Eight Reasons Why Personal Branding Won’t Work For You

People who know me well describe me as creative, inspiring, and a visionary. Do you know how I know this? Because I’ve asked them through a confidential leading web-based 360° personal brand survey/assessment that helps you get the real story about how you are perceived by those around you. It gives you the critical feedback you need so that you can expand your career or business success. You see, I eat, drink and sleep personal branding, ever since I became a Certified Personal Branding Strategist.

As a career coach, I recently presented Eight Reasons Personal Branding Won’t Work For You! at a Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) pre-conference networking event. I thought it might be challenging to get military officers to buy into the concept of personal branding. I was also preparing for an upcoming interview on Spreecast, a web cast. I was trying to come up with strategies that would immediately engage my audience’s attention for the topic of personal branding, especially if they might be resistant to the idea.

Then one night, I woke up with the song, “I Say a Little Prayer” in my head. You know the tune that Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick made into hits in the 60’s and 80’s? Thinking about branding, and thinking about the song, I came up with this parody of the lyrics:

istock_Fish000006450448medium13The moment I wake up,

Before I put on my make up,

I’m thinkin’ personal branding’s for me.

While combing my hair now,

And wonderin’ what dress to wear now,

I’m thinkin’ personal branding’s for me.

I debuted the song on Spreecast when I was interviewed about personal branding by television journalist Eszter Vajda. My singing seemed to take her by surprise, especially because I belted out this tune right at the start of my interview. If you’d like to hear me, here’s the link to the interview:


Why did I sing this parody? To make a point. Personal branding is for you. That’s true whether you’re a careerist moving up in your present organization or if you’re in career transition (or contemplating a move).

Not convinced? OK. Let me take the same tack I took in my program for military officers. Let’s consider eight reasons why personal branding won’t work for you.

Eight Reasons Why Personal Branding Won’t Work for You

  1. You don’t want to be found. You don’t like people to know who you are and what you have to offer. You don’t want to risk being judged.
  1. You don’t believe in differentiating yourself. It’s more comfortable for you to blend in and not call too much attention to yourself.
  1. You define your competition narrowly. You believe that your competitors are in the private or public sector, ignoring other groups that are equally competitive.
  1. Personal branding sounds too gimmicky. You believe that branding is an appropriate strategy for a company like Apple, Starbucks, or Proctor & Gamble, but not for a person. Perhaps personal branding sounds touchy-feely, or like a bunch of hooey to you.
  1. You like your old-fashioned resume. You believe that bullet points highlighting your skills and accomplishments starting with words like: *Managed, *Oversaw, *Directed, etc., which were popular five to ten years ago, are all you need to snag a great job. Good is no longer good enough!
  1. You hope that the Internet is a passing trend. Tweeting, blogging, creating personal websites, or generating Internet content in videos and online radio interviews sounds great for other people, but not for you.
  1. You like having your eggs in one basket. You prefer to distribute your resume to HR professionals, recruiters, and career fair reps, and that’s it.
  1. You don’t trust me. I may have 15+ years of experience as an executive search recruiter, executive leadership and career coach, and personal brand strategist. But you don’t know me. And, if we ever met, the purple streak in my hair would give you pause.

The #1 Reason Personal Branding Works

Now you can see that my eight reasons why personal branding won’t work was a clever way for me to present my message in favor of personal branding. But would you like to know the #1 reason personal branding does work? It works because LinkedIn and other Internet sites give you an opportunity to communicate not only your experience and training, but also:

  • What you stand for
  • Your reputation, and
  • How others see you

That makes it easy for prospective employers to see whether you’re a good fit to their needs. And of course, social media sites provide an easy and convenient way for them to connect with you, while reinforcing your message.

Today, prospective employers want to get background information on you before moving forward. They’ll search for you on Google and LinkedIn – and perhaps even on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. Who do you think they’ll call first for a face-to-face interview, all things being equal (such as years of experience, training, and skill sets)? Would it be the candidate who doesn’t have an Internet presence? Or would a prospective employer lean towards a candidate who is listed as a conference presenter, a go-to-industry leader, a volunteer for worthy causes, and who has a professional photograph on LinkedIn? This is a no-brainer.

