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Finding A Job – And Fulfillment – When You’re Mid-Career Or Later With John Tarnoff

Are you a mid-career professional feeling lost or unfulfilled? Do you crave a career with greater meaning and purpose, but the traditional job search methods seem broken? Today, career transition coach John Tarnoff tells us all about his coaching practice that specializes in helping individuals navigate career transitions, whether you’re seeking a complete overhaul or recovering from a job loss. Forget outdated resumes and lengthy applications; learn how to leverage your network, tap into the hidden job market, and thrive in the ever-changing world of work. Tune in to discover how you can identify your “superpower,” build a powerful LinkedIn profile, and become a thought leader in your field, ultimately attracting opportunities that align with your values and experience. It’s time to ditch the traditional job search mentality and focus on building a fulfilling career that reflects your unique strengths and aspirations.


Check out the full series of “Career Sessions, Career Lessons” podcasts here or visit A full written transcript of this episode is also available at

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Finding A Job – And Fulfillment – When You’re Mid-Career Or Later With John Tarnoff

Hollywood Studio Executive Turned Coach

This show is brought to you by PathWise provides career and leadership coaching, courses, content, and community. Basic membership is free, so visit PathWise and join. My guest is John Tarnoff. John is a studio executive turned coach. He’s been leading the Mid-Career Lab. In that time, he has coached hundreds of mid and late-career professionals, written a book called Boomer Reinvention, done a TEDx Talk, and created a number of LinkedIn learning courses.

Prior to all that, John worked in Hollywood doing movie production and development for a number of studios. His work included a variety of films including Diner, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Kung Fu Panda among others. He also led Industry Relations for the Carnegie Mellon Master’s in Entertainment Management program and founded and ran an internet technology firm called Talkie. John earned a bachelor’s degree as an independent scholar from Amherst College and later went back to get his Master’s in Spiritual Psychology from Santa Monica College. He lives and works in the Los Angeles area.


John, welcome, and thanks for doing the show with me.

Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.

You do executive and career transition coaching. Tell us about your practice.

I work with mid-career professionals who are going through some kind of a transition, whether they are waking up mid-career and thinking, “I’m not enjoying the work as much as I used to. What’s going on? Is it time for some kind of a transition largely around meaning and purpose?” That is something that happens to us in midlife. You think, “I’ve climbed all of these mountains. What’s left?”

Maybe they are in a situation where they have been tossed out of a job and they need to recover. They’re finding, as, unfortunately, most people are finding in mid-career, that it takes longer to get a job at this point in your life. All of the procedures that you used to think, “We’re going to help you get a job,” no longer work because the hiring system is broken and all the guardrails have been changed.

The Hiring System Is Broken

Talk a little bit more about that. What do you mean the hiring system is broken and guardrails have changed?

It starts with the fact that recruiters are overwhelmed with submissions. The digital era means that jobs are broadcast more widely and people apply whether they are qualified or not. Even if they’re not qualified, someone’s got to do something with those submissions. As a result, as the saying goes, the average recruiter will spend an average of seven seconds going over your resume.

Submitting your resume is not really a great way to get into consideration for a job and not a great way to get yourself into an interview. You need to focus more on your network, personal connections, and referrals and tap into what’s known as the hidden job market where 80% of the jobs are filled. Those are some of the headlines that people have to understand and deal with in the job search market.

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | John Tarnoff | Finding A Job

Finding A Job: Submitting your resume is not a great way to get into consideration for a job or get yourself into an interview. You need to focus more on your network, personal connections, and referrals and tap into the hidden job market where 80% of the jobs are filled.


It’s a paradox. I saw this when my kids were applying to college. It was during the early days of the common application. It’s a similar thing. The easier you make it for somebody to apply, the more applications you’re going to get. On one hand, the colleges loved that because they could say, “We only take 3% of the applicants who apply to our school.” At the same time, you have to sift through all of those things. It’s the same for recruiters. You used to have to go to a copy shop and print your resume out on nice paper. Maybe you wrote a cover letter that was tailored to the job. You then had to put it in the mail and take it to the mailbox. It took work.

