Sunday, September 13, 2009

Boomers’ Career Stages

I had the opportunity to connect with Linda Oestreich on LinkedIn recently. Linda is a writer and project manager, and has been a leader in the Society for Technical Communication. I had participated in a LI group discussion and one of the participants provided a link to a PowerPoint presentation Linda had developed for a STC gathering, entitled “Understanding Career Development.” In her presentation, Linda noted four stages of career development:


I’m always looking for ways to classify and categorize career paths. I can’t help it; it’s part of my DNA. One of my StrengthsFinder themes is Input – collecting information and adding it to the archives. So the four career stages Linda presented resonated with me as a general typology for describing our career paths.

We often hear that the traditional career path is obsolete; that instead, we can expect to have a number of careers during our working life. While I agree with the multiple career aspect, I think we do have distinct career paths and Linda’s model provides a good guide. Many of us, who have changed careers, rarely go back to the Apprentice level; and if we do, we progress much quicker along the path, in large part because of the maturity we’ve developed in the workplace.

Many of my Boomer clients find themselves at the Mentor and Visionary stages of their careers. These are challenging stages, as they tend to be outwardly focused – on developing opportunities for others and the organization – rather than self focused.

As we continue to develop in our careers, Boomers need to recognize where we are along our career path. Those of us who intend to stay in the workforce need to realize that the traditional management/decision-making roles may no longer be available to us. We will have to embrace the roles of Mentor and Visionary, focus less on ourselves and more on others: Relying less on our subject matter expertise; coaching younger workers in the development of their expertise; asking questions and providing insight that influences younger managers in their decision making. We will need to champion new ideas and processes that enhance the organization’s competitiveness; and ensure that key staff are not stagnating in unproductive projects.

We need to become the “wise men and women” of the organization, rather than its managers or bosses. We need to lead by influence, rather than by decision.

To be sure, organizations need to embrace these issues as well. Productive, future-focused organizations will recognize the value of their more senior workforce and will provide opportunities for its continued contributions. However, we know that change occurs at a glacial pace; and not all organizational leaders are enlightened about the value of their older workforce. So it will be up to us to influence them; to show them how we can be of value; to demonstrate how we can lead as mentors, coaches and visionaries.

So how do you see your progression in your career path? What strategies and tactics do you need to employ to be more of a Mentor and Visionary? How can you help convince the organization to recognize your value in these roles?


  1. Hi Scott:
    Your blog is most interesting and thought-provoking. I loved it. You are as much of an "N" on the MBTI as I am!

    As you see the 4 stages of career development are valid in any economy. However, it might be more difficult now to sell the Mentor and Visionary value-add to a company and, in some companies, it is a difficult sell whatever the economy. But philosophically and theoretically she has a good model! I think companies voice "staff development" but few companies have ever linked that to manager and executive bonuses. One such company that did years ago was Amoco (obviously a long time ago before the merger). Nevertheless, once someone is independent in the job they do, they need to put their focus some place else or real boredom and other stuff sets in and productivity and enthusiasm decrease rapidly.

    Yes, the old job search tricks don't work as well as they used to. However, I do see that high-level executives are still getting opportunities the way they used to: recruiters and contacts. It's all the others that are having a devil of a time. More emphasis is being placed on the social or networking media, like you favorite - LinkedIn. It does work for some - those with great backgrounds. For others, it has limited value because people will not respond to them.

    Nevertheless, we do have to re-assess how we think. People, starting today, have to be in charge of their careers. We have heard that for over a decade, but many don't know what that means.

    That's it for tonight!

  2. I am honored to have been referenced in Scott's blog. I want to be clear about one thing, though. The career model referenced in my presentation is not mine. It was based on an article by Kurt Sandholtz at Novations Group, Inc. a Provo, Utah, company that helps organizations design and implement career-development systems. Kurt gave me permission to use his work, and I want to be sure that he is given credit for the model. Nonetheless, I am pleased that it has resurfaced in Scott's work!