If you’re older and looking for a new job, this career counseling gurus says work your network, and do it systematically
When it comes to career counseling in the Bay Area if not the entire known universe, no one even comes close to Marty Nemko. The longtime Oaklander boasts a 96-percent client satisfaction rating, and he’s not shy about sharing his wealth of knowledge on how to land that dream gig. He’s written countless articles for the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Psychology Today, and many other publications as well as books like Cool Careers for Dummies. Nemko also often turns up on TV, including The Daily Show, CNN, and elsewhere. Radio fans know him from KGO as a guest and host on work issues and from his weekly KALW show, Work With Marty Nemko. He also holds a Ph.D. in education from Cal and has written extensively about how to improve the country’s educational system. Nemko, a natural performer, likes to hit the boards with productions such as his one-man show, Odd Man Out. About the only thing Nemko can’t seem to find these days is a barroom piano-playing gig, but that’s a story for another time.
Paul Kilduff: Obviously, right now everyone’s trying to figure how to fit into the gig economy. I’m sure it’s something that you deal with.
Marty Nemko: Constantly.
PK: I read that by 2020, 40 percent of jobs will be that kind of job. Is that sustainable?
MN: No. I think that there have been a variety of estimates, the most pessimistic of which is the one you’re describing. I think it’s more like 40 percent by 2025. There are others that make estimates like 16 percent. Then there are some optimists that say that there has always been the fear that new technology and automation would eliminate jobs, and historically, there have always been more jobs created. For example, the computer has created a ton of jobs when it was originally thought it might reduce them. I am, as I tend to be, very centrist. I think there will be significant loss of jobs, but not 40 percent, and I don’t think it’s sustainable, because we are in an ever more information-centric society. And to be really honest, there aren’t enough genius people who are super-techies to do those jobs. Those jobs will be filled by 5 or 10 percent. What about normal schmucks like me? They’re going to have a hard time spending a ton of time working on a gig for two months and then having to spend two months looking for the next job. No, I don’t think that’s sustainable, and I worry about the fabric of a society in which people are running around not sustainably employed.
PK: No benefits, no nothing.
MN: Right. Well, I believe that Trump is out. I think there will be single-payer health care. I don’t think that’s going to solve the whole problem, but I don’t think health care’s going to be the problem. The system’s overwhelmed, and so there won’t be enough quality health care. We already kill 350,000 people a year because of medical errors in hospitals, so there’ll be tons of medical errors, but I think everybody will be covered within the next few years.
PK: OK, that’s somewhat optimistic. I’m sure you’re familiar with Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame and his little mantra that not everybody needs to go to college. He and others point out that the trades pay really well. And it’s true. For instance, I hear that starting out an elevator repairman makes $160,000 a year.
MN: I didn’t know it was that much. Wow.
PK: And people who do it for a while make $300,000.
MN: I knew they were making good money. I didn’t think it was rich person’s money.
PK: Right. Despite this, my daughter just went off to college. But only one of her friends from high school is going into the trades as an electrician—he’s apprentice now. I predict he’s going to make more money …
MN: Than all the sociology, psychology, women’s studies, ethnic studies, American studies, and art history majors put together. In the Bay Area, we tend to follow one voice, which is why we need to focus on either biotech or the damn Trump administration, and so everybody wants to major in public policy, social action, and environmentalism. Therefore, the supply and demand means that most of those jobs are going to be volunteering jobs. We say we’re egalitarian, but it’s ridiculous, because we look down upon elevator repair people, robotics repair people, chefs, etc., and therefore supply and demand is going to mean that they’re going to make more money. That said, there’s a guy building a house nearby right now. And those workers are working their asses off. And maybe they’re making $30 an hour or $25 an hour. … The noise. I have for two weeks been subjected to constant Sawzalls, jackhammers, electric nailers. To live your life that way ain’t so much fun. Even as an electrician, you’re spending all your time crawling underneath basements and stuff and your back goes out at age 40, and now what are you going to do? I’d like to be optimistic, but I’m agnostic on all this stuff. Yes, too many kids go to college. If you didn’t do well in high school, it’s going to get harder in college. Only 20 percent of kids who go to a four-year college graduate in four years. Only 59 percent in six years and then mommy and daddy have this mammoth debt that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.
PK: It’s been my feeling that at 56, I’m far more likely to get a job, even a freelance gig, if I know and am in contact with someone already working at the organization. On the other hand, if I just apply online with the hordes in the cattle, i.e., with many much younger job-seekers, I don’t fare so well. Would you agree with that?
MN: I would agree with that in general. When you’re older, your best shot of getting a new job is your network. I mean the advantage of being older is you’ve had longer to acquire one.
MN: I really consider being older one strike against you but not three. I know baseball players who hit a home run with two strikes on them. But you have to really redouble your efforts. And what that means is, and this is a word that turns people off but it’s the accurate word, you have to be systematic. And what that means is you must make a list of everybody in all those years you’ve been around, and you’re a nice guy, so I imagine a lot of people like you. They don’t have to love you; they just have to like you. And make a list of all of them. And then you decide how you’re going contact each one. You’re going to e-mail them, phone them, get drunk together, go to a ball game, whatever. And make “the ask” that convinces them that you’re not tired blood. You’re not too specific but you’re not too broad. “I’m open to anything, man.” No. ‘Cause you sound desperate. But you also can’t be too specific. “I’m looking for a job in which I’m doing environmental journalism for a socialist publication in the Bay Area.” That’s too narrow. But you can say I want to do a writing-centric job that is consistent with my political values. Might you know somebody I should talk with? And they always say no, because the odds are at that moment they don’t have anybody. But here’s where being systematic comes in. After they’ve said no, you then ask them, “Would you mind keeping your ears open and in case I’m still looking, would you mind if I circle back to you in a month?” They always say yes. And now you’ve acquired a scout. They’re not beating the bushes for you, but the odds are not bad that within a month, one of those 20 is going to have an insider lead. That’s how older people tend to get jobs, you see?
For more Kilduff, visit the “Kilduff File Super Fan Page” on Facebook.
Age: 68 (Ouch)
Birthplace: Bronx, N.Y. (That’s where I learned to curse so much.)
Astrological Sign: 3rd-finger (That’s what I think of Astrology)
Book on nightstand: My Kindle with 20 books and 60 book samples on it. I just finished A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul, the Nobel Prize winner who died this year. Loved the book (the semi-autographical novel about life of East Indians in Trinidad) so much I’m now reading his acclaimed A Turn in the South, a travelogue of Indian Naipaul’s months visiting a number of locales in the Southeastern U.S.
Fun Factoid about Nemko: His first job, at age 14, was as a barroom piano player in the Bronx. As such, he was among the youngest barroom piano players in the world.
Motto: “We find comfort among those who agree with us, growth among those who don’t.”