That’s right.

I’m really dating myself here, but that was the old era of looking for a job. Now, I go to LinkedIn and hit send. The challenge with that is that it makes it harder for those recruiters who often have more jobs that they are responsible for filling at any one point in time to give you any legitimate attention. You have to break through the noise, not just send your resume in.

That really is the population that I work with, people who are looking for greater impact, meaning, and purpose in their careers and people who are finding themselves in need of a new career at plus or minus 50 and trying to figure out the new world of work.

You didn’t start in this business. You transitioned into coaching. You had something of an epiphany that led you into coaching. Isn’t that right?

I come out of entertainment as a film studio executive and producer. I veered into technology in the ‘90s and had a startup with a partner. We did the usual raising of the millions and spending of the millions. We had some really good high-profile customers with our product. In 2001, everything washed out. I was at a juncture. I was about to turn 50. I thought, “What am I going to do at this point in my life?”

I didn’t want to go back to the jobs that I had done in entertainment. I felt like it was time to do something new. I really enjoyed the foray into technology, but I wasn’t sure where I was going to go. I decided to go back to school and took a psychology degree mostly because I wanted to learn more about how minds work and how my mind works. I wanted to learn a little bit more about myself and give myself some kind of reflective opportunity to chart a new way forward. That’s what in fact happened.

Ironically, I wound up back in the business working for Dreamworks Animation for most of the 2000s but in a very different role. Whereas before, I was involved in content, production, project management, and product development. I was involved with people. It was a really interesting time for the company because it was moving from traditional animation to digital animation which involved a lot of retooling, retraining, and getting the engineers to understand the artists and the artists to understand the engineers. I was the right guy at the right time to help put a lot of programs together around that.

I had a great run there. It was a Wild West period where we saw problems and were like, “Let’s go fix it.” That went on really great. It gave me this eye-opener into education and training. I tapped into a lot of the work that I had previously done around people around casting, not just casting actors but casting crew, and how you build teams and make it effective, particularly if you have to build teams repeatedly to put together new projects. It was a fascinating synthesis of a lot of the skills that I had learned.

In 2008 and 2009, the recession, they changed direction. I wanted to do more of this education and training work. They wanted to tamp down on all that. We had this remarkable, for Hollywood, meeting of the minds about the fact that I needed to go and I was no longer a fit. It was a great lesson because that really speaks to what is happening around layoffs and all of the turmoil in the industry.

The fit is changing much more rapidly than ever before. You used to be able to get into a job and stay with that job for twenty years. Things are changing too fast. It’s hard to predict what skills are going to be needed next year. People need to understand that the jobs that they get are not necessarily going to last as long and they have to really focus, particularly for mid-career, not so much on skills but on strategy and the sense of what it is that you deliver in the work that you do. That inspired the TEDx Talk and the work that I’ve done as a coach to get people out of these traditional mindsets about jobs and careers and focus on the deeper aspects of what they deliver as professionals.

As a quick aside, your startup, Talkie, I remember your startup. I was doing operations consulting back in that era and working with a lot of companies on customer service experience. I remember what you guys were doing at the time. I immediately remembered it.

That is so wild. We had this huge deal with Sprint to do this automated customer service character for their website. We then got into this whole shoot-out between the marketing people and the customer service people. We were working for the customer service team. Once marketing got wind of this, they decided that they hated it. It came down to the head of the customer service saying, “If one person loves this character, it’s a win,” and marketing saying, “If one person hates this character, it’s a loss.” It came down to a dinner between those two execs and the CEO of Sprint to adjudicate who was going to win the fight. Marketing won the fight.

As is usually the case when you’re debating customer service. That’s unfortunate, but I did remember it. You had a couple of different eras in your Hollywood life, the production content creation piece and then more of the people piece. Was it hard to leave that world when you finally did and moved into coaching?

