Reader 1: Three and a half years ago, I was laid off, along with others, from a job in sales. I’d been with the company for 15 years, successfully nurturing a prestigious territory. I’d never had a bad review or a negative thing said about me. I was always a team player who gave my best.

I was out of work for a year while I nursed my ego and got involved with volunteering. One of my volunteering opportunities led to a job in a non-sales field, where I’ve been ever since. I have been trying to leave this job to get back into sales with zero success.

A few weeks after I submit an application, I call or track down the email of the hiring manager. I even reached out to one of my old customers to ask about a contact in a large manufacturer and ended up with the email address of the local sales manager. I used the same enthusiasm in getting a contact in my sales career; you’d think they would see it as a positive. I have a LinkedIn account, and on my résumé I list my revenue and profit contribution figures. I never hear back from anyone. I would think my 20-plus years of sales would be enough, but apparently it isn’t. What am I doing wrong?

Karla: Having decades of experience in sales — or any field — is a different beast from knowing how to sell yourself to employers.


WASHINGTON DC - APRIL 21: Karla L. Miller is a columnist, writing about surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace for The Washington Post in Washington, DC on April, 21, 2017. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

You seem to be using all the right tools — résumé, LinkedIn, personal outreach — but I suspect you’re not using them in the most efficient way. For example, the passive, self-effacing language you use to describe your performance — nurturing your territory, never a negative review, team player — seems unlikely to wow employers looking for go-getters. Enthusiasm is great, but only to the extent you can also inspire it in others. The most valuable networking happens before a job is even available. And even if you’re doing everything just right, you’re at the point in your career where age bias, illegal but hard to prove, could be at play.

But these are just offhand observations from a sidecar smart aleck. What you need is someone with expertise in your industry and job market to help you wield your tools more effectively.

A career coach can help refine your résumé and outreach messages and get more mileage out of your LinkedIn account — for example, making yourself visible to well-connected recruiters and other professionals who can warm up cold contacts for you. (See the pro tip in my "When recruiters go rogue" column from Feb. 19 for instructions.)

And a career counselor can help you sort out whether you truly want to go back to sales or explore new territory. After 20 years, your career path seems to have reached a crossroads. This doesn’t mean your years leading up to this point are for naught, but an insightful outsider can open your eyes to options that would make the most of your extensive experience and your enthusiastic, nurturing, team-playing personality.

PRO TIP: If you're an experienced Washington-area job seeker, the 40-Plus Club of Greater Washington offers specially tailored workshops and other resources.

Ask Karla Miller about your work dramas and traumas by emailing wpmagazine@washpost.com. Read more Work Advice columns.

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