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Career thoughts for Gen-X women

I recently worked with a friend and fellow Gen Xer to update her resume. After obtaining a graduate degree and working full-time in a high-profile job for seven years, “Jill” left her full-time job so she could focus on raising her children. But she didn’t stop working. Jill spent 20+ years working part-time in a field where she was able to use her professional expertise in a different capacity. She’s also been doing a whole lot of volunteering for multiple organizations within her community. And not just volunteering – leading committees and chairing boards of directors for organizations whose missions she cares deeply about.

1990s attire as imagined by McCall’s.

Now the proverbial empty nest is nigh, and Jill has been contacted by a senior leader she knows with an opportunity for a full time job. Although she’s had a long association with the same employer in her part-time capacity, she needed a resume to go through the official selection process.

During our interaction, Jill said something that stuck with me. She remarked how she hadn’t held a full time job since the late 1990s, and I sensed a note of apology in her statement. I replied:

Full-time work year after year is not the only way to have a meaningful career.

“9 to 5”

9 to 5 depicted a 1980 workplace.

I want to talk to my fellow Generation Xers here. Our 50th birthday is either quickly approaching or already several years past. We’re dealing with gray hair and menopause. We’ve finally traded in the minivan and might be thinking of downsizing our homes. Those of us who had kids are starting to see the light at the end of that tunnel, as the littles are bigs now (which makes us the olds). They’re finishing high school, college, and starting to launch out to begin their own adult lives. Many of us are finally able to start stashing significant cash into our IRAs and 401(k)s. Which is cool, because our retirement savings are way behind where they should be.

And now we are saying to ourselves, well, that went by fast. Now what? What do I want to do in this next chapter of my life? Will I do more of the same, or is it time to make a change? While some of our parents may have retired in their mid-50s, it’s not likely we’ll be able to retire in the way our parents did (see “retirement savings”, above). But it’s also possible we might not want to. Many of us envision working in some capacity into our 70s.

“Didn’t we almost have it all”

So many of us stepped away from career-track jobs at the same time Jill did. We hopped on what used to be called the “mommy track.” I hated that term because it suggested that it was the exception to some singular career standard. It implied compromise.

Mr. Mom in 1983 imagined a traditional role reversal.

Much was written in the ensuing years about how we could have it all, and we believed it, until we realized it was impossible. Untenable. Unrealistic. Something had to give, and many of us left full-time jobs we loved because it just didn’t make sense (financially or otherwise) for us to keep striving for that elusive concept known as “work-life balance.”

“Livin’ on a prayer”

But that doesn’t mean we stopped working! Quite the contrary. We devoted ourselves to raising our offspring. Some of us took jobs that were more accommodating to the delicate balance every working parent must find. Some of us threw ourselves into community involvement, volunteering in schools, joining PTAs, chairing fundraisers, leading scout troops, coaching youth sports, and being involved in myriad ways in our community. We did it not only because it set a good example for the kids, but because it felt like the right thing to do. And, it was fulfilling for us.

“The skills to pay the bills”

And guess what? Through all that volunteering, you developed so many skills that employers find desirable. You organized, you led, you chaired, you coordinated. You planned and executed, you improved and refined. You communicated, you brokered consensus, you negotiated. You were the CEO and CFO of your household, and maybe you were the IT support and lead procurement officer, too. You didn’t sit at home doing crosswords and playing Candy Crush – you did ALL THE THINGS.

So don’t buy into the false narrative that consistent full-time work is the only way to develop marketable skills. An effective resume writer can help you translate and reframe your skills so that your resume makes a compelling case for why you’re qualified for the job you want now.

“She works hard for the money”

I believe that many employers are viewing nontraditional resumes with a more open mind than they did in the past. Recruiters have been retrained in recent years to not view gaps in employment as some indication of risk. We workers of a certain age have been out here living our lives. Who among us has not had a gap between jobs? We took time to raise children, or to care for our aging parents, or ourselves. We got caught up in layoffs during the Great Recession. Hell, maybe we quit! We divorced. We remarried. We relocated. None of that should suggest that the body of work we have performed in all its manifestations over the past 30 years is anything less than that of any worker who has managed to hold a full-time job for 30+ consecutive years with no break in service.

“Hard habit to break”

There is a case to be made that the resume of that 30+ year employee is the resume that ought to be viewed with suspicion. I once worked with an executive whose mostly old-school hiring prejudices included one valid nugget: He wanted to know if a candidate who held one job for ten years actually grew in his role during the decade, or did he perform the same one year of work ten years in a row. He much preferred the former to the latter.

“American girl”

You, my Gen X friend, through your series of jobs and volunteering and life experiences, have grown so much since coming of age. You’re adaptable, owing to the rapid evolution of how we use technology in our work and everyday lives. You are wise. You are seasoned. You have the swagger that comes with no longer caring much about what anyone else thinks about you. You are quietly confident and supremely determined. You have a wealth of valuable skills gained from decades of adult life experiences. So don’t sell yourself short! Any employer who insists on judging you solely on your career progression and not on the unique combination of skills and experience that only you possess is not worth your time. Find one that appreciates everything you have to offer.


Thanks to my friend Jenny Phillips for suggesting I create a playlist based on this theme and these songs! OK Jenny, here’s your long-distance dedication:

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