This is an interesting thing that I’ve had to wrestle with in my career about the fact that there have been a lot of changes, and I got fired a lot. Part of that had to do with being in a volatile business and being at a company where the administration changed after two years. They brought someone else new. They needed their team, and I got let go. Other times, it was a bad fit. Other times, there was some toxicity going on. I learned a lot about being in these diverse, volatile situations and how to turn setbacks into successes.

I don’t miss it because I was in it 100%, but I always felt that there was another thing to learn down the road. I have had this explorer mindset through all of it. I’m a bit of a shiny new toy guy. I get bored easily. That really carried me through. That’s why I liked production. It was because every film was a new product. That was a lot of fun. It’s all been a natural evolution, so I don’t really miss it. I still have a lot of friends in it. I am glad not to be in it. It’s even more volatile than it has ever been. It’s a tough business. In 2024, it’s getting tougher because it’s shrinking again. There has been 10 to 15 years of expansion and overproduction, and it’s contracting.

In general, you talked about in your TED Talk that I’d mentioned that I was listening to before we started recording that you’ve had 18 jobs, 5 of them ended, 5 of them you quit, and 7 of them you got fired from. Your experience is more than the norm. What’s crazy to me is the fact that people get that deer-in-the-headlights look when they have to do a job search. You’re probably going to have to do a job search every few years. You’ve got to be prepared. I’m sure that’s a part of what you talk to your clients about, how to keep yourself in that.

Focus On Your Superpowers

I’m really glad you brought this up because this is very key to what every one of us needs to be thinking about in the job market if we want to continue to stay employed or stay working. It is that we really have to focus on our deliverables or what I call our superpower. If we can have a clear sense of what we do, what we do well, and what’s useful and marketable in the marketplace, create a value proposition around that, use our network to connect to other people with a like mind, which I talk about building a community, and then use thought leadership to brand ourselves and the value that we deliver to discuss the existential questions that are motivating change in our industry, we can build a referral network that will continually bring opportunities to us so that in a certain way, we never have to search for a job again.

The network and the activity that we are doing outside of whatever our job might be is going to constantly have a flow going to it. We’re going to see stuff happening all the time, and people will be saying, “Are you still working with that company? I got this opportunity over here. Would you be interested in this?” When you need the job, then it’s all hands on deck. It’s like, “J.R. needs a gig. That’s fantastic. He’s available. Let’s plug him in.”

There’s Free Agent Nation, Entrepreneurial You, and different books that people have written over the years on this. Whether you work truly as an entrepreneur or work in a company, you have to be thinking about yourself somewhat as a free agent. This social contract that existed for our parents’ generation doesn’t exist anymore. You don’t have one job your whole career. You’re not going to get a pension at the end of it or the gold watch.

As a consequence of that, you have to constantly be thinking, “I could lose this job. Something could change the fit. The need could change,” as you mentioned in your situation with Dreamworks. You’ve got to constantly not make yourself crazy about it but constantly have your toe in the water on what’s out there. For a lot of people, there’s a lot about that that’s really hard, the self-promotion, the networking, and the thinking about what their professional brand is. Maybe we can get a little bit more into some of those topics because I know those are at the core of the kind of advice that you often give your clients.

It is an uncomfortable proposition for many, if not most people, this idea that you have two jobs. There’s the job that you do that you get paid for, but then there’s the job of managing your career, which is something that we never really had to do or have been trained to do. That is the requirement, something that people complain about or don’t want to do.

There’s a lot of flaming going on around LinkedIn. People think, “Why do I have to be on LinkedIn? It’s a swamp. Everyone’s trying to sell me something. If you need a job, it’s a big job board.” People don’t get it. It is much more strategic and critical than that. It is the only place where you get to define your value in your terms and do so in an expressive, eloquent, and strategic fashion that is going to land with a prospect who will understand and align with who you are and what you do.

Your LinkedIn Headline Is Not Your Job Title

You have this opportunity to set up this marketing hub, if you will, right through your LinkedIn profile. People get this wrong most of the time. Your LinkedIn headline is not your job title. It should be a collection of the 3, 4, or maybe 5 specific value points that you deliver. Many people don’t even have an About section because they don’t know what to write in it. Most people write a text bio version of their resume, which is ridiculous.

