How to Lattice an Encore Career

Make a career and life switch to extend your satisfaction mainly, and your income, if you can, advises Marci Alboher in her upcoming book.

She’s one of many voices in a chorus urging baby boomers to shift down, not out, of the workforce.  It sounds like great advice – until you start peeling back the assumptions. Here are three fallacies about late-midlife career shifts and how to avoid them.

Money doesn’t really matter.  Maybe it doesn’t to hedge fund managers,  investors and others who have piled up a cushy nest egg that can insulate them from the economic realities of a new career. Here’s Alboher on  transitioning from being a lawyer to being a journalist – which took, by the way, a decade:  ”I earn only two-thirds of what I was making in my last law job. But the trade-offs are worth it.”

Ok, it’s worth it to her…because she can afford it. But most working Americans have endured eroded home equity, spells of un-or-under employment in their families, and paltry returns on their retirement funds. And, the longer they work, the more they will reap from Social Security when they finally start tapping it. So, yes, Marci, money does count.

Keep earnings consistent by shifting within your industry, not abandoning all your accumulated contacts and wisdom to pursue something completely new. Build on what you know, and it shouldn’t take you ten years to find a sweet spot where you can work for love and money.

  • Taking some courses will reposition you. If you concentrate on rebuilding only technical expertise, you will likely move yourself back to square one. By midlife, employers and clients assume that you bring wisdom, people skills, and get-it-done skills that actually supersede your technical skills. Instead of getting a certification in a particular skill, become conversant in the technical milieu and concentrate on project management and business skills.
  • Age discrimination is illegal and pervasive. You’re unlikely to persuade someone to overlook a number you consider irrelevant…which means that many boomers will become self-employed. Instead of concentrating on finding a new job, focus instead on doing the new job. That might mean traditional employment, but it also might mean contract work, short or long term.? If you keep landing contract work, you’re self-employed. Mission accomplished!

The Lattice in The Ladders

It’s a collision of career metaphors!  Veteran business writer Robin Madell wrote a comprehensive outline of lattice strategies for– wait for it — striver career site The Ladders.

The story is a terrific primer for those near the top who are wondering if a developmental lateral move is worth the risk. I especially like the advice of carer coach Darcy Eikenberg. Here’s her take on creating your own promotion:

With the collapse of mid-management roles in many companies, an employee with 10 to 15 years of experience may suddenly find there’s no next level in sight—their leaders may be in the same age range with no plans to retire or leave any time soon. Eikenberg said that in cases where you can’t expect a promotion, it may be time to orchestrate your own with a few key strategies:

  • Identify the pain in your organization and how you are uniquely suited to help calm that pain from your current position.
  • Build a business plan for a new role, department, or service you might lead.
  • Communicate with key players in your organization to let your intentions be known.
  • Take your efforts as seriously as you would a new job search.


Friends Beat Bosses

What’s more important to career happiness and engagement on the job? (Engagement being HR-speak for ‘giving a darn.’ )

Productive and collegial relationships with co-workers. That’s according to the latest employee engagement research from the Society for Human Resource Management. The top factors for engagement are:

  • 79% – Relationships with co-workers
  • 75% –  Opportunities to use skills/abilities
  • 72% – Contributing to organization’s goals

And the factors bringing up the rear? “Career advancment” and “Career development.”

The definition of satisfaction on the job is realigning — sideways. It’s a latticed world. That’s how workers are already operating. How long before most organizations catch on?

Bubbling to the Top at Coke

How did Katie Bayne rise to the executive suite at Coca-Cola?

By taking numerous lateral rotations in her 23 years. Now, she’s President and General Manager of Sparkling Beverages, thanks in part, she says, to her willingness to take a step over to gain critical experience.

According to her profile in the October 2012 issue of Marie Claire, Bayne knew that for Coke to take a risk on giving her charge of a line of business, she had to take a risk too: trusting that by accepting a position in a different country, she wouldn’t be abandoned or forgotten, and that the company would recognize the results she delivered.

Key to Bayne’s zig-zag career path was her willingness to relocate overseas. Other international companies also blend lateral and international moves. In The Career Lattice, I showcase the career paths of Chubb Insurance executives to rotate through several international and domestic experiences at the same level to gain a step up.

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Careers and Kids: Collision Course

Clueless politicians notwithstanding, young women are accelerating their career ambition. The latest report from Pew Research finds that their careers are ‘very important’ to fully two-thirds of young women — ten percentage points more than in 1997. Meanwhile, young men’s ambition is the same as it has been, with 59% saying that their careers are ‘very important.’

The reality that women must pace their economic lives differently from men appears to be sinking in. Women live longer but have lower earnings to prepare them for their retirements. It’s smart for young women to get to cruising altitude quickly.

They’ll need the momentum when they run into their childbearing years. The same Pew research reports that young women haven’t compromised their expectations for having families.

How will they reconcile these two apparently conflicting ambitions? Latticing can help.

Contrary to some prior constructs of the lattice, lateral career paths are not a panacea for work-life tensions. In fact, latticing requires constant acquisition of new skills, experiences and competencies. Continual professional development is essential for continual growth; for lateral moves to fuel career advancement, lateral moves must position employees to build new skills. This is demanding, and undermines the notion that lattices are hammocks where one can kick back and coast for a while.

