Why someone 30 years older than you — or younger — could be the key to your next job

These days intergenerational networking not only a means to ramp up your professional relevance, but it’s also a key to success.

That’s where CIRKEL, an organization that connects professionals across age and career stage for two-way mentorship, comes into play. (Cirkel is the Danish word for circle, since workers need to close the intergenerational hoop.) As CIRKEL’s founder, Charlotte Japp is helping older and younger people to network with each other, one generation assisting the other.

As someone who has spent years studying careers and the future of work, I am convinced that you can’t ignore the importance of bolstering your professional networks across generations. CIRKEL was founded in 2018 by Japp, a millennial, who early in her career, had noticed a huge gap between the 20-somethings she worked with and baby boomers like her parents, who had decades of experience, but were forced to retire or start secondary careers due to ageist hiring trends.

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After a mutual friend, Marci Alboher, vice-president of Encore.org, introduced us, I reached out to Japp with a few questions to get her take on how an intergenerational relationship can help us succeed in the new world of work. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation:

Hannon: How is the importance of career and professional development changing and why for people 50+ is it increasingly essential?

Japp: We are seeing the popularization of the “non-linear career.” Many members come to us in a moment of transition, whether that’s changing companies, roles, or even industries. A more drastic but very common change is leaving a “corporate” job and becoming a freelancer or starting a business. As people come to recognize that their career may not be a linear path due to factors within or outside of their control, it is more important than ever before to continuously invest in career development.

This is even more true for professionals who are 50+. As people live longer lives, they either need to work longer (for financial reasons) or want to work longer (for finding purpose). However, many older workers face age discrimination in the workforce. Nearly half of Americans over 50 are pushed out from long-term jobs before they choose to retire. Older workers who may have followed the linear career path in the past are now in catch-up mode. As they explore this new phase of their lives and careers, there’s a need to upskill or retrain to embrace a career switch later in life. 

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Finally, we have seen the effect of COVID impact workers on both sides of the age spectrum. For early career workers, they’re entering the workforce during a period of remote work, which limits their ability to network and learn soft skills in the office. They may need to invest in an additional network or professional development outside of the office to build these skills. Additionally, COVID has led to high unemployment and layoffs across industries. This makes it even harder for older workers to stay employed or re-enter the workforce, as they are now competing against younger and often cheaper talent. 

During the pandemic, older and younger generations of adults have been pitted against each other through social issues and politics, “OK, boomer.” Now we’re also seeing that the pandemic is also creating competition between older and younger professionals for jobs. The irony in all of this is that professionals from different generations can actually help each other succeed. Often the skills that someone in Generation Z or a millennial may lack are the skills that a Generation X or boomer worker have and vice versa. A rising tide can lift all boats, if only these boats could throw each other a line. 

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How is this the new networking for career success?

People network for many reasons, but oftentimes networking is associated with getting sales leads or getting a job. Networking can mean soul-sucking cold emails without ever getting a reply. While I encourage everyone to get out there and network as much as possible, there are a few ways that we create a different experience.

I believe in networking with intention. By that we mean that connections should be rooted in knowledge sharing. It’s about going into a meeting with an understanding of what you want to get out of it and how you can help the other person.

There’s the part we do, which is curating intergenerational introductions based on nuanced overlaps and complementary skills and experiences. We provide a lot of information with each introduction to help contextualize why the members are meeting each other. This allows the face-to-face meeting to move quicker through the small talk and right into the heart of the exchange. 

We also set standards for our members. We expect them to learn about their introduction and prepare for the meeting. We ask them to go in with the mentality of being a teacher and a student. We ask that they establish trust before asking each other for help. Given the roles society ascribes to various ages, we sometimes need to remind our younger members to ask, “How can I help you?” to avoid falling into the traditional mentor-mentee hierarchy. 

Our goal is to create networking opportunities that encourage learning and exchange of knowledge and skills. We believe this way of networking with intention is beneficial to career success and longevity, regardless of which stage of life you’re in. 

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I love the way you view it as investing in yourself like you would a meditation app or workout program.

We’re living during a time when the individual is hyper focused on their wellbeing. Traditionally this related to physical health and joining a gym was a way to ensure we “checked the box” on our physical wellness. We then saw a trend towards mental health and apps like Calm and Headspace rose in popularity. In recent years, there’s been an explosion in subscription services to cater to various needs and methods of self-care, from meal prep plans like Blue Apron
to shampoo subscriptions like Prose. Professionals are particularly focused on a holistic view of wellness as a marker for success, and I am making the bet that career health and social health (networking) are part of this view of wellbeing.  

More people are taking ownership of their careers. Gone are the mindsets of “I will give my all to this company for 30 years and then they’ll take care of me in retirement.” People recognize that they may need to roll up their sleeves and craft their own career path. This means that they also need to take ownership of investing in their own career development. It is not enough for a worker to rely on their company for job training or to expect indefinite job security. So, for older workers especially, who have at a higher chance of being pushed out and needing to make a pivot or land a new job after 50, it’s imperative to view investing in your professional development as an investment in yourself and your longevity. It’s part of thriving in a world that is constantly changing as we live and work longer. 

Can you share what you are discovering as the positive results of older and younger workers connecting to share experience, motivate and contribute to each other’s success?

We’ve seen members hire each other for freelance projects, design websites for each other’s businesses, connect each other to more people in their networks, become accountability partners, establish lifelong friendships, and collaborate on creative projects.

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