Job candidates need to be visible to their prospective employers, plain and simple. In the book, Career Distinction, author William Aruda suggests that you can stand out in a competitive field by communicating the “three C’s” of branding to your target audience. These are:

Clarity. Express your unique promise of value.

Consistency. Communicate your consistent brand message through the content and style of your communication, and

Constancy. Communicate frequently.

An online presence that conveys your personal brand will do precisely that.

The Power of Attracting Others to You

I’d like to leave you with two examples of how personal branding can attract people to you, rather than you having to beat down their doors.

First, I recently presented the keynote address at the annual conference of NASW-MD (the National Association of Social Workers, Maryland). One of the first questions I ask whenever I receive an invitation such as this one is, “How did you find me?” The president of the NASW-MD board was researching prospective keynote speakers and noticed the MSW after my name in my LinkedIn profile, as well as we had mutual contacts in common. That’s what made the organization reach out to me.

A second example: Joe, a retired army colonel with 25 years of service, started partnering with me four months before his last day in the military. He went through my personal branding process, after hearing me speak at a Military Association of America (MOAA) career-networking event, and the results were reflected in updating both his professionally branded resume and LinkedIn profile. Joe had 12 interviews within three month, two stellar offers with great perks, and started within 6 months of his career search.  Although having to start from scratch networking and building up his civilian contacts, his effort to convey his brand as being an expert, visionary leader and self-starter paid off. Joe is happy with the job he chose at a top Fortune 100 consulting firm.

Your parents or grandparents may have been assured a job for 25–35 years. That’s not the case today. Now, you must control your reputation and communicate clearly what you stand for and what differentiates you from others. Only then can you ensure that you’ll be employable and have choices throughout your career. That’s what personal branding is all about.

Valli Swerdlow is a humorous and witty nationally known keynote speaker/trainer, Certified 360° Reach Personal Brand Strategist, Leadership and BABY VOOMER (TM) Career Coach. Valli partners with baby boomer executives to make both mindful and heartfelt career transitions that have an enduring impact in their lives and communities. She leverages her enterprising spirit, resources, and creative approach to inspire her clients to achieve vantage, vitality, and victory. She also wears a purple streak in her hair. Email: Valli@ValliAssociates.com. Phone: 703-615-3834.

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Failure Is Not an Option…But It Should Be! – Part 1

A few years ago, Amanda Hammett was on the top of the world. She had a supportive husband who was her business partner at a small boutique firm, a two year old young child, a beautiful home in the suburbs, and in her words, she “made lots of money”.

Amanda remembered her father telling her again and again as a child that failure is not an option. In fact, she heard the phrase so often during her formative years that as an adult, failure is not an option became Amanda’s personal mantra. She believed it, as so many people do. And because she believed that failure was not an option, she also believed that she would always be successful and that her success would ensure her family’s financial stability. But little did Amanda know that things would change abruptly in 2010, and that her favorite mantra would have to change, too. For Amanda, failure is not an option eventually gave way to a new mantra: Failure is not an option…but it should be!

Amanda became my career coaching client soon after the bottom had fallen out of her world. She’s given me permission to share her story with you, and I hope you find it to be as compelling and deeply moving as I do. I think you’ll learn a lot from it. I know I did. Here’s what happened.

Amanda’s Story

When Amanda and I first started to work together, she described herself to me as a “mess”. She was on the verge of bankruptcy, lost her job, lost her company, and lost her home. The legal bills were piling up, too. In fact, when we met, Amanda was in the process of packing boxes so that she and her family could move out of the home they’d loved and lost. It was a sad and desperate time, to say the least.

Both Amanda and her husband had to reinvent themselves, secure jobs ASAP, and work for other people so that they could earn a weekly paycheck. Amanda also felt the pressure, as a full-time mom, to give up working out of her home, having flexible hours, and spending a lot of time with her son. She wanted to continue to work close to her home and was open to taking a salary at a fraction of what she used to make to make that possible. But her husband was job searching too, so things were pretty dire. The question was: What job could Amanda get that fit her criteria?

