I love the term “brain-renter” because as a service provider, that is exactly what I do: I give people access to my knowledge and experience (brain) for a short period of time for a fee (rent).
Every week someone comes to me in a state of existential angst or despair thinking they are too old to be taken seriously or to be a viable contender in business. I don’t care if you are working in your own business or in corporate.
Please hear this: Your job-function expertise and industry experience doesn’t get less valuable over time – it gets MORE valuable over time.
Over the course of your career, you have probably seen and done a lot of things. If you are someone who is a generalist and has held multiple positions across industries (raising hand), you can say you bring diverse experience and best practices from other industries. You can say that you bring a fresh set of eyes and perspective to problems. This is valuable!
Conversely, if you have deep expertise in your industry or job function (maybe both), own it loud and proud. We need you! I don’t want a dabbler fixing my car or building a skyscraper. I want someone who knows everything there is to know about that. Ditto for surgeons, dentists, accountants, etc.
Partners at professional services firms and law firms bill at sky-high hourly rates because they are truly experts who have put in the time to get to the top.
But you my dear generalist or career hopper have value, too. You may bring an understanding of how the different siloes within an organization function and how they should ideally work together because you have held jobs in multiple areas, including marketing, sales, finance, operations, etc.
Whatever your background, own it. It’s yours and it is valuable – to your business’s clients or to your employer. It’s up to you to fine-tune the messaging so people understand the value you bring.
Often, prospects or potential employers get stuck in their thinking about retaining consultants or hiring employees. They think they need a professional with x, which might be fine, but your experience might be even more valuable to them. However, you will have to say something like, “I completely understand why you would be looking for x, but what I actually think you need is what I can bring and here’s why.”
I jokingly describe this tactic as “these are not the droids you seek.”
With the right positioning, making your skills relevant to the person you are speaking with, it’s often pretty easy to win people over to your way of thinking, or to at least entice them to consider your proposal.
Those of you who are 50+, please stop worrying about aging out. If you are a brain-renter like me, you are in your high-earning years. The perspective, insights, judgment, and negotiation skills you bring only have more value in today’s business environment where information, technology, and markets are constantly shifting. You’ve already been through changes in all of these over the course of your career. You might be the exact right person to suggest a way forward.