Episode 54: Ageism and Relaunching: How to Respond in an Interview with Julie Brush
Julie Brush, founding partner of Solutus Legal Search and the voice of “The Lawyer Whisperer” blog joins Carol for this episode filled with practical advice and tips for handling ageism in relauncher interview situations (not just in the legal field). In these mock interviews, Carol and Julie address scenarios that come up more frequently in relauncher interviews including being overqualified, concerns about higher salary expectations, and hints that the job pace “might be a little too fast.” The answers will leave you feeling optimistic and well-prepared – not just for your next interview, but for how you present yourself in any professional situation.
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Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chair and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host for today. Today we welcome Julie Brush, founding partner of Solutus Legal Search and the voice behind The Lawyer Whisperer Blog for legal professionals.
It was her article on How to Deal with Ageism in the Interview Process for law.coms, The Recorder, that caught our eye as the advice is relevant for relaunchers in all fields, not just law. And today we really want to focus on ageism and we're also going to do a mock interview with Julie featuring questions that relaunchers and older workers get asked in the interview process and elsewhere.
Welcome Julie, to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.
Julie Brush: Thanks Carol and thank you for having me here today. I'm thrilled to be here.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Well, we're thrilled to have you. And before we get into the mock interview piece where I really want to spend a lot of time, and I'm excited about that, can you give us a little background on how you ended up founding Solutus Legal search and creating the Lawyer Whisperer?
Julie Brush: Sure, sure. So briefly, I practiced law at Brobeck Phleger and Harrison many years ago, and I was not happy in the profession of practicing law. I had a friend in the legal recruiting business who thought that I would be terrific in that profession, but the problem was I had no idea what legal recruiters did.
So I learned as much as I could, talked to as many people in the profession as I could, and realized that it was a profession that I thought I could be really happy in. I ended up joining a larger recruiting firm and after a couple years I wanted to pursue a practice that was really more aligned with my vision of client service.
And so in 2000, my partner, John Asher and I started Solutus and we've been doing well ever since. That's a kind of a brief history of how I got to Solutus. I created The Lawyer Whisperer and started writing the column about five years ago. I have been counseling lawyers and executives for years, and many of whom have the same questions, same anxiety, same concerns.
There just really wasn't enough time in the day to answer everybody's question. So, I also knew how fast the profession was changing and the level of anxiety and questions seemed to increase. So I wanted to reach a larger number of people and provide the highest quality information and advice, and creating the blog and the column was really the best way to do that. It's turned out to be quite successful.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Well, if your article on ageism is any indication, it is indeed a very high quality resource. And we're so glad that we know about it. It's very helpful to our relaunchers who have careers in all different fields, not only law, a lot of this advice is generic in the sense that it applies to people regardless of their career specialization or industry sector.
Can you talk about why you wrote that article on age-ism and interviews?
Julie Brush: So I wrote the article because there's a significant constituency in the workforce today, and even not in the workforce yet, but reentering the workforce, that have hit an age where they're experiencing ageism and reentry issues associated with it.
I speak with scores of professionals who feel helpless and demoralized, and they don't really know how to deal with this issue when they're experiencing it or even how to strategize in finding the right role when they feel like they may encounter ageism. So I wanted to write the article with some very practical advice,
with some scripts and, and some very practical information and to inspire this group to stay positive and optimistic as they kind of continue on their journey.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Well, excellent. So I'd like to do a mock interview where we're illustrating some of the advice that you talk about in the article and have me be the interviewer. You be the interviewee. And I want to ask you a series of questions that are either veiled references to ageism or maybe not so veiled. And some of these are questions that our relaunchers get on a regular basis. The only thing I'll say is if you end up having more than one answer for one of the questions that I ask you, then just let me know and we'll replay the question and and talk about the second answer.
Julie Brush: Sure.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So, let's just start. Pretend that we're in an interview and I say, “Julie, you seem really overqualified for this role. And I think you might get bored in the position pretty fast.”
Julie Brush: Yeah. So this is before I go into my responses and by the way, there are, there are two different ways that you can answer this question,
but this is probably one of the most common questions that folks receive in an interview process who are more senior and it's kind of this veiled excuse on why they may screen you out without sounding like they're being ageist. So it's a great question, Carol. The first response, and by the way, I'm going to talk about in terms of whether this person is interviewing at a company, because there are lots of different types of employers, so you can fill in the blank.
Carol Fishman Cohen: True.
Julie Brush: So, one response that a person can provide is this. “You know, I'm very fascinated by this company because it's on the cutting edge of innovation and innovation never bores me in every role. There are new things to learn ways to maximize value for the company. And that's an evolving process, which I find challenging and engaging.”
