Case studies

To new heights

When Sabine Hauser* comes to me, an ambitious woman in her late thirties arrives. She describes to me relatively clearly and quickly that she started studying music at the age of 19 for the sake of her parents, but already in her undergraduate studies she realized that this was a wrong decision.

Rather, she wanted to study psychology, but her parents thought this was hopeless. Nevertheless, she had applied for a study place in psychology without consulting her parents and immediately received it because of her very good A-levels.

Against the will of her parents she broke off her studies of music in the fourth semester and took up the study of psychology, which she followed with great interest. However, she had to fund a considerable part of her studies herself because her parents did not agree with her decision. Therefore, she needed much more time for her studies, because she had to work all the time on the side. After graduating, she had completed her doctorate and a very expensive training as an occupational therapist.

So, until then a very courageous and self-determined life path of a woman who pursued her dream. Nevertheless, this woman is now sitting in front of me very helpless and completely desperate. "I don't know how to go on. Now I have fought for my dream for years, took on a mountain of debt for my doctorate and therapy training, only to discover that the therapeutic work does not satisfy me at all. Rather, I want to work scientifically or in a company. But I am already too old for that. No employer will take me in my late thirties.

The assignment to the coach

How do I manage to get a job in business or science with opportunities for further development despite my age?

The reformulation of the coaching issue

In fact, Mrs. Hauser has already received several rejections due to her age. She had been told that it was suspected that she was too old for a research assignment. She herself has adopted this external assessment and feels ashamed to be "so old" and still at the beginning of her professional career. Therefore, in our first coaching session, we will deal in particular with the topic of "age", its disadvantages and advantages and work out a modified coaching approach: What advantages does my age offer my potential future employer?

The steps to the goal

At the end of the first coaching session, I suggest that Mrs. Hauser first have five 1.5-hour sessions, which should take place at short intervals, namely weekly, because Mrs. Hauser feels that she is under great time pressure and wants to make rapid progress with her applications.

After our first meeting, I would ask her to send me her application documents and, above all, a list of her activities which she had carried out during her studies in order to earn money.

In fact, there are many useful professional experiences that she can bring to her applications. In addition, I notice that she is very qualified, the only stumbling block is her age. However, I realize that she cannot win over anyone in a job interview with her shameful attitude towards her age. So, it is particularly important to work with Mrs. Hauser on her attitude towards her age.

This is why I use the method of "reframing". I suggest that we reflect on the advantages of her age for her job. In doing so, we will make a list of her strengths. Of course, this is not only about gathering facts, but also about the motives that currently inhibit my client from changing. In our further sessions, we then work out the appropriate target groups of employers who do not see their age as an obstacle, but as a wealth of experience.

And that is exactly where my client is an expert in her life; she realizes that she has previously approached employers that are far too small and provincial. Rather, we are looking for employers who feel recognition but not skepticism for her unusual life path. Therefore, we formulate a new coaching plan that follows the first one:

A brainstorming session leads us to a list of possible job opportunities:

At the same time, we are rephrasing her application documents by not hiding her age but advertising it: "My passion is psychology. I prefer working in research or for a company rather than in therapy. It took me some time to realize this wish. But now I know exactly what strengths I have developed on this non-streamlined resume. I have invested a lot in my professional dream. Now I want to put all my expertise and professional passion at your disposal."

At first, Mrs. Hauser shrinks from such a confident approach to her age and her resume. That is why I stimulate her thoughts again: "Mrs. Hauser, you have invested a lot in your education. You have also given up years for your dream. What could the employer look like who you want to give your services and skills to?" She breathes deeply and agrees: "Yes, you are right. The time for compromises is over. I have fought for my goal for so long now, now I must also find an employer who appreciates my efforts and does not judge them as a shortcoming."

So how do we reach the employers of choice? Mrs. Hauser decides to attend a number of important scientific congresses where she can meet representatives of the top universities and companies that interest her in particular. There she plans to meet with relevant representatives in person. The strategy we agree on for her meetings is this: You have to approach extraordinary people. The less straightforward their lives are, the more open they are to Mrs. Hauser's life path. So, she has to move away from her old plan of applying to small and insignificant employers, but rather to large, very successful ones, and above all those who cultivate an open culture for individuality, perseverance and ambition.

The insight

In our sixth and last coaching session she comes in and reports to me excitedly: "Imagine that I have applied for an advertisement from a management consultancy looking for a consultant for a research and science company. I was still able to draft the application. But once again my courage is failing me. Should I have a chance with them?" I ask her the question, what is the point of this job? She replies, "Very good grades, stamina and a PhD." I remind her of her diplomas, and she smiles. For the job interview, we work out a strategy how she can use exactly her age, her professional experience and her persistence in her life's journey profitably for a consulting company.

In fact, in the end Mrs. Hauser gets exactly this job, especially because one expects a lot from her perseverance and the bite with which she has followed her life's path. "Age has not been discussed at all in this context," she reports. Instead, she was asked whether she was independent and willing to travel more often. She could only confirm this. "I never thought that I would 'ever be able to arrive at such a renowned consulting firm. They chose me - even though there were a lot of younger applicants."

* Name changed for privacy reasons.

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