Elder Geeks Speak: Talking Careers

So I’m an Elder Geek. I’m 45. I saw Akira in the theaters (and was confused). I saw Star Wars first run. I remember the first “Cosmos” and have the book. You get the idea – or at least I hope you do.

I also speak on careers. I write on careers. I also encourage my fellow Elder Geeks who’ve been around the block a few times to do the same because let’s face it, we’ve got the experience and should share it. Also the economy is in tatters, so hey, let’s help people out here.

Except sometimes, it’s hard. It’s challenging to bridge the gaps between us and people ten, twenty, even thirty years younger. Things have changed, technology has changed, jobs has changed, and there is that whole smoking-ruin-of the economy thing I mentioned. It’s hard to explain how to survive in the economic wasteland when you’re coming from a different background.

So, as I look at my next round of convention talks, and as I encourage my fellows to talk about careers at cons, blogs, random gaming sessions, etc. I wanted to share what you can do to help talk to the younger geek crowd about careers. Trust me, it’s needed.

Here’s the things to remember.

Focus On Universals:

Though you should use specific knowledge (and keep it up) one big thing to focus on in careers is Universals that rarely change. This is important because they are, well, important, but also they’re often glossed over by other sources of job advice. People get used to thinking everyone gets the Universals, and thus stop explaining them.

Thus you need to – and should.

Here’s the universals I’ve found:

  • Networking – What it really is, how to do it, how to enjoy it.
  • Education And Training – How and what you have to know (and what you can afford) changes, but the value doesn’t.
  • Experience – How to get it.
  • A Good Resume And Cover Letter – Remember how the resume is going to go away? Yeah, sure.
  • Social Skills – Enough said.
  • Knowledge – How to get it and what to learn. You probably would be amazed at what you know.

Find Stories:

I like to relate to people through stories. People think in narrative, and teaching in narrative helps the lessons be easier understood and internalized. So, go and find good stories in your past, among your friends and co-workers, and so forth so you can share them.

These stories are great for sharing the Universals (above). One or two good tales that illustrates the important points can really hit home.

However, stories are also good for you to understand. That tale from a younger co-worker or someone in a different economic situation can help you get things as well. In turn, you can share that story and have more effect because it’s something you learned from yourself. It can even start a dialogue on people’s differences.

Keep Up On Trends:

Do not, under any circumstances, assume that the economic, social, and job trends you remember are the same today. You will probably be wrong and be embarrassed and look (and be) out of touch. Things change, and as of late they have changed rapidly.

If you are going to speak on careers – hell, if you’re going to have a career, period – you need to keep up on economic and job trends. Otherwise you’ll not only be clueless in your own sphere, but also clueless in understanding the economic issues facing younger Geeks. If you can get what they’re going through, you can’t help.

For instance, as I write this, youth unemployment is high and student loan debt is looking to be depressingly high and unpaid. That’s pretty different from my youth, and likely yours, and you need to be aware of it.

Keep Up On Culture:

Please make an effort to understand cultural issues and elements of the crowds you’re talking to. Know of the games they’re playing, the anime they watch, where they get their Maker diagrams, whatever. You want to understand what they’re talking about and in turn how you can talk to them.

Do not try to be hip or happening (unless you are). Just understand enough to understand them and know what’s going on.

For instance, I’m really not concerned about Homestuck, but I have to understand some of what’s going on to get the trends, know what people are talking about, speak to the fans on talent usage (which you see a lot of), and know what the hell a given cosplay is about.

Also you can joke about your own perspectives. It’s a great icebreaker.

Admit What You Don’t Know:

You can’t perfectly understand what younger Geeks are going through, so make an effort, but admit your cluelessness.

First, people will respect your honesty. You admit your ignorance. That helps them trust you, and means they’ll trust the lessons you can impart.

Secondly, people will fill in the gaps. There’s a few times where I had younger Geeks help me understand things because I could admit I didn’t know what’s going on. What I understood about their job and career prospects was depressing, but at least I understood it.

Ask How You Can Help:

This is not necessarily the most important piece of advice, but a critical one: ask the younger geeks you’re speaking to or coaching or writing for what they need to help them out.

Then, if needed, do it.

Really, you’re not going to understand their situations until you know what they need (or think they need). So go and ask. Ask at panels. Get feedback forms. Take polls. Whatever you need to do, go do it so you know what you can do to help.

Because that’s what you’re trying to do here.

Hope this helps all of you Elder Geeks think a bit more on how we can, in turn, help our younger brethren. We’re the ones with the experience, but we have to know how to share it.

Then again, when you’re a truly Ancient Geek you can pass these on to people who are just Elder Geeks and help them out.

– Steven Savage