“This role is very interesting to me because it requires a strong corporate brand background. And I'm using corporate background as…,” you can fill in the blank, “and it's highly collaborative with other functions. I also liked the detailed aspect of the role because I like to roll up my sleeves and stay connected with the professional issues at hand, I do possess a very impressive amount of experience, and I am an expert on the corporate side and in my opinion, the company needs an expert in order to gain confidence and credibility with the executives, the legal team, and the other vertical executives within the organization.”
Carol Fishman Cohen: You know, I really like this answer because you're not skirting the issue that you are indeed an experienced expert professional. You are acknowledging that and how it fits into answering this question.
Julie Brush: Yes, and I think that for the listeners here today, it's extremely important to understand that you should own your expertise. Don't be afraid of it.
Don't downplay it, own it and make it a competitive advantage.
In the process you bring as experienced, seasoned professionals, a tremendous amount of knowledge, background, different dynamics that you've encountered, and to put together a very cohesive, succinct narrative on how that experience will add the most value to the organization. So, if you take away key nuggets from this discussion, this is one of them, own your expertise, own your level of experience and make it a competitive advantage for you.
Carol Fishman Cohen: That's excellent advice. And you had mentioned that you have two different answers for this question.
So I'm going to pose the question to you again, and then maybe we can hear answer number two and talk about that one. All right. “So Julie, you seem really overqualified for this role, and I think he might get bored in this position pretty fast.”
Julie Brush: “Well, I understand why you might view it that way. While I do possess quite a deep level of experience, I don't view myself as overqualified, but rather someone who will bring added expertise and greater depth to the team. I really love what I do and what I have found in my years of experiences that people who love what they do, they don't get bored. So all of my positions have been quite rewarding. I'm also fine with the compensation range.
So the value you'd receive from me will exceed anyone with less experience.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Very interesting. You're now broaching this whole topic of the person being worried. Oh, well, I bet this person's going to be really expensive. The interviewer being worried about that, and you're starting to deal with that topic head on, and we're going to talk about compensation in just a minute, but, I like this totally different take on answering this question.
Any comments about this particular answer versus the other one?
Julie Brush: So, in both of these answers, the interviewee is being detailed about kind of addressing the potential issues and also acknowledging that the interviewer, or understanding why the interviewer may see it this way.
Instead of kind of arguing with the interviewer, you're understanding why it might be perceived that way. And I think the key here is the level of detail that you're going into about your experience, about how you love what you do. It's not that you're just saying no, you're wrong. You're being detailed and you're explaining why. And I think that that can be incredibly effective when you're answering a question like this.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes. And let's just talk in general about situations maybe that are not formal interviews, but let's say you're at a professional event and it's more of a casual conversation kind of situation. One of the pieces of advice that we give relaunchers who are older and who are worried about ageism is that they need to become a subject matter expert in their field all over again.
And when they're in these casual situations where, maybe they're waiting for a speaker to start speaking, they can actually reference, “Oh, I just read that person's article or their book. And this is what I thought would you think?” And that gives them some credibility in the other person's eyes based on the substance of what they're saying regardless of their age.
So I'm just curious what your thoughts are about any other comment on how you interact with people in a more casual environment. That's not the formal interview where you're going in already feeling some sensitivity and insecurity around people are going to think that I'm really old.
Julie Brush: So one of the things that I talk with professionals about is this concept of your professional identity, and this is not your brand. This is the melding of who you are as an individual, as a person, your values, your ethics, your principles, and who you are as a professional and who you are as a professional includes your substantive experience, what type of worker you are, what your likes are and dislikes, how you're more effective in certain types of environments than others.
It's kind of the height of self-awareness about who you are. And once you have that information you can create this kind of internal narrative that becomes the core of who you are in your professional identity and everything that emanates from that as a reflection of that, your LinkedIn profile, your resume, how you are in interviews.
And also how you are in casual settings. Maybe it's a personal casual setting. Maybe it's a networking event. Maybe it's a book signing, who knows what it is, but knowing who you are and doing that work upfront and understanding what that narrative is, enables you to go into any situation and be very comfortable having conversations about who you are and what you do. How do you want the world to perceive you as a professional? And that includes taking into consideration that you may be more seasoned.
And if you're insecure about that, or you have anxiety around that, doing this work upfront to address that, I would say, not in a super high octane or direct way, but more subtly will help put your mind at ease when you're in those types of situations.
So to me, I think everyone out there listening should go through that exercise so that if they are in these types of situations, they can add value in any conversation. Maybe it's not just talking about subject matter expertise, maybe it's talking about how you feel about working in certain cultures.
If you've worked in big companies or small companies or work with millennials or work with engineers, think about what those dots are and what dots connect to any particular situation that you may find yourself in. And then you can pursue those talk threads.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I really like what you're saying, especially this distinction between focusing on your professional identity and that it's not your brand.