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | John Tarnoff | Finding A Job

Finding A Job: Your LinkedIn headline is not your job title. It should be a collection of the three to five specific value points that you deliver.


Your About section, from a marketing standpoint, is a mission statement about who you are, why you do what you do, and where you’re going to go with it. If you want to create a conversation with someone out there, this is the icebreaker. This is the way of introducing them to what really makes you tick. It gives you an opportunity to highlight 1 or 2 of the most salient achievements that you have been responsible for and that you are proud of. You can identify why those things are meaningful to you.

In your Experience section, that’s your resume. You want to map your LinkedIn Experience section as your master resume, which you then pull from to create a PDF resume which you then submit. It becomes a very important cornerstone of the career management process. If you have an expressive, authentic, and eloquent profile that properly represents you, that gives you an easier way to introduce yourself to other people, be found by other people, and get into conversations with other people who are on your wavelength.

You don’t want to have a zillion people in your contact database. There’s this 500-plus. They say, “If you don’t have 500 plus on LinkedIn, you’re not doing it right.” Maybe it’s good to have all these people because you never know where an opportunity is going to come from. For the most part, people aren’t on LinkedIn all the time, those 500-plus people. What you want to do is look through those people and the friends of friends, your second-level connections, and start to identify a community of shared interests. That’s the second element that I talk about in my work. It is so that you have this ongoing relationship that you’re building with these people over time to support them primarily.

In this screwy way of doing the Pareto Principle, it’s 80% of your time giving to your network and 20% of your time asking for favors to build up this blow over time. That leads to this third idea of thought leadership and branding. People will dump all over this. It’s like, “I don’t want to send messages on LinkedIn, carry content, or comment on people’s posts. This is boring. Why am I doing this?”

You’re doing this so that out of all of this morass, you can find some people whose work you respect, who respect your work, and who you are aligned with. This is a way of building connections through your philosophy of work and your sense of what’s going on in the world of responding to trends, headlines, and developments in your field of being a concerned citizen and as a professional.

You are demonstrating to the people who are going to be hiring you that you are committed, strategic, and mindful of what’s going on in the world. They don’t want to hire a drone to do their bidding. Particularly in mid-career, they want more from you in mid-career, so demonstrate that. Demonstrate your leadership abilities. Demonstrate your mindfulness, your vision, and your understanding of what’s going on in the world and how it’s impacting your business. Contribute to that conversation. Build up a reputation as someone who is an engaged professional.

At the end of the day, if you are 1 of 3 people being considered in the final round for a job, how are they going to make that decision? It’s not going to be on your resume. They’ve tossed your resume at this point. You’re in the room because the resume qualifies. They’re going to make the decision based on, “Is this person a fit?” That means, “Can we get along with them? Are they going to be contributing? Are they going to be a leader? Are they a mature, mindful, and emotionally intelligent person who can help us make important decisions and difficult decisions and find problems, not just simply solve problems? All these kinds of questions are very important to consider in mid-career, LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to establish that credibility.

If you think about a resume as a static representation of you that in the old days got mailed around to people, LinkedIn is not perfect, but the beauty of LinkedIn is that it gives you the ability to create a living, breathing manifestation of your professional you. What a great tool. You made this point. Much of what you said is it is a massively useful marketing weapon for you. You don’t have to participate in all the things. You don’t have to read everybody’s personal posts that sometimes creep in. You don’t have to entertain the sales solicitations and all those things.

It’s not Facebook.

It’s a way for you to reach people that you might not otherwise get to or who might not find out about you. All job searches are a game of at-bats. You have to have one hit. Having LinkedIn gives you the opportunity for many more at-bats than you’re otherwise going to get at. To me, for people who don’t have a profile on LinkedIn, it’s a negative when I’m looking for people because it says they’re not really vested in their career. What are they going to be like day-to-day?