Amanda was determined to take the first job offered to her. That’s something that I usually caution my coaching clients against doing, unless the job happens to fit all of their criteria. But as a career coach, I also advise my clients to trust their gut instincts, and that’s exactly what Amanda did. She took her first job offer — one from ITT Tech as a Community Liaison. Her role was to reach out to high school students to tell them about the merits of getting a technical education/vocational training at a proprietary school like ITT Tech vs. going a more traditional college route. Amanda had never before considered working with high school students. However, the ITT campus was close to Amanda’s home and the job offered her some flexibility in her schedule, which was important to her. Besides, it was a paying job, and she certainly needed one.

Amanda visited high school after high school week after week and made her presentations. At first, she was relieved just to be working and making money again. But then, something miraculous happened. Amanda found her passion! She’d never spoken to high school students before or thought about doing that kind of work. But she loved speaking with them. She also realized that after her “spectacular failure,” as she calls it, that in retrospect, she wasn’t as happy as she thought she was when she was just making a lot of money.

Amanda followed her passion and has recently launched a new career as a motivational speaker for high school students. I’m writing this with tears in my eyes because I know what this means for Amanda. She should be incredibly proud of herself for following her passion. And I’m inspired by her, too, because Amanda found her calling not in spite of her failure, as many people might think, but because of it.

We can all dig into our pasts and look at our disappointments and our career and personal derailments with self-pity and wallow in them. Or, we can come out of our failures, as Amanda did, by taking the next positive step in our lives and career paths and by remaining open to new possibilities. Are any of us immune to failure? No. I certainly am not. And working with Amanda enabled me to revisit some of my “failures”, too, and to assess how I worked through them. In our next post, perhaps my story will inspire you, too.

Want to know more about Amanda Hammett’s motivational programs for high school students? Visit her website. And if you’d like to know more about how career coaching can help you overcome and use your failures to reach greater heights and find your passion, please email me at Valli@valliassociates.com or give Valli Swerdlow a call at 703-615-3834.

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Sometimes you have to change your story! Could normal self-doubt turn into negative messages or “stories” which impact how successful you are? A soon as I heard radio NPR’s segment called Can You Think Your Way To That Hole-In-One? I decided immediately which topic I would choose for a recent talk to a MOAA (Military Officers of America Association) group of career transitioners, going from the military to civilian life. As a BABY VOOMER ™ Career Coach I know that most individuals going through a career transition, especially baby boomers, experience negative self-talk that can stand in their way of achieving their goals, especially during the emotionally sensitive time during a job hunt.

These messages or “stories” we tell ourselves can cover a variety of topics such as: feeling that we’ll be considered “too old” for a job, identifying those already working in the private sector as invincible competition, putting them up on a pedestal because they already have a leg up, having few civilian contacts in the private sector to network with; statements like “I don’t want to contact anyone for networking or to ask for an interview for fear of bothering them”; dislike the feeling of “ begging” for a job; and admitting a lack of understanding of how to use Linkedin and web 2.0 technology for a job search. Instead of developing a strategy for job searching using proven methods statistically leading to quicker, more positive results – many people resort to sitting at their computer checking the daily job boards, and or directly going to corporate web sites, that historically are not kept up to date, etc. because these are emotionally “safer” methods.

“The Power of Positive Perception” is a concept based upon research by a Purdue University psychologist gathering research to support that one may be able to improve his or her golf score by believing that the hole they are aiming for is bigger than it really is.

Golfers were asked, as they came off the course, to choose which of the three diagrams drawn on a large board accurately represented the size of the cup they were aiming for. One was a little bigger than the actual size of the hole, one was a little bigger, and the third was the accurate size. The golfers were also asked to divulge their actual golf score.

The results showed that those golfers who thought the hole was a ”little bigger” got lower scores than those who thought the hole was smaller. Therefore, the golfers with the lower scores were more accurate and took fewer strokes by 10% – 20%, when they visualized that the hole was bigger than it actually was.