You keep hearing all of this advice, build your brand, build your brand. And I've noticed there's been a bit of a backlash on that. I know probably most notably Sheryl Sandberg has been talking now about, forget about your brand. You're a person and people don't have brands, things have brands or businesses have brands, and she started to make that distinction.
But the way you're underscoring it about thinking about it in terms of your professional identity and sort of this holistic view of who you are as a professional, I think is pretty profound actually. And it's super helpful to relaunchers who have to be going through this process while they're on career break and figuring out, how am I presenting myself to the working world when I've been out of the workforce for five, eight, 10 years.
So, a very interesting concept.
Julie Brush: And I think that there's this concept in today's society about your authentic self. I think that's very important and I think people are getting in touch or getting reconnected with their authentic selves and you don't have to be in the work world today and have, you know, be in that rat race to be able to understand what your professional identity is and have a great narrative and value to add in any situation. So, by thinking about it and pursuing it as kind of this combination of our authentic personal selves and professional selves, we can feel more confident about how we are presenting ourselves to the world. People get uncomfortable when they think that they are marketing themselves.
That's the concept of brand because they don't feel authentic.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. Such an important point. I just want to remind our listeners that you are listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, your host.
And today we're speaking with Julie Brush, founding partner of Solutus Legal Search and the voice behind The Lawyer Whisperer blog for legal professionals, where we saw her excellent article on ageism. And we are in the middle of a mock interview, where I'm the interviewer and Julie is the interviewee.
I am asking her questions that have to do with ageism and in the last exchange that we just had at the end of Julie's response to this question about being really overqualified, she started to broach the topic of compensation by saying, “I am fine with the compensation range, so the value you'd receive from me will exceed anyone with less experience.”
But now I want to ask a more pointed question that our relaunchers might hear. Our relauncher audience tends to be in their forties, fifties, or above, and ageism is a prime concern. So the question would be, “Julie, I think you're going to be way too expensive for this position. So I'm hesitating having us move forward in the interview process.”
Julie Brush: Another great question. And just to know that, there is a wave of laws that I think will be more of a trend out there. I know that this is a case in New York and California, and I think Massachusetts, but there's a new law that says that employers are not allowed to directly ask candidates what their compensation is, nor are they allowed to ask their recruiters.
And again, we've talked about this a little bit, but I think that the purpose of it is to eliminate gender pay inequality, and also persons of color. So there's all sorts of reasons behind it. But, before I go on to my answer, there is a way that employers are getting around this and it's to ask you as the candidate, what your compensation expectations are.
So that’s just kind of a side note to be prepared to answer that question when you're in the interview process. With regard to your question, I do think that this is a common concern for employers, that the person that they're interviewing is going to be way too expensive.
A really good response would be this, “My main interest is being paid fairly as it relates to this position, money's not a primary driver for me. It's really about the role, the opportunity, the culture, and the people with whom I work. It's the overall fit that's of the most importance to me. And I'm also not a person who's malcontented about money. I don't constantly push for more. I want to be paid fairly for the value that I bring to the organization. And I've worked in other companies and know how compensation works. I am aware of the compensation range for this role. I think it's a fair range for the responsibilities that come with it. And for me, it's really a non-issue.”
Carol Fishman Cohen: What would you do if someone says,”What are your expectations for this role?”, if they have not disclosed, either in the job description or in prior exchange in the interview anything about salary? Do you recommend not trying to get them to say what the range is first or you talk about maybe what you've researched, how do you handle that?
Julie Brush: Yeah, I get this question a lot and most employees, or I should say candidates, feel very uncomfortable putting out numbers, because they don't want to go first. It's all operating in a vacuum. So one of the narratives that I recommend is something like this, “I have not given a tremendous amount of thought at this point to the compensation component of it. Right now I've been focusing on the role and the overall opportunity. I don't know what the compensation range is for the role, but I can tell you that I want to be paid fairly for the value that I bring to the organization. So it would be helpful to understand what the compensation range is so I can provide you with a more thoughtful answer.”
Carol Fishman Cohen: That is a great answer. So I hope everyone's listening and we might have to write that down and put it in a blog form too, we'll talk about that. Let me ask you a couple more questions, “Julie, I'm concerned you're going to be too senior to roll up your sleeves and do certain tasks that might feel mundane, or you might consider beneath you. What do you think about that?”
Julie Brush: “I think it's vital to be in the trenches if you want to stay connected at a more granular level in the role and in the organization as a whole, in my current role, a big part of what I do involves not only drafting and negotiating but also handling administrative matters. So if something needs to get done, I do it. I'm a doer, there's a management aspect of my current position, which is something I prefer to minimize more on a day to day basis. And that's why this position is so appealing to me because it does offer me what I call a telescope role. I can get into the weeds and be more granular and roll up my sleeves.Or I can operate at a higher level.”