It’s remarkable that more people don’t understand this, but the ones who do, get results.

Don’t Hide Your Age

You have a contrarian view that older workers shouldn’t hide their age.

I get into a lot of trouble with this. This is from younger career coaches and recruiters. It is, “You don’t want to call attention to your age because there is ageism out there. You don’t want them to think about your age so that you can get under the radar, get in on the job, and impress them with how good you are. They’re going to somehow magically forget that you’re older. You’re going to persuade them that you are still valuable, competent, and hireable at your age.”

What a terrible piece of advice that is because it immediately puts you into a one-down position where you have to feel defensive about something that is an asset. Your age is an asset. It is the product of years of investment in knowledge, professionalism, building connections, having experiences, making mistakes, and having successes. Do you want to hide that? Do you want to deprecate that enormous resource because someone has a particular bias or discomfort about age? What’s going on here?

Your age is an asset. It is the product of years of investment in knowledge, professionalism, building connections, having experiences, making mistakes, and having successes. Click To Tweet

The other side of it is that if they are biased against you for your age, they’re going to find out how old you are. If by some miracle you get hired into a position with an ageist boss, an ageist team, or an ageist organization that doesn’t really respect you for your age and either for some reason, they’re not aware of how old you are or maybe the hair dye is working well and you’ve had the nip and a tuck, you are going to be going in there everyday living a lie because you’re hiding part of who you are. You’re going to watch what you’re saying, like, “I can’t talk about anything before 1995.”

You want to be able to do your best work and be your best self. If they don’t appreciate you for everything that you bring to the table, screw them. I say this and people will say, “I need a job. It’s all well and good to be so idealistic about it and say, “I’m not going to hide my age,” but ageism is out there. I’m being penalized for my job. I need to get to work.”

I say, “That’s true, but there are people out there who will hire you because of the value that you represent.” Focus on that value. Make sure that you’re stating your value and that you are pre-empting any of the traditional concerns about age. We should talk about being overqualified and all the stuff that comes up because it does come up. There’s a way of getting around this.

Your point from a minute ago about wanting to go where people value you, wouldn’t you much rather work for somebody who hired you because of your age and experience rather than in spite of your age and experience? I haven’t been in my late 50s at this point. When I talk to my contemporaries who are out of work and are looking for a job, I’m like, “Take it head on.”

Few people I know who are in their late 50s look like they’re 35. Some do. You’re going to go in and they’re going to have a pretty good sense of how old you are even if you don’t say it. Tell them, but explain you’ve still got fire in your belly, that you still want to work, and that you’ve got all this experience. This is exactly what you’re saying. Turn it into an asset.

Going In With A Plan

Be that person in that room. Solve problems in that interview, I like to talk about job interviews as networking opportunities where you want to go in there as a consultant. You’re not in there as a supplicant saying, “Please give me a job.” You’re going in to say, “I’ve done the research. I understand that you guys are focusing on this. Tell me more about the position because the position seems to be going in this direction. Are you trying to solve A, B, and C problems? You’re a public company. I read your balance sheet, and then I read your last 10-K.”

Go in there with a plan. Go in there proactively. What are you going to do with this job that really speaks to your strategic value as an experienced professional? Turn their heads around. Don’t go in there saying, “I know you’ve got some questions for me. Fire away.” You need to turn the conversation around to your agenda. If you don’t like what’s going on, you need to be able to say, “This job is not for me. Thank you very much, but I’m not the guy for this job for A, B, and C reasons. What you need is X, Y, and Z.” That may shock them, but at the same time, it’s going to really impress them.

If the job is not right for you and they know it, and you’ve talked about it, they may have another job for you. They may say, “I’m so glad you brought this up. You’re probably right. We’re looking for someone either with less experience or different experience, but we may have something coming up for you that might be really appropriate.”

If it’s a recruiter that you’re working with, it is, “I know other people in this field. Let me talk to some of my colleagues because now that I have met with you, I see how proactive you are, etc. I have a much better idea of where you could be effective. Let me get to work.” By taking this networking attitude in the job interview, you are doing a better job of building a longer-term set of relationships and strategies that’s going to serve your superpower, what you want to do and do well.

