Advising Nontraditionals: Do Age and Life Stage Matter?

Janet R. LongJanet R. Long
Principal, Integrity Search Inc.
Blog: http://inyourownvoice.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch

What if your Mom walked into your career center, resume in hand, and that deer-in-the-headlights look? As a boomer recruiter and career counselor, I’ve been thinking lately about multiple generations co-existing, not just in the workplace, but in the campus career centers on the front lines of providing advice and counsel. Advising students a generation or two ahead of the traditional 18- to 22-year-old range is becoming more commonplace every year – and not only in community college settings.

With the National Center for Education Statistics projecting that students over aged 35 will top 4.5 million by 2021 at degree-granting institutions, the trend is undeniable.

But when it comes to best practices in career advisement, do age and life stage really matter?

How can a campus career center designed with the traditionally-aged student in mind extend its reach? This is a prickly topic, and as Chaim Shapiro wisely noted in this space, we have to be careful about overgeneralizing based on generational labels.

Consider these ideas for starting off on the right foot:

1. Acknowledge the elephant in the room, especially if the student or alum in front of you really could be your Mom! One of my advisers as a mid-life grad student asked me outright if our age difference (about 20 years) might present a problem for me. It didn’t – but just having someone ask the question spoke volumes about his style and put me at ease.

2. Value past experience. When talking about resume formats, interview preparation, etc., emphasize that while styles may have changed, the student already knows more than she or he may realize.

3. Probe for fears. Don’t assume it’s technology or social media — it might be fear of age discrimination, old-fashioned in-person networking, or feeling rusty about interviewing. Maybe all of these! Before pivoting to tactics, get buy-in on a plan that addresses these concerns to the best of your ability.

4. Manage expectations. You may need to do some educating as well. One four-year institution found through an annual survey that some non-traditionally aged students viewed the career center as a direct placement agency.

5. Create connections. Help your student navigate a targeted alumni database search, keeping life stage in mind. Provide links — and direct contacts, if possible — to local chapters of relevant professional associations. If there is sufficient demand and critical mass, consider forming a student group(s), for peer-to-peer support and job-lead sharing.

NACE blog readers, what practices for advising nontraditionals have worked well in your experience?

When Does “X” Mark the Spot?

Chaim ShapiroChaim Shapiro
Website: http://chaimshapiro.com/
Twitter: @chaimshapiro
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/chaimshapiro

It is simply untrue, I remember thinking in my graduate school class—more years ago than I care to admit (Jim Leyritz hit a HUGE Home Run for the Yankees in the World Series that year).  All that talk about Generation X and all those things that allegedly described me.

Yes. I did like Speed Racer, but I was convinced that was because Speed’s little brother Spritle and their pet chimp wore, what I thought were yarmulkes. However, just about everything else that was presented as fact about Gen X, simply did not resemble me in any way.

I was at a NACE FACE2FACE in New York a couple of years ago and we were discussing the concept of “Millennials” when a Millennial at my table turned to me and said that he felt like he had just been stereotyped. I told him to mention that to the larger group, but he declined. (So much for the need to be heard!)

Why has the very basic idea of viewing people as individuals, based on his/her own merits and demerits become so hard to understand? People often respond that “theory” is not meant to apply to individuals, and the purpose of generational theory is to provide context to a large group of people.

Of course marketing companies apply “theory” all of the time. (If you want an example Google “Thanksgivikkua.”)  Creating recruitment campaigns and designing programs based on a model does make sense in theory, although it is important to note that placing people into arbitrary groups has not worked out very well over the course of human history.

The real danger is applying generalities to any particular individual.  As much as we like to say we know that theory doesn’t apply to individuals, it becomes hard to see people for who they are whenever we have convenient labels.  It is just too easy to miss the person for the preconceived notion.

We also have to wonder, in a practical sense, how we view that one person who doesn’t fit into our Millennial-based programming? I fear that we may see something wrong with him/her even though their skill set is exactly what we would have wanted if we had applied a different generational label.

To paraphrase Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, I would like a society where people are NOT judged by the era of their birth (I was born in the early 1970’s—just LOOK at the clothes I grew up wearing), but by the content of their character.

I know this perspective is not particularly popular, but I am a risk taker, after all, I DID send my penny to Columbia House for 11 cassette tapes…