Susan Boyle has become an overnight sensation, this video becoming the most popular on YouTube this week and this month, with over 11 Million views as I write this. What made this remarkable was not the quality of the singing, which was excellent, but probably no better than many top performers on this and other similar shows like American Idol. What made it remarkable was the level of performance as compared to the expectations that EVEYBODY had before she sang. We were set up … by her appearance and by her age and by past auditions by no-name wannabees who delivered horrid performances in order to be ridiculed by the judges. We knew what was going to happen before it happened … and we were dead wrong.
As I thought more about this, I noticed the parallels between Miss Boyle and many displaced engineers affected by the continuing economic woes. Many of you, like me and Miss Boyle, are in your forties. You may be a little overweight and the hair that you still have is turning gray. And you find yourself having to audition for a job amid snickers from the interviewers who don’t expect very much. In fact, I find myself in a similar circumstance, the contract with my current client coming to a close, and me starting to beat the bushes for the next project to work on.
So I am going to take away from Miss Boyle 3 points of inspiration that will hopefully help me and maybe help you too:
1 - Be out there
Even though she has amazing talent, Susan Boyle had every reason to think that she could not compete with the younger and prettier contestants. And even if she did go out there, she risked being ridiculed in front of a national audience. After all, this is a society that judges appearance over substance in so many ways. What was the point? Instead, she decided that she owed it to herself and her mother (now deceased) to give it a go.
You may think that your age is a liability, especially compared to younger engineers, armed with up-to-date education, who work for less and put in crazy hours. And you may be right. So you have to make a decision. You can feel sorry for yourself and convince yourself that nobody wants you. Or you can give it a go like Miss Boyle and at least you have a chance.
2 - Be Yourself
It’s truly amazing what professional makeup artists and clothing consultants can do to improve your appearance. Miss Boyle could have hired someone like that to make her appear younger, slimmer, and more attractive. But she didn’t. In fact, it looked like she dragged an old dress out of her closet to wear to the show. That probably did not help her, but she would have been much more the fool had she come out with tons of makeup and jewelry in tight fitting Spandex pants. I may be naive, but I believe that people inherently value honesty and authenticity … two of Miss Boyle’s most attractive qualities.
Now, I’m not saying you should dress sloppily when you go to an interview. But you should not go out of your way to make yourself appear, physically or otherwise, like someone you are not. Everybody get’s older, so you have nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, you can use your “experience” as an advantage in most situations. At least your future employer will walk away with the peace of mind that there are no surprises and that he knows what he gets with you.
3 - Be Prepared
Susan Boyle could have been on the show and been herself, but if she sang poorly she would have been ridiculed like so many other contestants. In the end, she had to be better than mediocre, to have real talent to impress the judges. She not only had talent, but she chose a song to sing that highlighted her strengths.
If you follow the 2 recommendations above, at least you’ll get yourself in front of people and they’ll know you are authentic. That should get you close to a level playing field. To get the job, you need to have skills. If you are lacking in the skills you need, you may need to acquire new skills to impress the judges. As I have mentioned several times before, Mentor Graphics’ Displaced Worker Program provides free access to training for displaced engineers and can be a great resource. (Hopefully Synopsys and Cadence will do the same). If you can, take advantage of this and so many of the other free resources available today. There are blogs, Webinars, forums, and social networks that can help you get the skills you desire.
Once you have the skills, make sure you highlight those skills and strengths. Just as Susan Boyle no doubt chose a song that emphasized her singing strengths and de-emphasized her weaknesses (I’m sure she has some), make sure you can speak during an interview to those parts of your experience and expertise that are your strengths. Be prepared for any and all questions.
In summary, I don’t expect that finding a new job/project at this time will be easy for you or for me. But at least we can be out there, be ourselves, and be prepared like Susan Boyle.
harry the ASIC guy