All that though takes confidence. I’m going to turn another of your contrarian views back on you. Confidence comes last. If it comes last, how do you build it when you’re in those situations and you’re desperate for a job?

I say that because I see too many people using confidence as an excuse for inaction. They’re saying, “When I feel more confident about this, I will take action. When I feel more confident about what I do, then I’ll apply to these different jobs that are more senior to what I’ve done,” or whatever that might be. The basic idea is that people feel like they need to be confident in order to perform. That’s not true. There are so many situations in life where you perform regardless of whether you feel confident or not.

The basic idea is that people feel like they need to be confident in order to perform. That’s not true. There are so many situations in life where you perform regardless of whether you feel confident or not. Click To Tweet

Every actor goes on stage with stage fright every night. No matter if they’ve done that play 1,000 times, there is always stage fright. As a matter of fact, when they don’t experience stage fright, they know something’s wrong. You need that adrenaline to propel you into that experience. You can take the fear and turn it to your advantage because your fear means that you are attuned to threats. You’re looking for ways of getting over the obstacles. You’re concentrating harder. There are all sorts of reasons why that fear supports your performance.

Whereas confidence, it’s nice to have confidence. Confidence comes last. Once you’ve done it, you are able to feel like, “I feel good that I achieved that and I braved the obstacles. I braved my own fears to go through and achieve that..” You can fail and learn the lesson. You can become confident from having failed a lot. I say that because people use this as an excuse to not do something. I say, “Do it anyway.”

An alternate way of thinking about that is saying, “Be confident today. You’ll prove your confidence tomorrow. This is your point. If you keep waiting for, “I want to wait until this. I want to wait until that,” you’ll never do it.

There Is No Perfect Time

There’s no perfect time. People will say, “I feel like I need to wait for another three months in this job before I’m going to feel confident enough to go get another job,” whatever that might be. This is all BS. This is all your fear holding you back.

Let’s come back to being overqualified. You wanted to talk about that a few minutes ago, so let’s come back to that.

This is a typical situation that people encounter when they apply for the job and the response is, “Aren’t you a little overqualified for this job?” In some cases, that is true. You are applying to a job that requires a lot less experience whereas it really is a job that is at an earlier stage. For example, if you’ve been a director or senior director and you’re applying for a manager job, they’re going to wonder, “Why are you doing this? Are you doing this because you are using this as a stepping stone to get a director job and this is your way into the company? We don’t want that.” All sorts of suspicions come up around that.

There are two things. One is first, you have to really decide what your motivation is. In some cases, people are spraying, praying, and applying to jobs that they can do, but they don’t want to do them. They need to work, so they’re applying. I had a client once who was a mechanical engineer and had an MBA. He was working in a nonprofit consultancy. He was in the automotive industry. He hated his job and the company.

He would go home at night and would do what I began to call job board porn. It’s where he would look at these jobs on the job boards, send me these job postings, and be like, “What do you think about this? What do you think about that?” It had 5 years of experience, 8 years of experience, 9 years of experience, or 12 years of experience. I said to him, “Do you really think they’re going to hire you? You have 25 years experience. You’re a double terminal degree guy. You have to get your head out of that. You’ve got to start thinking more about what it is that you do and representing yourself better.”

The other side is you get to a certain point in your career and you are not interested in climbing the ladder anymore. You’re not interested in the responsibilities of a senior director or a VP. You don’t want the headaches. You want to go back to what you love to do, and it’s in that job. You’re not interested in politics. You’re not interested in all of the trappings of climbing the ladder. Communicate that. That’s a valid reason. It supports you doing the job better than anyone else because you’re not there for ulterior reasons.

