Marcus Buckingham
Personal strength expert Marcus Buckingham answers questions on finding happiness, pursuing your passion in your 50s, changing careers and more. Ask Marcus your career question
Q: I had a child when I was 18, and after many struggles and travesties, I made it! My son is alive and 24 years old, so the child-raising is done for me. I started college at age 38 and just received my MBA. I always wanted Oprah to do a show about single parents that actually made it through and are now trying to figure out what to do in middle age. 

That is where Marcus comes in. Marcus, help! I am 43; just earned an MBA, and I can't find a job. I have been unemployed since May. I have such a long blue-collar work history with no management experience, but I have a brand new MBA—yet the phone is not ringing. I guess it's partially because I don't have experience, so they are reluctant, yet could it be that I got my MBA from the University of Phoenix? And that doesn't have the weight a traditional college would? 

Part of the problem is me as well. When they don't believe in me, I start to feel like I can't do the job. I am applying for everything from entry-level (although I don't know how I'll pay off student loans at minimum wage) to director positions that I know I can do—but the phone is not ringing. I am 43 with no kids and so hardworking, loyal and ready to give my all to a company. What gives?
— Colleen, age 43   

A: Colleen, let's start by focusing on what you do have, rather than what you don't. You have worked hard to earn your MBA, and you need to take time to celebrate your accomplishment. There can be no excellence without celebration—this applies to work, kids, relationships—and it certainly applies to your success in finishing your MBA. 

When it comes to the job search, the simplest advice I can give is to focus on what you can control, and not on what you can't. You can't control whether a hiring manager will only hire MBAs from Harvard or whether someone considers blue-collar experience irrelevant. But what you can do is show them, in how you present yourself in your résumés and interviews, not only that you have an MBA, but why your MBA and other experience gives you strengths that will make you the right hire for the job. Consciously focus on your strengths in your applications and interviews. Be as specific as you can about what you love to do and what you excel at doing. Let your enthusiasm show through. 

Your MBA is more than a piece of paper; it represents the work that you did to attain it and the knowledge that you gained. You may not have managerial experience, but you do have work experience, combined with your MBA. It's your job to show potential employers how that combination relates to the position you want. 

One last thing: I know that it can be tough when you're unemployed and you begin to think any job will do, but I think you're wasting your time looking for minimum-wage jobs. Hiring managers will wonder why someone of your qualifications is settling, and you probably won't be happy unless you're doing something that presents you with challenging tasks that you love to do. 

Key steps to finding the right career for you


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