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Books can help you with career direction, control

Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM

Originally published: August 7, 2001

The gloomy winter skies and even gloomier economic news of massive job cuts and layoffs should be the spark that gets you thinking about your career and your future. And two interesting new books provide an unusual approach to your career assessment.

Legendary public relations executive Robert Dilenschneider has a new book that is guaranteed to give you pause. In The Critical 2nd Phase of Your Professional Life (Citadel Press, $19.95) he advises middle-aged (here defined as 40-something) workers not to appear “old.”

So whether it’s a matter of covering up gray hairs, starting an exercise plan you can boast about or refraining from complaining about your latest illness, Dilenschneider advises you to project a youthful image in order to retain a productive career.

It’s a rather shocking hypothesis, and one guaranteed to make the targets of his advice--those of us who keep redefining `middle aged’ as our parents’ generation--throw this book against the wall.

Dilenschneider does make a practical point. Who among this generation hasn’t wondered at the “kids” now running corporations? Who didn’t silently cheer a bit when the 20-year-old dot-com millionaires had their comeuppance?

Dilenschneider reminds us that the 76 million baby boomers are now being hit by the Age Assault, and are “pioneers in trying to stay employable after 40.” He examines the existing prejudices against older workers, many of whom will bear the brunt of the next round of layoffs among white-collar employees.

Says Dilenschneider: “You might say that we are all participating in a gigantic experiment about how older professionals can keep earning money.”

His advice:

Don’t become preoccupied with age. Instead, become age-neutral, and focus on making others, especially younger workers, look good.

Keep up to date on everything from music to the Internet. Don’t be judgmental about new trends.

Have a backup career, a talent you can market to start your own consulting business if your job disappears. Don’t be afraid to become a free agent.

Be prepared to listen, even if your new boss is younger than you are. Analyze, and deliver on, what your boss wants.

Find balance in your life, and accept that work is only a part of your definition of self.

Those are but a few of Dilenschneider’s prescriptions for survival in a youth-dominated business world. In fact, he’s optimistic that just as baby boomers changed the school system, the universities and the housing and job markets, boomers will also redefine the aging process.

In the meantime, you might want to remember his closing advice: “You’re only seen as old if you act old.”

Now, if you’re looking for a different route to career success, or at least a diversion from your current work worries, you might enjoy Ronna Lichtenberg’s It’s not Business, It’s Personal (Hyperion, $23.95).

Here again is a decidedly different approach to mapping your career. The author has developed nine “relationship principles” that are “guaranteed to take your work life to new heights of success, effectiveness and fulfillment.”

How did she discover these principles? By interviewing a slew of corporate success stories and celebrities in the world of sports, entertainment and fashion. By quoting them all extensively, Lichtenberg certainly guaranteed her own success at getting invited back to the right parties, as well as selling books.

Her list of contacts is impressive, ranging from top executive recruiter Tom Neff, chairman of SpencerStuart, to gossip columnist Liz Smith.

According to Lichtenberg, your business life is one long networking event. As long as you “don’t waste time on the wrong people” (that’s Principle No. 6), and that means thinking or talking about them, as well as associating with them, you’ll get ahead in your career.

You also have to “diversify your holdings” (No. 5), which seems to mean you must make a conscious effort to break out of your own comfortable circle and “use” people based on what they can bring to your party.

You’ll find that much easier to do if you follow principle No. 4, which is to “choose people like you choose stocks.” That means ruthlessly cutting the losers before they drag you down.

That’s because the author views all business deals as personal--with relationships giving the true edge where “price and performance are equal.”

It’s easy to knock this book for its ruthlessness, until you realize that some of the most successful achievers in the world of business seem to have mastered these techniques effortlessly. It’s just that seeing it in black and white seems to demean that intriguing personal characteristic that I’ve always labeled “innate charm.”

The one thing these two books have in common is an ability to make you focus on your future direction, and the many ways you might achieve more control of your work life. Even if you disagree with their conclusions, this self-analysis ought to improve your perspective. And that’s the Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser for stocks and commodities and is on the board of directors of McDonald’s Corp. and Pennzoil-Quaker State Co. Send questions via e-mail at Her third book, The Savage Truth on Money, recently was published by John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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