Carol Fishman Cohen: Great. Well I like that answer, how about this one? “The pace is very fast around here and I'm not sure that is a good fit with how you work. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?”
Julie Brush: Sure. And just a side note before I answer that question, this potential question comes up very frequently in organizations that are emerging growth, startups, at all stages, even big technology companies that have a very kind of cutting edge kind of way about their culture. We see this quite a bit and this question comes up quite frequently and the read between the lines is, “You seem pretty senior and we think you're going to be very slow.”
So, one response you can provide, which I think is pretty effective is this, “You know, in every position I've worked, regardless of the size of the company, I’ve had to attend to matters quickly. And whether you're servicing internal clients or external clients, service is service, and in order to provide the best service,
whether you're at a big company or small company, a faster moving company or slower moving company, you need to move quickly and be nimble. You also have to have a lot of energy and a strong work ethic. And these are areas in which I've always excelled in my current role there, things are changing very quickly and I'm constantly having to reprioritize. And this is great experience that I would bring to this role. Were there specific concerns that you had about my ability to work in a fast paced culture?”
Carol Fishman Cohen: So that's great. And I would add that if you're a relauncher and you're on a career break, you could say, “In my past roles, things have changed quickly, and I was constantly re-prioritizing and that's just part of how the companies operated and I was completely comfortable with it.” So you can reference your past experiences. We say reference them as if they happened yesterday and even if they were years ago and you can make the same point.
Julie Brush: The other thing that I want to add Carol, is that, and I know some people might wince at this suggestion, but there are a lot of relaunchers who are out there who have been the CEOs of their households for the last several years. And that is a hard job. I would encourage those who are in that position to think about the skillset that you've had to employ to manage your situation as effectively as possible. And don't be afraid to weave that in to a narrative or to an answer that will be relevant. Again, this is part of your professional identity. Don't run from it. Don't run from the time off and what you've done with it.
Think about the skills that you've built up, the experiences that you've had, that you can bring to this next role and add value.
So in all of these types of answers, I'm seeing opportunities to bring in those narratives, not to dominate the narratives, but to serve as one example. I just wanted to add that as well.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I'm really glad that you brought that up, Julie. It's actually a point that we think there has to be a lot of finesse around, because you don't know who you're talking to and you could be talking to someone who is managing childcare, elder care at the same time that they've been working and they haven't taken a career break.
But to your point, if you keep it very focused on skills based, the skills that you've developed during your time on career break, and it could be in a volunteer in an unpaid role, and that's completely legitimate to reference. So with that caveat, I'd say, I totally agree with you.
Julie Brush: Yeah and you know, everybody's gonna feel a little bit differently about their comfort level. So as you go through this exercise in creating and thinking about your professional identity, you have to take that into consideration as well. One person may feel extremely uncomfortable bringing up what they've done during their career gap and others may feel differently.
So you make that assessment for yourself and either incorporate it in some way, shape or form or not. It's all good.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Right? Well, this has been an incredible conversation and I think it's so, so valuable to our relaunchers. Julie, as we wrap up, because we are out of time, I want to ask you the question that we ask all of our podcast guests. And that is what is your top piece of advice for our relauncher audience? Even if it's something that we've already talked about in our conversation today.
Julie Brush: So I would say that the top piece of advice would be to really do the heavy legwork and create or understand who you are as a person and professional and create this professional identity. And the narrative that accompanies it, that is the foundation of any career, any job search, whether you're taking a break or whether you're currently in the workforce, a lot of professionals out there don't know who they are or they're unclear or they know a little bit, but not a lot.
And so when they get into situations, either in interviews or professional settings, it shows and the folks who do know who they are, who have gone through this process are extremely effective in how they're presenting themselves. There's a lot that goes into managing a career, reentering the workforce, but the most important is to do this upfront work so that it can pave the way for you to maximize your options going forward.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Excellent. Well, thank you for helping us examine some of the very touchy and difficult questions that come up around ageism. So, Julie, can you tell our listeners how they can find out more about The Lawyer Whisperer and understanding that people who are not lawyers can gain a lot from what is written there.
Julie Brush: You bet. So The Lawyer Whisperer is like you said, not just for lawyers, it's for everybody. And these are issues that transcend the legal profession or those lawyers who were asking the question. So I encourage all of you to visit it.
The website address is www.thelawyerwhisperer.com. And you can just also Google The Lawyer Whisperer. I write articles on that pretty much every day. It's a Q and A format like the Dear Abby for lawyers, and there's a search function. So if you have any particular questions around certain topics, it's very likely that I've covered it. And if I haven't just shoot me an email and I'll be happy to cover it in the fall.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Julie, for joining us today.
Julie Brush: Thank you, Carol. I appreciate it.
Carol Fishman Cohen: You have been listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, chair and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information about iRelaunch, go to iRelaunch.com.
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