If you can communicate that, nail that, and make them understand, then you are applying because this is what you want to do. You don’t want to do anything else. You’ve been through all of that experience, and what you want to do is this. That’s all you want to do. You’re going to be on point. You’re going to be loyal. You’re not going to be complaining. You’re going to be a mature worker because you’ve done it all. You’re going to be very reliable. You’re probably going to be able to mentor a lot of other people. You’re going to be a fantastic addition to that team. There’s a way of turning it around, but you’ve got to understand your intention. You’ve got to be able to express it.

You have to decide what your motivation is, understand your intention, and be able to express it. Click To Tweet

If you want to take that job that maybe is below your peak level of qualification and that’s what you want to do at that point in your life, that’s fine. You have to be upfront about it.

This also goes to ways in which the workforce is changing. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but people are talking about the idea of a 60-year career as opposed to a 40-year career. In the 60-year career, the idea of this intentionally overqualified thing is a lot more understandable where you have different periods in your career.

Maybe in an early period, you’re climbing into levels of responsibility, but then, you’re going to take a break. Maybe you’re going to go back to school. Maybe you’re going to do some volunteer work. Maybe you’re going to take a sabbatical. Maybe you’re going to do something that is a subset of what you used to do, and then maybe you’ll come back in another period where you’re doing something again that’s more senior level.

Work is not going to be as linear as it has been coming out of the industrial age because we’re no longer in a linear industrial age mindset. We’re in a networked, more nuanced kind of approach to getting things done. Offer that as a way of looking at this and expanding the mindset beyond what we’re used to in terms of a 40-year career. You get a good education, work for 40 years, and get to retire. It doesn’t work like that anymore.

It’s true. I live in London. Boston is really home for our family, so I still read the Boston Globe pretty much every morning. There was an article in the Boston Globe about Northeastern honoring Michael Dukakis who, for those of you who don’t know, was governor of Massachusetts. He ran for president back in the ‘80s. I thought, “Did Michael Dukakis die?” They were honoring him because he was retiring. He’s 90 years old and is retiring from working at Northeastern University.” Here’s a guy who probably had a 70-year career.

That’s great. I love that.

It was a nice story that he kept vibrant even after his term as governor and in politics. Certainly, what Jimmy Carter did over the years after his presidency is another great example of somebody who had a whole post-political career that went on and on.

The important thing about that for me is that we can do great things beyond that window that we used to think of as a career. I challenge people about this all the time in terms of longevity and retirement in the idea of, “If you’re going to live to 90, do you want to spend 30 years of your life in retirement?”

It’s interesting. I’m in my late 50s. I’m seeing more of my contemporaries retire. For me, I can’t envision that yet. I’m not ready to completely take my foot off the gas pedal.

They’ll be back.

When golf, tennis, or pickleball leads to one too many injuries, then they go back to work.

It becomes a routine that they feel like, “I’m on the outside of all the stuff that’s happening.” They’re going to miss the engagement.

You say you work with mid-career people. You clearly are working with people who are probably a little bit maybe later in their career unless they’re doing the 60-year career thing, in which case 50 is the midway point. When you are working with people who are in their 50s and they’re looking for jobs, are they looking to keep doing what they’ve been doing or are they looking to make a change and go find something that meets their purpose or is completely different? What do you see in your experience?

Rarely do I see people who want to do something completely different. Usually, what I’m finding is people have hit a wall. They’re having trouble reconciling what they’re doing with their sense of purpose. They’re trying to resynthesize and rediscover that connection between self, purpose, work, day-to-day, and impact.

Legacy comes up a lot. It’s like, “What’s the legacy that I’m building here? I don’t want to be going on inertia forever here. I want to make something of this. How do I take what I’m doing or what I think I love to do and reinvent the value proposition around that? How do I drill down on what’s important to me and integrate all of who I am, what my values are, what my skills and talents are, the relationships that I have, this lifestyle that I want to lead, and the responsibilities that I want to take on or not during a day or a week? I’ll make something of that.”

That is the process that people are going through. I’m agnostic about that. They may come to a point where they’re going, “I am going to ditch it. I am going to become a painter and move to Tahiti.,” or they may say, “I’m going to start a consulting practice,” or, “I’m going to buy into a franchise,” or, “I’m going to become a college professor.” It goes into all sorts of areas that are all fascinating.

