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Countering baby boomer angst, workplace changes


The timing of this book couldn't be better.

It comes as news of layoffs at major companies from Nokia to Nortel fill the headlines. Although the unemployment rate remains low, many workers feel insecure about their jobs, and many more are growing weary of the workday grind.

Robert Dilenschneider's book is squarely aimed at anxious baby boomers who need a pep talk. He obliges, telling them they can thrive even though they are "sandwiched between two strong groups: the up-and-comers and the not-letting-goers."

Although the book's title says it is for ages 35 to 50, it's aimed more at boomers over 40. Thirtysomething professionals may not yet feel the stigma of gray hairs or be able to identify with the over-the-hill angst he assumes of his readers.

The book can be particularly relevant for readers over 50 who seek inspiring role models as they switch careers or start a business.

"I blossomed when I was 50," Dilenschneider writes in the introduction. "I set up my own business. I broke all the rules of "good management.' I also became a father. But the decade leading up to the big-five-oh was the most confusing time of my life. This book is the one I wish I had in my forties."

He calls the book a "survival kit" for older workers who are downsized out of a job or are dissatisfied with their job.

"Career shock was not supposed to happen to us," he writes. "We were among the brightest and best. We learned to avoid the pitfalls that killed other careers. Then we got older. Today the trick is to accept that your career might not be what you thought it was going to be and do something about it."

Boomers who think they have a neat career progression may be in for a rude awakening, Dilenschneider writes. Today's career paths are more likely to amble all over instead of heading in a straight line. Most of the book deals with the best ways to handle the twists and turns, and why it's okay to take a breather once in a while.

Dilenschneider says he wants to help his readers avoid the common pitfalls and assess their strengths and weaknesses to make better career choices. The book includes interviews with experts from an executive recruiter who talks about handling career setbacks to a psychologist who discusses ways to stay optimistic (exercise and get a dog).

Dilenschneider acknowledges that older workers often face age discrimination but says sometimes it's partly their own fault. He admonishes readers not to "act their age," but to keep a youthful outlook. Instead of complaining about new computer systems, learn how to master the new machines, he says.

Interestingly, he uses Madonna as a model for career building because she successfully reinvents herself to stay fresh and remain on top.

He tells older workers who have been laid off to get over the stigma and get out of the house.

"The laid-off professional who stays home and vegetates is less likely to get future employment," he writes, urging anyone in that situation to seek out volunteer work as they look for another job.

Dilenschneider is carving out a niche as a career expert. This book is a follow-up to his previous work, The Critical 14 Years of Your Professional Life. He is the former chief executive of the Hill & Knowlton public relations company and runs a corporate strategic counseling and public relations company called the Dilenschneider Group in Manhattan.

Given his work experience, Dilenschneider should be well versed in the ins and outs of corporate politics, and his book offers some tidbits to help those with limited water cooler skills.

For example, one chapter offers tips on dealing with difficult bosses. But his advice is pretty simplistic. He tells readers to figure out what the boss wants and deliver it.

"Those older workers who survive regime after regime are Zeligs," he said, referring to the character in the Woody Allen film. "They are infinitely adaptable. They know how to reconfigure themselves into efficient machines who give bosses what they want."

Instead of serving as a primer on surviving the corporate shark tank, this book is better suited for those who want to escape it. He offers a chapter titled "Free Agents Finish First" on the joys of becoming an independent agent. Another chapter, "Being Self-Employed," says that starting your own business is an option if you are having trouble landing a conventional job.

Interestingly, a large portion of the book is devoted to non-work issues and the need to achieve a balance between your professional and personal goals. Given the book's title and its promise to deliver the "keys to success," readers may not be prepared for the broader definition of success Dilenschneider offers.

He points out that downshifting to a less stressful but more meaningful job that allows more time for family and other pursuits may be the best path. Although getting a job is important, he also tells readers it's also important to "get a hobby."

He gets a bit New Agey in spots, urging those seeking professional direction to consult psychotherapists and "healers," but also reminds readers of the importance of networking with friends, family and professional colleagues.

Regardless of your life phase, Dilenschneider's book is a good read for anyone who has been fired and needs a shot of confidence and common sense.

_ Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram

The Critical 2nd Phase of Your Professional Life: Keys to Success For Ages 35 to 50

By Robert L. Dilenschneider

(Citadel Press/Kensington Publishing, 192 pages, $21.95)

Make a Name For Yourself

By Robin Fisher Roffer

(Broadway Books, $23.95)

Branding has been a buzzword for years, but media marketing expert Robin Fisher Roffer adds an estrogen twist in this book aimed at female executives looking for an edge. The book seems most applicable to women launching businesses who need tips on making professional contacts, carving out a niche and networking. If you've been dying to identify your key attributes, compose a personal mission statement and define your target audience, this book's for you.

The Value Mandate

By Peter J. Clark and Stephen Neill

(AMACOM, $40)

Subtitled Maximizing Shareholder Value Across the Corporation, Clark and Neill's new book offers instruction in pinpointing value creation opportunities. They then show how to realize that value through a company's daily operations and administrative activity. They offer numerous examples of how the value creation tools and actions that they recommend have enabled companies to compete more effectively in today's hyperdriven global economic environment.

_ KATHRYN HOPPER, Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram