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Put yourself in the driving seat for midlife job hunting

The good news for midlifers now: It's a candidate-driven market. How to get ready for it.

We’re going back to a candidate-driven recruitment market. That’s good news! Here’s how to put yourself in the driving seat.

Lisa Unwin portrait

Lisa Unwin

You don’t need me to tell you that last year was a bit of a car crash as far as the jobs market was concerned.  If you discount the likes of Amazon and Deliveroo, few companies were hiring.  Many put a freeze on all new recruitment, only hiring for essential roles. Employers were firmly in the driving seat.

Now? It’s looking very different. Many parts of the economy are growing, companies can no longer ignore the pent up demand to add to their workforce.  Recruitment is looking up.

KPMG recently reported that vacancies in the UK are expanding at their fastest rate since August 2018, whilst at the same time supply of candidates remains fairly static. The pandemic has led to redundancies but fewer than expected, and they are being offset by the numbers of people reluctant to pursue new roles over fears of job security.

We’re going back to what’s known as a “candidate driven market”, where applicants have the upper hand: They get to choose between multiple offers and define their own terms. Provided, of course they know exactly how to put themselves in the driving seat.

What’s a candidate-driven market?

The bottom line is that, in many sectors, demand is beginning to outstrip supply. What’s more, if you’re not actually in paid employment at the moment you have an advantage: You don’t come with a three-month notice period.

At the same time, the jobs market is competitive. It’s not enough to say you’re available, you have to make yourself the candidate of choice.  Here’s how:

You have to want it

Remember when you first decided to learn to drive? Can you recall the desire for freedom and independence? That motivation propelled you to climb into the driver’s seat for the first time, turn the key, put your foot on the accelerator.

Yes, it felt risky but you wanted to drive badly enough to take that risk.

The same is true now. If you’re going to put yourself out there as a valuable, highly capable employee, you have to be confident and clear that this is what you want.

Ayesha, who recently returned to her legal career after an eight year break, was close to walking away from the opportunity.  Having been called back for a second interview, she phoned me to say she’d decided to pull out. Why? She’d lost sight of the reasons she did want to resume her career and found her head filled with all the obstacles she might face.

When we spent time talking about where she saw herself in a year’s time, in three years time, she realised that actually she wanted this enough to deal with those obstacles. She started work six weeks ago and is loving it.

Take some lessons

Very few people learn to drive without instruction. Brush up your technical skills and industry knowledge. Depending on your background, there will inevitably be a range of resources to draw on.

Follow the relevant thought leaders on LinkedIn, check out company websites and LinkedIn pages for the latest trends, join alumni organisations or industry-related networking groups. Use resources like Eventbrite, FutureLearn and the How To Academy to find courses or talks relevant to you.

Reach out to old colleagues for advice, find a mentor, give yourself the very best chance of passing first time.

Choose your vehicle wisely

Maggie recently decided to relaunch her career in insurance after nine years out. Her first step, naturally, was to talk to her old employer.

“Yes please, do come back” they said “but be aware, nothing much has changed since you left.” Meaning, all that talk of flexibility and commitment to diversity is just that. A lot of talk. In reality, everyone is expected to work full-time and to be full-on.

Trust me, it doesn’t need to be that way. Just as you don’t need to buy an inefficient, gas guzzling car, you don’t need to accept a job that offers no flexibility and no recognition that people have more in their lives than work.

Look beyond the commitments a company makes on its website and study, instead, the jobs it advertises. Are they open to flexible working? How do they support remote workers, not just with the right technology but with training and development opportunities?

Sustainability is as important when it comes to careers as it is in other aspects of life.

Freshen up your license

At the risk of stretching the analogy too far, just as your driving license is your permission to be at the wheel, your CV is your right to be considered for work.

Your CV is a marketing document, there to secure you an interview. It has to sing out “This woman is perfectly suited to this job and you have to see her.” This means it needs to be tailored for every job application and the summary at the top has to describe in a few sentences why you are a perfect fit.

The hiring manager is unlikely to be terribly interested in what you’ve been doing during your career break and the fact that you volunteer for the PTA. Explaining you have an engineering degree from Imperial and spent fifteen years working in the pharmaceutical industry is going to be much more eye-catching. (If, indeed, you’re planning a return to big pharma rather than a role working in the school office).

Again, you’re not on your own. There are lots of websites and resources that can help. My Perfect CV, for example, has lots of free advice and sample templates for professional job seekers.

And don’t ignore LinkedIn. You have to be on it. Potential employers will check you out there and it’s also where all the jobs are. Use the jobs listed there to research the right key words to use on your own CV, check out who’s hiring in your sector, work out where you have connections who could make an introduction.

Don’t be a nervous driver

I know, I know. Easier said than done. This is a classic case of “fake it till you make it.” Of course you’re going to be nervous if this is the first interview you’ve done for about fifteen years. Luckily, there are things you can do to mitigate your nerves and present a polished, confident front.

Begin from a position of strength. Literally. Be very clear what your key strengths are, be able to talk about your experience and your network and be sure to leave the interviewer knowing that you are the right person for the job.

The Clifton Strengths Finder tool is a fabulous resource. It’s a well researched, widely used, assessment that enables you, through a series of questions, to identify the five key strengths that you bring to any role. Once you’ve completed the questionnaire you receive a personalised profile that helps articulate those strengths and what that means for an employer.

At Inclusivity, we always tell our candidates to make sure they go into any interview with a laser sharp focus on the three key messages they want to deliver. Hands, Face, Space. Stay at Home; Protect the NHS; Save Lives. People can only take in three key messages.  Be clear on yours.

Put your foot on the gas

We also agree with Sheryl Sandberg that “Done is better than perfect.”  In the sense that, if you’re picking up your career again after a break, there’s often no such thing as the perfect solution.  Your next job is exactly that, your next job.

It doesn’t have to be the final destination.  What it does need to be is the right step along the way.  If you’re always waiting for the perfect timing and the perfect job, you may find yourself with a very long wait and a long list of missed opportunities.  Sometimes, there’s no substitute for climbing into that car and putting your foot on the gas.

The world needs more women drivers

As a parting thought, we are definitely seeing plenty of signs that firms really do intend to diversify their workforce and their senior teams in particular.  And they know that, to do so, they need to be more creative about where they find new people.

Marsh is a leading insurance company, who are working with Inclusivity to create opportunities for women to return to careers in insurance.  As Ailsa King, Chief Client Officer, recently said:

“We actively seek candidates from different backgrounds and walks of life, including women who have left the industry for a period of time and are now looking to return. This previously untapped pool represents a huge opportunity for the insurance industry which has its doors wide open to help them.”

She’s not alone.

Now, where did you leave those car keys …

Lisa Unwin

Lisa Unwin, Founder of the Reignite Academy, is Noon’s Careers Expert.


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