Are you one of those 60- or 70-something workers who has stayed in the same job or company for a decade or two? If so, take a moment to look around you: What do you see? Or more precisely, whom do you see? Chances are, you see a lot of younger faces.
There’s nothing like being the last of your cohort to make you feel you’ve stayed too long at the fair. One by one, your long-time colleagues have moved on, perhaps retired or relocated to other states.
You may be keeping in touch on social media, but take a closer look at those posts: Anything about work in there? Hmm. The updates at this stage are more likely to be personal than professional.
And my point is? You’re going to be in trouble if you haven’t been building new networks to replace the ones that evaporated with those last retirements. Otherwise, who will you call when layoffs loom or you need advice about a work issue?
For late bloomers and others who want to keep working to a late age — including those whose finances demand it — professional networking can be a fraught exercise. It’s not always easy to build casual but professional relationships with co-workers half your age, especially if they get the mistaken idea that you’re past your career-building stage.
Not that they’d be wrong. It could be true that you’re no longer reaching for promotions or bigger responsibilities than you have now. But that’s not the same as not wanting to grow in the job or land well elsewhere if this company topples.
If you’ve never been a networker, I’m probably not going to convince you to start now. But if you’d like to keep up with what’s happening while holding open the door for other opportunities, the following tips might help.
• Don’t be ageist. Despite the theme of this column, age isn’t a very good basis for choosing networking contacts. Staying open to the gifts and knowledge you see in others will help you avoid using age as a mental criteria.
• Don’t let others be ageist. On the other hand, just because you’re being open-minded doesn’t mean others are. If you perceive you’re being treated like an AARP mascot, feel free to network elsewhere.
• Choose the medium. Social media can be a terrific networking tool, if used that way. LinkedIn is usually considered more viable for work purposes, but a lot of good connections are nurtured on Facebook and other platforms.
If you’re not comfortable with social media, there will be other tools and processes. Personal or broadcast emails are still a thing when you want to share news or keep up with others. Texts and phone calls are also tried and true.
• Cast a broad net. If your cohort is dying out (sadly, perhaps literally), you need a broader pool of potential contacts. Luckily, it’s relatively easy now to connect with people in different companies, different states and even different countries — not to mention, different levels of the company you’re in.
• Join something work-related. A work committee can be a good start; likewise, work-based social groups can provide relaxed access to others through activities such as a book group or bowling teams (which seem to be coming back, happily enough).
If your workplace doesn’t hold good options, look further afield by joining a professional or business group related to the work you do.
• Take a training session. This one’s tricky — if you take the class online, you won’t have much opportunity for networking. Instead, attend a session in-person so you can talk with others during breaks or after hours to start networking relationships.
• Go to a conference. Conferences are the gold standard, in terms of building connections. By sitting near others at meals and noticing those with similar interests or work issues during the sessions, you can quickly develop the basis for an ongoing relationship.
• Be intentional, but casual. One of the secrets of networking is to keep relationships alive (that’s the intentional part) without being too intense (casual). Simply sending a note now and then is a very good start, and something to build on if you ever need help with something.
By now you’ve probably noticed that most of these tips have nothing to do with age. Right. Networking isn’t limited by age, but that doesn’t mean the networkers themselves aren’t self-limiting in that way. That’s something you can control, even if it means crossing generational divides as you find new people to connect with.
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.