How does this apply to being successful in life, managing your career, and leadership development in the business world? I believe that on the job hunt, all the negatives stories we tell ourselves are all true to some degree, but dwelling on them can stand in the way of our success. This led me to apply the research that was done about improving your golf score to business challenges. From my years of experience working with job seekers and career minded individuals climbing the corporate ladder together, we found that by uncovering their self-limiting belief system, and turning that around, we increased their success, thus the phrase –sometimes you have to change your story. Yes, there is ageism. Yes, you always have competition and need to specifically identify what attributes you have in common and those that separate you so that you stand out. Yes, many people will not respond to your phone calls or email requests, therefore you have to increase your odds by looking at this as a “numbers game”—make more calls. Yes, the majority of job hunter’s strategies that revolve around sitting at home, surfing the Internet, answering ads are not statistically effective. The fact is twenty-five cents today isn’t going to buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So what? Instead of dwelling on the negative, which leads to getting stuck, focus on the positive!

Here is a fact worth considering. AARP BULLENTIN’S May ’12 issue stated “For the first quarter of this year, 788,000 people 55 and older nabbed jobs, compared with 385,000 new jobs for younger workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

I can tell you that millions of baby boomers, even those with gray hair and some going bald, get hired every day – due to their experience, functional and managerial skills and even FOR their maturity (having the presence to communicate with high level executives, etc). As a former executive search recruiter, over the last 15 years, I have a record of landing jobs for professionals in their late 50’s and 60’s. You have to assume for every position you are interviewing for there are at least 5 – 10 applicants that have been narrowed down as finalists. The difference is telling yourself these negatives stories can be self-limiting beliefs, demoralizing, drain your energy and leads to the “why even try attitude.” How about changing your story and visualizing the hole a little larger—with a more positive outlook?

I recently applied this philosophy to setting a goal three times higher than previous for a temple fundraising project that I am in charge of. The project involved selling jars of honey, during an eight-week period, in time for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur. Last year our group sold about 100 jars, the same number as our initial year. First, I remembered NPR’s story and said to myself, “Let’s see if we can sell 300 jars of honey this year”. Secondly, by just acknowledging that I was buying into my negative self-talk, I devised a more assertive creative plan than last year that took marketing the jars to the next level.

Instead of just relying on ads, which appeared in emailed newsletters and bulletins directed to our membership I took a more active approach, and enlisted the help of other temple members. For three weekends two volunteers personally approached parents who were waiting to pick up their kids from Sunday school, showing them a sample of an attractively presented honey jar, holding a colorful personalized greeting card, all ready to be shipped in individual boxes. The suggestion was made about how this would make a great gift for family, friends and business associates. We only asked if they would be willing to give us their name and email address so that they could receive a reminder link for ordering purposes in the next few weeks. I’ll let you know what happens!

Listen to the story: http://www.npr.org/2012/04/18/150813843/can-you-think-your-way-to-that-hole-in-one

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The Astonishing Truth About Introverts & Extroverts (& Why You Should Care!)

Introvert or extrovert…who cares?

Introverts become Presidents, CEOs, nurses, IT professionals and teachers. And, so do extroverts. So…what’s the big deal? What does this have to do with anything?

As a Career Coach and Personal Brand Strategist, I care a great deal! I am very concerned about whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, and, more importantly, what you do with that information. You should be as well!

Knowing what you are has everything to do with paving your road to happiness and success. I am passionate about your knowing which you are and how to use that knowledge.

Living with two gifted introverts, a child and spouse, inspired me to launch Introvert vs. Extrovert: Business Strategies to Success, which is one of the most popularly requested workshops that I offer to groups and radio talk show hosts. Due to increased demand and escalating interest in the issue, the title became The Astonishing Truths About Introverts & Extroverts (& Why You Should Care!).

My firm belief is that your power lies in your boldness or your reservedness. Introverts and extroverts may disclose having shared values such as “being recognized” or “respected” at their jobs, but what sets them apart is how they each go about getting that recognition or respect.

Today, corporate America likes to say that it encourages inspiration and creativity, which is a pathway to innovation, yet how can managers accomplish this without everyone understanding each other’s strengths and then continuing to build upon them?

