. Ask colleagues for LinkedIn recommendations to build out your professional profile on the site. Join your alumni, peer and industry groups on LinkedIn for more networking and to stay abreast of job openings. AARP’s Work Reimagined group on LinkedIn is a good place for job hunters to start. Sign up for customized job alert postings in your field of interest.
Engage in social media by commenting on posts, retweeting and so on. Then make at least one lunch or coffee date each week to meet someone from your online network the old-fashioned way, face to face.
2. Join a nonvirtual networking group. I’m a member of the Transition Network, a nonprofit networking group for women over 50. It’s based in New York but has a chapter in Washington, D.C., where I live.
The ability to deliver a presentation in front of an audience is crucial to landing a good job. — Getty Images
Colleges have networking groups, too. For instance, my alma mater, Duke University, has Women’s Forums in New York; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Seattle; Denver; and even London.
Networking peer groups are active in churches, synagogues and community centers. You might also consider joining a peer group associated with your profession.
If you hear of a local event that sounds intriguing, push yourself to make room in your schedule. I try to go to two a month.
Real networking isn’t about finding someone to help you get a job today. It’s about making contacts over time. At each network event, I try to meet three new people and get their contact information. Afterward, I jot down notes on the backs of their business cards about where we met and what we discussed. I follow up via email in the next day or so and try to make plans to meet in the near future to continue our conversation.
3. Help others connect. Virtual introductions are easy and a win for everyone. Pride yourself on being a good matchmaker? Then when someone says, “I’m looking for someone who can do this,” craft an email introducing the two parties and let them take it from there. It’s a nice thing to do, and it feels good.
4. Learn to speak like a pro. The ability to deliver a presentation in front of an audience is crucial. The polish you learn will help you not only in your current work situation, but also in job interviews and more. Enroll in a public speaking class at a community college or join a Toastmasters group. Most courses cover techniques for managing communication anxiety. You might also consider signing up for an acting or improvisational class. You’ll learn how to express yourself on your feet under pressure, and to be more attuned to your body language and others’. Those skills will come in handy in plenty of work and nonwork activities.
Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people from all walks of life improve their speaking skills and self-confidence in front of an audience. Toastmasters has nearly 280,000 members in 13,500 clubs in 116 countries. Most meetings consist of about 20 people who meet weekly for an hour or two.
Participants practice and learn skills of effective speech: focus, organization, language, vocal variety and body language. One of the things you learn is to focus your attention away from your own anxieties and concentrate on your message and your audience. That will go a long way toward helping you ace an interview.
5. Shoot for the sky. Think about what the coolest job in the world would be, or who would be your dream person to work for. This is your time to do something fabulous, right? “I tell my clients to play long shots,” says career coach Beverly Jones of Clearways Consulting. Great jobs often come from unlikely sources. Once you network with people who already know you or those within your industry peer group, “you have to pursue the off-the-wall possibilities, jobs … you have never done, but have the skills to do. I have found these are often the ones that pay off,” she says.
6. Learn something new. Education will motivate you. I always advise career changers to take one course in the area they want to pursue to see if it’s something that really interests them. Check out community colleges, or find an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The Plus 50 Initiative by the American Association of Community Colleges is aimed at students over 50. Most local colleges and universities offer distance and adult education programs as well.
Libraries typically host monthly series of lectures by local experts and authors. If the arts are more up your alley, see what your town’s art museums or arts centers offer. The Carnegie Museum of Art and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, for instance, offer adult studio classes in photography, drawing and ceramics.
You can also take an online course. I recently signed up for a free six-week class via Coursera called “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior.”
Many aging experts say that to stay healthy, older adults have to learn new things, stay active socially and exercise. When you stop challenging your brain with new experiences, you’re in trouble. Don’t let that be you.
Create a Vision Box
I write down my goals on tiny pieces of paper, fold them and place them in a special silver box. But there’s more in there. There are photographs and other objects that motivate me and represent my dreams and goals — say, the New York Times bestseller list, a snapshot of Marigot Bay in St. Barth’s, and a picture of a blue ribbon. As my dad always said, you have to dream to get there.
Open your box every few months and tweak the contents if need be. Toss in something new. If you’ve reached a goal, pull out one paper to make room for another.
Stay in shape. Believe in success.
Kerry Hannon, AARP’s jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her latest book is Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy…and Pays the Bills.