40-Plus Professionals, Ganging Up for the Hunt

By Gabe Goldberg

Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 28, 2008; Page K01

It’s 10 a.m. on a Monday, and the small basement office suite on P Street NW is crowded. People have gathered to hear fireball Misti Burmeister discuss generational issues in the workplace with her trademark delivery: “Here’s how things are. Here’s how to succeed. Rock on.”

Even though she’s just 30, her message resonates with the members of job-networking group 40Plus, all of whom are, well, at least 40. It captures the energy and attitude at weekly meetings, where people enthusiastically swap resumes and share their TMAY (tell me about yourself) and PSR (problems/solutions/results) nuggets.

Burmeister, a Fairfax author and consultant, said there are four generations in today’s workforce: Generation Y, Generation X, boomers, and the generation with many names — vets, traditionalists, the silent generation, the greatest generation. With employee age differences of potentially 50 years or more, communication and collaboration challenges are hardly surprising.

She advocated two-way communication and empathy, especially when interviewing or being interviewed by someone of a different generation.

An experienced person from an older generation can mentor a youngster by suggesting ways to advance, and a junior person may clue in someone more senior to the latest technology or gadget. Most of all, she said, it’s important to avoid the right/wrong mindset and to simply enjoy generational diversity.

40Plus, a nonprofit group that exists specifically to face job concerns linked to age, was started in the 1930s by luminaries including entertainer Arthur Godfrey, inspirational speaker Norman Vincent Peale and IBM executive Tom Watson. Its mission is to help unemployed or career-changing executives, managers and other professionals succeed in the job market. Groups in Ohio, California, New York and Washington operate independently.

40Plus meetings and classes help members avoid the deer-in-headlights reaction to job searching. Participants’ motivations vary. Some have lost or resigned from jobs, others are seeking their next steps, and some are sharpening career skills.

Emphasizing networking as the most effective job-search technique, the organization provides a setting for sharing experiences and chatting with people in similar situations. Allen Rotz, who leads the local group’s board of directors, said that although members sometimes receive outplacement services from previous employers, “40Plus provides more useful and personal assistance in their job hunt than commercial services.”

Dave Heffernan, marketing director for the group, noted that those TMAYs — crafted as memorable stories rather than recitations of boring facts — encourage positive feedback and serendipitous introductions. Classes become job clubs that members use for support, ideas and networking. They also hold each other accountable by reviewing plans, progress and milestones.

A ship’s bell near the meeting room lectern gongs loudly to announce job search conclusions; a bulletin board documents positions found. New employers include FedEx, Inova Health System, the Afghan government, the World Bank and the Executive Office of the President. Presentations and networking are followed by speakers, members, volunteers and guests trooping across the street for an economical lunch at the Brookings Institution cafeteria.

The four-week class, which meets weeknights and Saturdays, costs less than $600 and includes a comprehensive handbook. The post-class membership fee for ongoing resources and support is $30 a month, and lifetime alumni status, which includes free repeats of classes, requires a one-time $50 payment. (The local group’s Web site is http://www.40plus-dc.org.)

About 8,000 people have graduated from the program in its 55 years.

Rotz said one of the biggest differences between 40Plus and commercial services is that in his organization, people develop job hunts in a structured classroom program run by volunteers who have been job hunters themselves.

“It is amazing in class how individuals develop self-confidence and rediscover forgotten details of past successes,” he said.

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