For example, when competing for a promotion the introverted employee may present himself/herself as being humble, and not wanting to take credit for a project that involves teamwork. Often that individual is overlooked for a promotion. On the other hand, the extroverted employee may come on too strong, smug, overly confident and assume that she or he has it “in the bag.”

An extroverted Marketing Director shared that after six months on the new job her boss called her into his office. Her boss said, “You are doing a great job! The team has given me some feedback and my suggestion is to dial it back a bit!”

There seems to be growing interest in the introvert as indicated by current writings and research.

A recent Time magazine cover showed a little boy in the corner of a room. The headline was “The Power of (shyness).” In the inside feature article, “The Upside of Being an Introvert (And Why Extroverts are Overrated),” author Bryan Walsh, discusses various aspects of introversion as well as current research that he cleverly weaves into his narrative.

Additionally, in her new bestselling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain says that “by 1920 popular self-help guides had changed their focus from inner values to outer charm …” Words were used such as: “citizenship, duty, work, golden deeds, honor, reputation, morals and integrity.” In later decades, the emphasis switched to descriptions such as: “magnetic, fascinating, stunning, attractive, dominant, forceful and energetic.”

Getting back to my original premise about the importance of knowing whether you are an introvert or extrovert, will help you clarify choices that you make daily as well as those far into the future to help you be what you want to be when you grow up.

Harnessing your powers will help enable you to build upon your strengths and find out what gives you supreme satisfaction and joy. Good luck! Cheers!

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Are You A Baby Boomer or Baby Voomer? You decide!

Well, which is it, Baby Boomer or Baby Voomer? OK, you think I’m kidding. Maybe I’ve lost my mind? No, I’ve just realized who I truly am! Baby Voomer is a name I created by using the first letter of my name, “V”alli (which I by the way always thought was rather unusual) instead of the letter “B” in the word Boomer. Why would I do that?

I felt that the term Baby Boomer pinpointed the generation in which I was born but didn’t really capture the essence of what I’m all about. Nor did it describe many of the people I gravitated toward such as my friends, business associates, colleagues, clients, or even stories I’ve read about fascinating people who intrigued me. So, I decided to invent my own word. I prefer being referred to as a Voomer, how about you? Read on and see if you relate.

Anyone who knows me would use the words creative, innovative and passionate to describe what I am all about. I had an urge to create a unique word, so I chose “VOOMER” to describe myself and all of us who are vibrant, vivacious, vital, looking for our next adventure and, let’s face it, on the move — v-o-o-o-o-o-ming around!

Several years ago I experienced a career transformation due to the downturn in the economy. I parlayed my talents into a new venture as a BABY VOOMER (TM) Career Coach and Executive Leadership Coach. For me part of the fun exploring a new career or reinventing myself has been the process of collecting a lot of research about people my age and Boomer trends. Studies have pointed out that our generation (those of us born between 1946 and 1964), all of us admittedly who are celebrating our 39th birthday over and over again, are active, healthy, and many are still working, stretching ourselves and exploring new creative talents, traveling, volunteering and generally re-inventing ourselves.

In my new life as a coach, I’ve learned several sobering facts from research studies that confirm my belief that NOW is the time to start really living and enjoying every minute of every day and night. Sobering Fact #1: Up to 70% of all workers dread coming in to work on Monday mornings. Sobering Fact #2: Most suicides happen on Sunday night between 4 PM and 10 PM. Sobering Fact #3: Most heart attacks happen on Monday morning. If you are in your mid-40’s, 50’s or 60’s maybe it’s time to realize it’s never too late to take out your very own magic wand and give yourself the gift of discovering what you are truly passionate about, whether for career options or volunteer opportunities, so that you do not become a sobering statistic. The 1st step may be using some evaluative assessment tools; the 2nd step is to develop an action plan to figure out how you are going to get where you want to go, and the 3rd step is to follow through with a self-developed support team. I am so grateful to have found my passions leading to Career and Leadership coaching. That led me to spreading my entrepreneurial wings and becoming a Career Coach.
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Dress Your Brand for Success

Today everyone is talking about “Branding You” and indeed they should. It’s about using colorful words to describe your passions, your attributes, your personal personas and leadership qualities. Carefully chosen colorful phrases differentiate you from your peers and co-workers, so that supervisors, bosses and employers take notice. Why is that important in today’s marketplace and how does it tie into my previous career? I am a certified 360Reach Personal Brand Analyst and I can answer that question.

