Career Comeback

Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want


By Lisa Johnson Mandell

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From "botoxing" your resume to starting and improving your website or blog to updating your wardrobe, Mandell shares the secrets that will get mid-career job seekers noticed and on the payroll.

Unfortunately, getting older can be a career killer. That's what entertainment journalist Lisa Johnson Mandell discovered when she sent out a resume that made her sound like an aged veteran. Her new career makeover guide—expanded from the Wall Street Journal article about revamping her "older" image to land her dream job—acknowledges that experience matters, but looking and acting up-to-date matter just as much.

Mandell provides ten strategies for putting a youthful spin on resumes, Web pages, and personal presentation, and explains why looking young and staying technologically current is crucial to competing in an increasingly tough job market.



Copyright © 2010 by Lisa Johnson Mandell

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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First eBook Edition: January 2010

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ISBN: 978-0-446-55811-2

To all those bold and resourceful enough to seek a job they love


If I Can Make It There, You'll Make It Anywhere

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.

—Mark Twain

Honey, you look old."

Ah, those four words every newlywed longs to hear—especially from her recently acquired husband, who is ten and a half years her senior. To his credit, he was talking about the way I looked on paper—on my résumé, to be specific—not in person. Otherwise he would have found himself sleeping in the den with the cats for the next several months. At the time we were reassessing my job search strategy, trying to figure out why the hundreds of résumés I was sending out were eliciting zero response. This was when the economy was just beginning to take a dip.

But the simple truth of the matter was that I not only looked old on paper, I was old. In dog years, I would be dead. I was exactly forty-nine at the time, a veritable antique by today's standards, although I prefer to use the term "classic." I was about eight months away from AARP eligibility. I was impatiently waiting at the mailbox every day in hopes of receiving my membership card so I could take advantage of all those early-bird dinner specials. And to be honest, I was at the point of needing them, because my income was minimal and my savings were dwindling. Still, that's no excuse to buy into the ageist stereotype of people over fifty lining up for early evening dinner discounts. In fact, most people I know between the ages of forty and sixty-five don't get off work in time to take advantage of them.

Looking at my situation more objectively, if forty is the new twenty and fifty is the new thirty, as the media suggest, then I was only twenty-nine, which made perfect sense; I'd been celebrating my twenty-ninth birthday for years. But when most people, particularly younger people, think of a woman nearing fifty, they envision a bad gray perm and sensible shoes. They don't envision the exquisitely cut Madonna (who is actually a few months older than I am) and they don't see a glowing Christie Brinkley. Instead they think of a wizened Dr. Ruth.

My seventy-plus-year-old mother doesn't even look like Dr. Ruth did when she was that age. As a matter of fact, some of my favorite clothes (including the famous T-shirt that was a big hit in the Wall Street Journal when they ran an article about me "Botoxing" my résumé) are hand-me-downs from dear "old" Mom. The former model gives me so much more than great genes—she gives me great jeans!

The fact is, age has become ambiguous these days, and last generation's stereotypes no longer apply. Still, in a workplace driven by the nation's obsession with youth, those stereotypes persist in rearing their crusty, haggard heads, stretching out their bony, emaciated fingers at those of us over forty and croaking, "Too old!" Nowadays, there are fewer jobs, and the competition for them is more fierce than ever. We certainly don't need the additional burden of ageist images and prejudices to hold us back.

Ageism is especially prevalent in my field and in my market. I'm in the entertainment industry, and I live in the youth-crazed epicenter of all things young, beautiful, and surgically enhanced: Los Angeles, right next door to Hollywood. I know my choices of profession and place of domicile are my own fault—I take full responsibility for them, as naïve as I was about their drawbacks when I selected them. I decided to move back to Los Angeles about ten years ago to better pursue my career as an entertainment journalist, to be closer to my family, and, to be perfectly honest, to have better access to a much larger pool of single men.

Through a bizarre series of events, I'd been working in Salt Lake City for the past fourteen years, where it was relatively easy to be a big fish in a small pond. But alas, I'd finally exhausted all the journalistic feeding sources: every print, radio, and television outlet in the state. I had finally become frustrated by the predominant conservatism in the area—I know, I know, it took me fourteen years to figure this out? Was I in a coma? In Utah, my editors/producers would tell me, "Lisa, we love your ideas, but could you rein them in just a little? You know how the folks are here." In Los Angeles, they'd tell me, "Love your dress, love your shoes, love your purse, love your ideas, what else ya got, babe?" The creative freedom and encouragement L.A. offered, not to mention the salaries, seemed irresistible. Then there were the men. I'd already dated every single man in a thirty-year age range from Las Vegas to Denver, and even the polygamists were starting to look good. It was high time for me to get out of Dodge.

That was almost ten years ago, and back then I didn't notice that everyone in Los Angeles was younger, blonder, and had bigger boobs than I did. I was just thrilled to be back in my own 'hood, so to speak. I was a native daughter come home. The state and its economy should welcome me with open arms, shouldn't it? I would have no trouble finding a job and fitting back in, or so I thought. My family had been an integral part of Southern California for generations! I'm one of those few people who were actually born and raised in the Southland, you see. I like to call myself a fifth-generation Angelena, because my great-great-grandparents moved to Southern Cal from Scandinavia more than a century ago. My maternal grandfather was a dean at Santa Monica City College. My maternal grandmother earned her master's at USC back in the 1920s, when most women didn't do those sorts of things, and she then worked as a junior high school counselor, helping Frank Sinatra's kids and their peers find their academic niche.