Latticing alone doesn’t reconcile family and career tension. But when combined with alternative work arrangements, such as career-track part-time positions; alternative schedules; job-shares; and even diverting to contract work for a stretch, parents can free up time and energy for their families, while continuing to grow their skills and earnings. You shouldn’t have to trade your future for your family.



When a Vampire Determines Your Career

You think it’s hard to sell through a new idea where you work?

Try reading the mind of editors. That’s what Danielle Egan-Miller does. She’s president of Brown & Miller Literary Associates and spoke at Pen to Digital Press: DIY Publishing in the Digital Age, hosted by Lawyers for the Creative Arts on February 11.  (I spoke too, with the irrepressible Shari Stauch of Shark Marketing, which helps authors build their audiences.)

If you wonder if publishers think that sticking a vampire into pretty much anything will make it sell…you’re almost right. (Hmmm…wonder how I could work vampires into  The Career Lattice? )

But Egan-Miller had good advice beyond vampires, and it’s relevant for everyone, not just aspiring and published authors: “Where do you want to be in four years?” she asked.  “Create a community for your work.”

Agents have become career coaches, helping authors build their audiences, keep on track with developing new ideas, and translate a flood of market data into guidance to keep projects relevant.  As you consider your career options on the lattice, apply Egan-Miller’s advice:

  • Who is your audience now? Who would you like to be your audience in four years?
  • Who among your colleagues helps you stay on track with projects? Can you ask that person to break down their time management skills so you can better understand and apply what they do right?
  • Who can help you filter industry trends to figure out which ones offer genuine opportunities for your career…and which trends are context?



With Friends Like These, You Don’t Need Resumes

Resumes are dead!

Well, almost.  According to today’s Wall St. Journal, sorting resumes has become so tedious that recruiters and hiring managers often just turn to employees’ recommendations first.

That means that keeping your professional network fresh and engaged is paramount.  Your current and former teammates are your fastest route to a new position.

That’s why The Career Lattice explains how to use BranchOut, the professional channel for Facebook, and LinkedIn, to showcase lateral skills and how you have navigated your career path. Lateral skills don’t always fit neatly on a resume, and the standard resume format doesn’t lend itself to explaining smart lateral moves.

Use these three tips to keep your teammates in the loop about your lateral development so they can recommend you for the right job at the right time:

  • Talk about the incremental progress you’re making towards your goals. Give your teammates talking points they can call up when the time is right.
  • Ask for lateral introductions to fast-growing departments, projects or companies.
  • Recap team successes, citing who contributed to the win. This gets everybody on your team in the habit of naming the skills that added up to collective progress.  

Top Career Books of 2012? We’re One!

Accordingly to Kelly Eggers of FINS, the Dow Jones financial news and career management channel, The Career Lattice will be one of the top ten career books to watch for 2012.

We won’t argue with that. Meanwhile, the other trends she picked up on include how millennials can gain traction early in their careers, and how to push through the crowd to stand out when you’re interviewing and jostling for promotion.

How lucky are millennials and mid-careerists? Lattice is for them, too!

Lattice or Languish

Millennial women are graduating into some harsh career realities. Not only is unemployment high for all college grads, putting them permanently behind in their earnings, but young women are coming face-to-face with one of the most difficult career dynamics faced by all women: that their work does not speak for itself.

Women may be the majority of college grads, but they’re earning thousands less than male cohorts — right from the start. Apparently, they’re not negotiating for better starting pay.  Why should you negotiate when your grades are great, you’ve festooned your resume with nonprofit leadership and you are confident in your abilities and direction?

Because if you don’t think you’re great enough to push for top dollar, employers won’t do that for you.  As we parsed in some detail in the 2011 Accounting MOVE Report,
millennial women assume that their credentials shield them from having to engage in uncomfortable self-promotion. It’s vaguely unbecoming for women to  point out their good work.  Bosses and potential bosses should simply recognize exemplary work and recognize it.

That mistake is fatal at any point in one’s career. But in this slow-growth economy, millennial women who assume that their hard work in college will automatically translate to a good job might be permanently derailing their career prospects.

Career planning, networking and negotiation skills used to wait until you actually had a job. Not anymore. Heads up, girls: The time to cultivate critical career management skills is before  you graduate.


In a recent webinar  on latticing I presented for Canadian Women In Communications, a participant asked how to detect good lateral opportunities within her company.   Her question is a common one;  opportunities can be opaque to rank-and-file workers, according to the most recent Accenture Skills Gap study.  While bosses presumably have a bird’s eye view of short and longer-term lateral assignments,  it’s frustrating to hear about them only after they are filled.

Here’s the silver bullet: the Employee Resource Group, or ERG.  “Affinity groups” took root about 15 years ago, mainly as a way for women and minorities to find each other in large organizations.  Smart companies realized that ERG’s were built-in focus groups. Smart employees realized that the horizontal nature of such groups meant that they had a great chance of meeting higher-ups with whom they already had something in common, as recently explained in the Wall St. Journal.

As I outline in The Career Lattice, ERG’s are a rich lode for self-promotion, especially if you need to cultivate skills that are outside your official job description.  Here’s how to aim the silver bullet that is an ERG:  look for new connections in adjacent functions or departments.  These are the folks with whom you will naturally intersect on a project at some point.  Use the ERG to get to know them before your work responsibilities collide – so you can be each other’s friends in lateral places.