My name is Valli Swerdlow and over 20 years ago I wrote a booklet called “Dress Your House For Success”. The premise was based on several years of research that I conducted about what colors, textures, sounds and smells helped make a home stand out so that it would sell more quickly and at the best price. It was featured in major real estate, remodeling and home and garden magazines nationwide, newspapers like “The Christian Science Monitor” and “The Chicago Tribune”, and by syndicated real estate columnists. I reached further and sold thousands of my publication to homeowners directly by having it reviewed by their writers, columnist and editors. For example, the concept of “neutralizing” the color of wall and exterior paint to attract a wide range of buyers was years ahead of its time. Use of these concepts has blossomed into a new profession: today a Stager can be hired by homeowners to suggest well placed furniture, lighting, and accessories to increase the chances of selling a home quickly and at the best price, by emphasizing the qualities that home buyers are looking for and make it stand out from the competition.

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3 Step FABulous Interview Strategy – Land Your Dream Job

Trust me. I’m not the job fairy but I would like to share a 3 Step FABulous Interview Strategy – Land Your Dream Job that I have successfully used for 14 years called a FAB. Here is a F-A-B-U-L-I-O-U-S secret that has been shared with thousands.

Your chances can increase ten-fold of being offered a job by prepping before an interview using a FAB, also known as Fabulous Facts About Yourself, to prepare yourself before the job interview.

My clients have told me time and time again that by using this exercise they were able to more clearly see strengths that they had overlooked and better articulate them during the interview process.

Here is why it works:

Research has shown that when hiring authorities interview a candidate, individually or by a team, the employer will not be able to recall specific facts about each individual after wards. This includes the whole gamut of interviews such as by telephone, SKYPE and or in-person.

To sum it up for a hiring authority all the qualities of each candidate becomes foggy recalling hundreds of facts such as to where each person went to college, their work history, etc. One thing that decision makers do more easily remember is what you bring to the table, what the benefits of hiring you will be at their company or “what is in it for them”.

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You Can Launch Your Career – Lifetime Employment vs. Lifetime Employability

Today the best way to move your career up or in any direction you choose is to put ‘You’ in the drivers seat. Your options are *boundaryless.

From the 1950’s to the 1980’s our fathers or grandparents may have worked for one company during their lifetime and relied on getting promoted from an entry level position to an executive or CEO of the company. Options at that time had boundaries, but if you followed the rules the sky was the limit.

My husband, Richard, worked for Bell Labs for 32 years, which became Lucent Technologies, before he took early retirement. He worked for them straight out of college after getting his Master Degree from MIT as an electrical engineer. He knew that if he did well, worked hard and was a dedicated employee he would get promoted up the corporate ladder, either on the technical or managerial side, and he did. We felt his career path was almost guaranteed and secure at that time.

Relying on one company to promote you during your entire career is long gone, due to downsizing, mergers and acquisitions. Farming out technical work to foreign countries, like India, have put departments and divisions out of business causing mass layoffs nationwide.

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The Threshold Generation – A Magic Wand Question

Have you ever sat down with your financial planner and asked them, “Based on my current finances how many more years until I can retire?” A few years back I did, at West Financial, when I was working as an Executive Search Recruiter and was quite surprised by their answer.

All that changed several years ago when the economy went downhill, and if you can believe it, my recruiting specialty was in Commercial Real Estate – a double whammy! I would have been perfectly happy headhunting until I retired but chose to transition my skills and enroll in an Executive Leadership Development and Coaching program. That led me to spreading my entrepreneurial wings and becoming a Career Coach.

I came up with a “magic wand” Career Coaching question and now ask it to baby boomers 45 to 65 years old where I actually pull a colorful wand out of my purse and say, “If you knew you had 5, 10, 15 to 18 years until you could afford to retire could you see yourself working at the exact same job in the same position?”

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