Unretirement: Innovative Uses of Web-based Technology for Baby-boomers (and others) Navigating Economic Downturn

by Robert Boone (KY)

The relatively new and increasingly used word unretirement conjures up many different thoughts and emotions. Applying reductionism, two of these emotions are as simple as the Facebook expressions “like” and “unlike.” Merriam Webster’s dictionary indicates origins of the term as early as the mid-1960s. But use of unretirement is still new enough that computer spell check does not even recognize the term and keeps suggesting use of the word retirement instead. At any rate, and for better or worse, the term unretirement exists because of the economic downturn in contemporary American society, and the acute need for the retirement-aged workforce to reconsider employment or re-employment options.

According to Maestas (2004), “Nearly one-half of retirees follow a non-traditional retirement path that involves partial retirement and/or unretirement.” If you find yourself one of the “nearly one-half “ of retirees in the United States who will be seeking re-employment, or if you have had a long-term career and are now considering a career change or even advancement within your chosen profession, this article is the first in a series meant to help you navigate your way to a new career using web-based technologies.

One clarification from the beginning: locating employment continues to maintain many vestiges of the traditional job hunting process of which baby-boomers and other age cohorts are intimately familiar. Hand-written follow up letters, firm handshakes, and feet-to-the-ground networking remain unparalleled in importance. There exist, however, innumerable opportunities for innovation and creativity within the traditional employment processes using social media and other electronic means. Though baby-boomers, and to a lesser extent other age cohorts, wince at the very mention of social media, these contemporary technologies greatly enhance one’s marketability. Current research indicates that only about one-third of baby-boomers utilize social media networking sites (see Hampton et al., 2011). [NOTE: Baby-boomers are defined as those individuals aged 46-64 who were born between 1946-1964.] They provide a prospective applicant with solutions to both stand out in the current challenging career climate, and more control over how professional information is transmitted to potential employers.

Résumés, CVs and Portfolios: Websites Enhance Marketability
Combining tradition and innovation, job seekers can add an additional dimension to hard copy résumés, curriculum vitae and portfolios by creating an on-line professional profile with existing websites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and CareerLab.com. Each website exhibits unique advantages for the job search. Among these advantages are the ability to network with potential employers, locate employment and professional opportunities, aggressively market oneself (and others), and appear “near the top” in searches performed using Google and Yahoo. According to a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management (2011), “More than half (56%) of the organizations currently use social networking websites when recruiting potential job candidates. This is a significant increase since 2008, when a little over one-third (34%) of organizations were using these sites as a recruiting tool.” Referencing the same study, the social networking website most used by organizations for recruitment in 2011 was LinkedIn, which was reportedly used by 95% of respondents. Facebook was the second most used social networking site for recruitment, with 58% reported usage among respondents.

If you find yourself among the cohort that has yet to experiment with the aforementioned websites, please know that the websites are intuitive, offer excellent step-by-step instructions for developing and uploading online documents, can offer assistance in the event that difficulties arise, and best of all are either free or low-cost. And much like a professional job coach, they give a gentle nudge regarding the importance of keeping updated, professional documents on-hand even if you aren’t currently in the job market.

Transitions
Writing in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications, Boyd and Ellison (2007) define social networking sites as,

“…web-based services that allow individuals to 1) construct a profile or semi-public profile within a bounded system, 2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and 3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.”

Embarking on the process of electronic networking and information sharing is less like a “new beginning” and more akin to a transition; you are intimately familiar with the data reflecting your life’s work, and use of social media simply vaults your information and expertise into a contemporary, easily accessed format. You can begin with what you already have: your portfolio, your résumé, your CV. This transition process generally takes just a few minutes and is a matter of copying and pasting your existing material into this new social media format. You will quickly find that several functions on LinkedIn, Facebook, and CareerLab.com are very familiar, including the ability to

  • Highlight current and past professional experiences. This function allows the job seeker to list dates of employment, position title, company name and location, along with examples of how you met or exceeded the responsibilities of those positions.
  • List educational attainment, professional affiliations, and interests.
  • Write an executive or professional summary

Next, we seek to concentrate on functions of LinkedIn, Facebook, and CareerLab.com that are powerful tools for the job seeker. These functions, and resulting ideas, are by no means an exhaustive list of what can be accomplished using employment-driven social media. Instead, the following serves as a quick reference to aspects of social media that we have found particularly useful, especially for individuals just starting to explore new tools of the employability trade.

LinkedIn
According to a 2010 article appearing in CNN Money, “recruiters rely on the site [LinkedIn] to hire even the highest caliber executives.” The same article continues to explain the average user of LinkedIn “is a college-educated 43-year-old making $107,000 [per year]. More than a quarter are senior executives.”