What I say to people a lot at the beginning of an engagement is, “I’m not here to tell you where you’re going to end up. What will likely happen is we’ll work together for our coaching period. You’re then going to call me in a year and say, “You’re never going to believe what I’m doing,” because something will have happened and some surprising thing will happen. In retrospect, it will all make sense. You will see how all these steps led to this particular decision.”

Be shift topics, any last thoughts you have on job advice for people who are in career transition, particularly if they’re in the latter half of their careers?

Start Building Relationships

I say to people all the time to stop applying to jobs online and start building relationships. Focus on having conversations with people and meetings. Get feedback. Talk about what you’re doing. Open yourself up to different points of view. Talk to people with whom you have long-standing relationships who know you well. Prior bosses are great for this.

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | John Tarnoff | Finding A Job

Finding A Job: Stop applying to jobs online and start building relationships. Focus on having conversations with people and meetings. Get feedback. Talk about what you’re doing.


Get some feedback on being at this point in your life. Don’t hide and think this is something that you have to do on your own. Make it a collaborative effort because people are looking to help you and support you. They need to know more about who you are, why you do what you do, and what your hopes, fears, dreams, and visions may be so they can help you manifest them.

I’m curious. You’re 50 years into your career. What keeps you going? How do you keep your battery recharged and your energy for getting up and going to work every day?

I get off a call with a client and I feel fantastic. I feel I am blessed to be working with thoughtful, probing, reflective, and ambitious people who want to do more with their lives and are discovering this reservoir of value inside them. I get a great kick out of being this mirror to reflect their own brilliance back to them and help provide some kind of guidance to help them do what it is that they discover that they want to do. It’s enormously rewarding. I never expected to be in this position. I never expected to have that answer to that question, which I never knew existed. It’s been a gift.

That’s great. It’s great that you can feel such passion for what you do every day. That’s what all of us should aspire to.

It is a tremendous gift. I’m very excited to keep doing this and keep working with people.

Any last career lessons you want to share before we close out?

At the end of the day, it is all about relationships. The other thing is to be open to the journey. It is about that journey. Set goals, but be open to the course corrections and enjoy the ride.

I ask a common question, “What would you tell your younger self?” One of the things I hear from people is, “Worry less.” Another thing that I hear from people is, “Seize the opportunities. Take the risk. Pick up the phone. Take the call. Hear out the offer even if it’s something completely different from what you envision yourself doing.” It is similar to the people who call you a year later and say, “You’re not going to believe what I’m doing.” There is magic in serendipity.

Amen to that.

Thanks for doing this. It was great to get to know you and talk a little bit about the work you’re doing and your broader background. I appreciate your time.

Thanks for having me on.

Have a good day.


I want to thank John for joining me to discuss his work with mid and late-career professionals, a little bit about his work in Hollywood, and his thoughts on job searches and career transitions. If there’s a key message here, it’s that you should take control of your career journey. That is what PathWise is all about. If you’re interested, become a PathWise member. Basic membership is free. You can also sign up on the website for our newsletter. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Thank you.


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About John Tarnoff

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | John Tarnoff | Finding A JobJohn Tarnoff is a Hollywood studio executive turned coach. He’s been leading the Mid-Career Lab for the past 11 years, and in that time has coached hundreds of mid- and late career professionals, written a book called Boomer Reinvention, done a TEDx talk, and created a number of LinkedIn Learning courses.

Prior to all that, John worked in Hollywood doing movie production and development for a number of studios. His work included a variety of films such as Diner, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Kung Fu Panda. He also led Industry Relations for the Carnegie Mellon Master’s in Entertainment Management program and founded and ran an internet technology firm called Talkie.

John earned a Bachelor’s degree as an Independent Scholar from Amherst College and later went back to get his Master’s in Spiritual Psychology from Santa Monica College. He lives and works in the Los Angeles area.

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