Finding work or switching careers at midlife is rough right now; hiring was down 25 percent over the past three months compared to the previous three. But Pamela Slim, author of the new Amazon bestseller, Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together, says you’ll stand a better chance of landing a job or part-time gigs if you tell your story better. Your whole story.
Slim, a renowned career coach based in Mesa, Ariz. who previously wrote the excellent Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur, says it’s essential to look at your career through what she calls “the lens of an over-arching body of work.”
To Slim, your body of work is far more than the positions you’ve held and a list of your former employers. It includes your experiences and skills comprising what Slim calls the “ingredients” of your life. Part of coming up with your body-of-work story, Slim adds, is “defining your roots.”
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I interviewed Slim about how to be your best storyteller and asked her how people — especially those in their 50s and 60s — should put her ideas to use. Highlights:
Next Avenue: What does it mean to create a “body of work?”
Pamela Slim: Your body of work includes things you create in your worklife, like books or software code, and intangible things that are part of your life, like the quality of your relationships, the nature of your family and what you do in your community.
The easy way to think about it is when you’re at the end of your life looking back, what do you see that you’ve actually created? And all of that is part of your body of work.
Why is a body of work relevant from an employment standpoint?
We don’t see so much of a linear career path anymore. People get laid off, they get ill, they decide to start a business, they move back and forth. If we look at the fact the world is inherently unstable, and we see how our skills and experience might translate from one sector into the other, we’re going to have more opportunity at becoming more employable. We have a lot more options than we think.
How should people craft their story if they’re applying for a job?
Organize your resumé or your LinkedIn profile so people understand the links that connect your experiences. Often, job applicants will make what looks like a shopping list and assume that people can draw the correlations, but they can’t.
You write about putting together your “ingredients.” What do you mean?
I mean broadening the general categories we look at when we talk about our skills and experience.
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If you consider all the skills you’ve developed in the workplace, in volunteer situations, skills that you have learned in your life — sometimes based on difficult situations you’ve been in — all of these can be ingredients you can use when you’re looking for work.
Maybe you’re interested in crossing over to a different industry. Then, you really want to take a broad assessment of all of your different ingredients. Big parts of our experience that can be really useful when we tell a compelling story could make us the perfect person for a job, even if our work experience may not match exactly what the requirements are.
Do hiring managers get it?
Think of a continuum of employers. On one end, there are conservative employers who aren’t interested in talking with anybody who has gaps on a resumé or comes from a nontraditional background. They might not be ready to look at things this way. On the other side of continuum are firms like tech startups that sometimes make what seem like wild hires — people who don’t have experience or a traditional background. They’re sold on the person and their drive. There’s a lot more creativity and flexibility in hiring in that world.
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Often you get new ideas and innovation by bringing in people who don’t necessarily have the traditional background of everyone else in the organization. But there’s work to be done. I’m hoping we can start the conversation.
How can someone looking for a job suss out whether the employer gets it?
I think you always want to research an employer as much as humanly possible before an interview. You can use LinkedIn to find friends of friends who work there or have worked there. When you talk to somebody on the inside, a great question to ask is: How are people hired there? What kinds of things are valued?
If you have a nontraditional background and you’re trying to get into an industry that’s traditional, that might not be the most strategic choice. My advice would be to look for an industry that’s going to value who you are.
What’s an example of using your life experience to tell your story?
Maybe you’re looking for a job in the financial services industry and you have a background in martial arts. You can make a compelling story explaining that martial arts has taught you how to act under pressure, to be extremely prepared and to not be afraid of taking risks.
You also say people should tap into their “roots.” What does that mean?
Roots are specific, emotional anchors for why you are doing the work you do. The reason I use “roots” instead of “life purpose” is that many people don’t feel a singular purpose in their life. They bang their heads against the wall trying to figure out their singular purpose.
What drives us more is deep passion for, and connection to, the deeper meaning behind the work. Maybe there’s something that makes us angry and we want to right it. Or we get great joy out of writing books that inspire people. Mechanical engineers may enjoy creating an efficient machine.
You want to pay attention to the deeper meaning behind your work that gets you excited, especially during challenging moments. Refer back to your roots and say: ‘Why am I doing this?’ When you look at your body of work, often you can see the threads that come from your roots.
In the book, you write about using a “loathing scale” to decide whether to quit your job. How does that work?
The “loathing scale” is something I came up with my clients so they could figure out where they were emotionally in their relationship to their current job.
Imagine a scale where “1” is everything is totally fine and you love your job and “10” is you’re physically ill when you even think about walking into work. When you get to a 7 to 10 range on the loathing scale where you dread going to work, you’re much more likely to need to make a change sooner, because things will just continue to get worse.
That’s the time to start exploring other options and building networks before you get to the point when you’re ready to explode and will quit at any moment.
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