According to prdaily.com, “Executives from every Fortune 500 [firm] could be found on LinkedIn in 2010.” LinkedIn can be a very powerful tool in locating (or being located) for your next job. Below are several functions that will allow your LinkedIn account to help you achieve unretirement:

  • Make the most of the connections you have made during your career by requesting recommendations from colleagues. LinkedIn provides the ability to have recommendations published verbatim on your profile. This function allows potential employers to view, for example, what others have said about you, your work ethic, and the arenas in which you excel. Consider how imperative recommendations are to a salesperson’s ability to make a sale. In looking for a job, we take on some fundamental responsibilities of a salesperson, insofar, as we are “selling” our skills, experience, and potential. Accordingly, detailed recommendations from other experienced professionals can have a serious impact on our likelihood of locating employment. This recommendation function gives others the opportunity to assist you in selling what you have to offer, with LinkedIn providing the forum for you to transmit these recommendations to potential employers.
  • Build connections. These connections serve as valuable networking tools to find out about position openings, exchange information with potential employers, interact with other professionals, and to learn about company culture or the health of an industry. In fact, LinkedIn provides the ability to send messages to anyone with a LinkedIn profile. Although certainly no substitute for a formal follow-up letter delivered via traditional mail service, the ability to send messages can be a helpful means of following-up with an employer, directing the employer’s attention to your on-line professional portfolio, and standing out amid the many résumés that were undoubtedly received by the employer.
  • Perform “detective work” by locating information about hiring managers, including professional background, affiliations, references, and interests. Knowing this information could give you an advantage in an interview by providing tailored talking points. Additionally, you may be able to locate the individual who most recently had the job to which you are now applying. This data might be beneficial to determine how you “match up” to someone currently working with that company as well as provide insight into the overall organizational health and advancement opportunities.
  • Promote your blog or website by linking them to your LinkedIn account. In doing so, you can provide potential employers with great insight into your technical savvy by way of your website design, further examples of your excellent writing ability, or snapshots of public speaking virtuosity as demonstrated in video clips. Ultimately, this LinkedIn function allows candidates to showcase diverse abilities and accomplishments in a non-intrusive way, while providing more detailed information to employers about the repertoire of the applicant. For instance, I recently developed a website for my small business and linked the website to both my LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. My intention was not necessarily to market products, but to market my business model and to add a further dimension to my stated experience as a business owner. The result is an increased awareness among my social media contacts of my diverse skill set, community involvement, and productivity outside of my full-time employment in workforce development. I recently created a website for free utilizing Google sites (www.sites.google.com) and am in the process of creating a blog, also for free, utilizing Blogger (www.blogger.com). A quick search using Google or Yahoo will yield many more results for website and blog creation. You might want to consider purchasing a domain name for your site (this is generally a great investment for as little as $10.00 per year). This purchase might allow you to use your name or any name as your web address. For instance, the name of my business is Commonwealth Framing, after purchasing the domain name, my website is www.commonwealthframing.com.
  • Share an update. This function allows you to publish updates and attach files in order to inform your networks of your professional activity and productivity. For instance, you can attach a file containing a press release of an initiative you have been involved with. In doing so, you are providing an immediate update of your professional involvement in addition to directing attention to your LinkedIn profile. Facebook will also allow you to share an update with your networks. I recently shared a press release on LinkedIn and Facebook from my local paper. Sharing this information was important for at least three reasons: 1) It informed my networks of the progress I have made in my current position (my networks would not have otherwise read my town’s newspaper). 2) It provided some level of substantiation for my current position description and responsibilities as they appear on my LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. 3) It directed my networks to visit my profile, allowing for further advertising of my experience and skills.

Facebook
Facebook, because of its prevalent usage, has impacted the way individuals communicate.

According to Facebook.com, there are 750 million active users of the social networking website. Due to its wide usage and helpful features, Facebook can be useful for someone seeking unretirement. Just last week, I posted a status update related to this article. My post read: “Robert Boone is exploring uses of social media for a workforce navigating economic downturn. Anyone have insight into how Facebook helped you, or someone you know, locate employment?” The comments received from my networks were varied. One person commented that she learned of a position vacancy from a Facebook contact. Through her contact, she was able create a dialogue about the position, submit her résumé to the hiring manager, and receive an interview and job offer. Without Facebook, she explained, she would not have known about the position vacancy. Another one of my contacts commented that he had not located a job via Facebook, but something better…his wife! Focusing on the job search, Facebook can allow you to:

  • Create an on-line photo and video portfolio. Facebook gives the job seeker the wonderful ability to post pictures and create albums related to projects you have been involved with. In addition, you can post video clips of lectures, presentations, video résumés, and award ceremonies directly to your profile, allowing potential employers to view your professional accomplishments.
  • Establish networks and begin professional dialogues. This is the key to using Facebook as a job search tool. You will need to develop a list of networks, also known as “friends” in Facebook language. From this list of networks, you can communicate via messages, wall posts, status updates, notes, or on-line chat. A friend used the status update feature to make the following update: “Is looking for job openings at XYZ Company. Does anyone have contacts there?” In response to the status update, he received messages with names of hiring managers. He then looked up the hiring managers on LinkedIn and sent out messages detailing his interest in working for the company. The managers had immediate view of his on-line portfolio. The following month he was offered a job.
  • Make wall posts and allow for comments. Central to every Facebook account is a wall that is used for postings and status updates. Utilizing this feature, you can post professional articles, advances in your field, and personal accomplishments to further encourage dialogue, comments, and networking. This feature helps you to be viewed by networks and potential employers as someone who stays up-to-date and who is passionate about their professional involvement and development.
  • Visit Facebook job boards. Many organizations of all sizes have a Facebook page. Often, these organizations will post job openings and other opportunities on their Facebook wall. Simply use the search function on Facebook to locate the organization of interest. Once the organization is located, scroll through their Facebook wall to search for job postings. For example, you can visit http://www.facebook.com/#!/MaysvilleCTC, scroll through announcements, and view a job posting that we posted on August 25 for Maysville Community and Technical College. On a side note, organizations generally use their Facebook page for press releases and to announce special initiatives and events. In reviewing this information, one can learn a great deal of helpful information about the organization. This information can prove to be useful as you prepare for an interview or simply gather more data about the organization. Two great Facebook pages to visit include The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and The National Center for State Courts.

Career Lab
CareerLab.com is another great on-line resource that allows the (soon-to-be) unretiree to develop an on-line presence for the job search. CareerLab.com allows the user to develop an executive profile that is especially helpful for its direction and organization. For example, your profile will have a series of tabs such as: Welcome, Contact, Job Targets, Experience, Interview, References, and Personal. Each tab adds direction and depth to your portfolio. As an employer searchers tab-by-tab, they have the opportunity to view a holistic snapshot of your professional life that cannot be captured in traditional résumés, portfolios, or CV’s.

Helpful functions of the executive profile from CareerLab.com include:

  • The interview tab of your executive profile is arguably the most useful and unique function. This tab allows you to select and answer a series of interview questions ranging from “what is your definition of success” to “what is your typical workday.” These questions give you an advantage by providing a great forum to “discuss” what kind of an employee you are and what kind of employee you will be. Additionally, this function can allow you to tailor interview questions based on positions that you are currently seeking. It is a wonderful tool to take control of one of the most powerful commodities of the job search: the interview.
  • The ability to have a unique URL (web address) to include on business cards, e-mail signatures, stationary, job boards, Facebook, LinkedIn, even traditional résumés. This URL directs potential employers to your executive portfolio and widens your networks.
  • Along the same lines as widening your networks, the executive profile allows you to share your professional experience with others without loudly announcing your job search. This portfolio can be viewed as another method to exchange professional information with other professionals. Keep this networking mantra in mind: the more people you have working for you, the more likely you are to find work.

So on a quiet Sunday afternoon as you contemplate your unretirement, career change or climb up the corporate ladder, settle down at your favorite PC without wincing and introduce the world (well, ok, at least a few targeted industries) with all that you have to offer!

FURTHER ONLINE READING

REFERENCES

  1. Boyd, D.M. and Ellison, N.B. (2007) Social network sites. Definition, history and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13: 201-230. doi.10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x
  2. Hagel, J. & Brown, J. (2011, January 31). Five tips for better social networking. Retrieved September 2, 2011, from http://blogs.hbr.org/bigshift/2011/01/five-tips-for-smarter-social-n.html
  3. Hampton, Keith et al. Social networking sites and our lives. PewInternet. org. 16 Jun. 2011. Web. 15 Jul. 2011]
  4. Hempel, J. (2010, March 25). How linkedin will fire up your career. Retrieved September 2, 2001, from http://money.cnn.com/2010/03/24/technology/linkedin_social_networking.fortune/
  5. Maestas, N. (2004). Back to work: expectations and realizations of work after retirement. University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, Working Papers: 2004-085 http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/50534/1/wp085.pdf
  6. Sebastian, M. (2011, May 22). Inforgraphic: executives from every fortune 500 company can be found on linkedin. Retrieved September 2, 2011, from http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/Infographic_Executives_from_every_Fortune_500_can_8338.aspx
  7. Society for Human Resources Management. (2011). Social networking websites and staffing. Retrieved August 31, 2011, from http://www.shrm.org/about/pressroom/PressReleases/pages/SocialNetworking.aspx

Robert BooneRobert Boone serves in Workforce Development at TENCO Workforce Investment Board, Maysville, KY. Currently, Mr. Boone is working to develop and provide a variety of supportive services to nursing students enrolled in a Department of Labor funded training program that focuses on the career placement of dislocated, unemployed, and incumbent workers into medically underserved areas of Kentucky. Prior to this experience, Mr. Boone served as a department head for a long-term care and rehabilitation facility in Athens, GA. Mr. Boone’s interests include Economic and Workforce Development, Small Business Development, and Historic Preservation. Mr. Boone received his education from Morehead State University and The University of Georgia.

1 comment for “Unretirement: Innovative Uses of Web-based Technology for Baby-boomers (and others) Navigating Economic Downturn

  1. November 3, 2011 at 12:41 am

    I hate the word retirement but love the word unretirement.
    Thanks for this cutting edge article, that I hope, will encourage the “die hard hate the computer baby boomer” explore the power of social media. I certainly will do what I can to help make it go viral.

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