On my father's side, my grandmother owned one of those haute couture fashion salons where clothing is not displayed on racks, but rather on models—the type of place where Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe worked in How to Marry a Millionaire. My great-aunt worked for the studios and actually costumed the great Marilyn. Aunt Susie used to entertain my sister and me with scandalous tales of the sex goddess's penchant for clothes one size too small (so she would appear to be busting out of them), and her aversion to underpants. (Unsightly VPL, doncha know?)

Rest assured that I wasn't one of those privileged, silver spoon kids who had everything laid out at my feet and never experienced hardship. We all have our crosses to bear, and I believe my trials could rival anything you've ever heard sobbed out on a talk show couch. Like most of you, I had to work and work hard for everything I'd achieved. I worked my butt off in high school to get good grades and I participated in every extracurricular activity in order to earn the scholarships necessary to get the best education available. I covered the rest of my college expenses myself—sometimes existing on one mint brownie a day—hey, if I was only going to eat once, it had to be something I loved. That was back in the late 1970s, before we started waging the Great War on Carbs, and processed sugar was still our friend.

So here I was, finally back in Los Angeles, recently turned forty and no trust fund to back me up. I was far from intimidated, however. I was a strong believer in hard work and optimism, ready to reclaim my position as a gainfully employed contributor to the Southern California economy. I've always been on the naïve side.

You see, this was the late 1990s, and even though I was a true daughter of the City of Angels with a California pedigree that stretched back over a hundred years, and the ability to speak fluent Spanish—enabling me to communicate with 99 percent of the population here; even though I had almost twenty years of journalistic experience in every aspect of the media from radio to television to newspapers to magazines and the Internet, I was in for a big surprise.

My major problem was that I wasn't twenty-two. Damn! How thoughtless of me! At first it didn't matter so much—I wrote beauty, fashion, and celebrity articles for a handful of national women's magazines, and then I got caught up in the feverish dot-com craze of the late 1990s. No one cared how old you were then, just as long as you could work eighteen hours a day, seven days a week in order to build something from scratch that could be sold off a few months after launch and make millions for everyone involved—including yourself.

Computers and the Internet were certainly nothing new to me, even back then. My first was an Apple Lisa—they named the darn thing after me, I reasoned, so I just had to get my hands on one! And I'd been on the Internet since almost before Al Gore invented it. Back when Amazon was but a tiny trickle, I sold thousands of copies of my first book, the tongue-in-cheek How to Snare a Millionaire, online, and I'd been instrumental in launching City Search in Salt Lake City. So it wasn't as if, in my fifth decade, the Internet revolution had passed me by. I was constantly looking for new ways to use it—I still am. Twitter, anyone?

But during those salad days of the dot-com craze, I was also building an outrageously fun, stimulating, and marginally profitable business on the side. I became a stand-in junketeer, an insider title that doesn't sound nearly as glamorous as it is. When major studios, (Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, Fox, etc.) release a film, they fly in entertainment reporters from the top twenty-five markets all over the country to conduct four- to six-minute one-on-one interviews with the stars of their newest films. The reporters then take the beta videotapes of those interviews back to their respective network affiliates and edit them into short news features on the stars and their movies. The studios find this coverage invaluable, because, for the relatively low price of flying broadcast journalists into New York or L.A. for the weekend and putting them up in hotels like the Four Seasons and the Regency, they get, at the very least, a two-minute feature on their film. If those pieces run several times, which they often do, and the stations also run a review, no matter if it's positive or negative, the film can be featured for a full ten minutes or more. That kind of advertising could cost the studios tens of thousands of dollars. The local stations love the fact that someone from their own staff is talking to Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie. So everyone—the stations, the studios, and the talent—wins from this system.

Except for the poor journalists who cover these junkets every weekend. It may sound like heaven on a cracker to be flown into Beverly Hills each weekend, be put up in five-star hotels, and interview famous movie stars. But most junketeers will tell you it's great for the first six months, until it suddenly occurs to you that you're spending at least fifteen hours per weekend in transit, and every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday away from the ones you love at home. So that's where I came in. If you're a journalist who can't make it to L.A. from Boston because you want to celebrate an anniversary or watch your kid's championship soccer game, you call Lisa, and she'll do the interviews for you.

And I like to think I'm good at this interview process. As a degreed journalist, I'm skilled at doing background research and conducting interviews to get unique bites that I know will tell a great story. Since I'm not an exceptional beauty but fairly well spoken, I am unintimidating, nonthreatening, and able to put talent at ease.

I've interviewed everyone from Johnny Depp to Cate Blanchett, Steven Spielberg to Clint Eastwood. No one has flustered me yet, except perhaps for Phil Collins: We had been flown in to Disney World in Orlando to do interviews for the animated feature Brother Bear. Film stars such as Joaquin Phoenix and Michael Clarke Duncan, whom we also interviewed, were merely ordinary for me at that point, but the man who provided the score for this film and for my young adult life made me a little giddy.

In addition to being a good journalist, I know from film. As a good daughter of Southern California, I couldn't help but take an interest in the film industry—they're making films all around you. I couldn't resist the urge to explore the industry from the inside out. I investigated the world behind the camera, taking the occasional part-time job as a production assistant, helping with everything from lighting to craft services. I was an extra in several productions, both for the big screen and for television, and quite accidentally got featured as an FBI agent in a movie directed by Jennifer Warren, with Rutger Hauer and Paulina Porizkova (they paid me extra for appearing in my bra with a towel wrapped around my waist in a ladies' locker room scene!).

I was also fortunate enough to sell the screen rights to an unpublished book I wrote with a friend of mine from high school, and then worked with the screenwriter to complete the script. As with the majority of Hollywood projects, the movie never got produced, but my understanding of and respect for the fine art of screenwriting was infinitely enhanced. I learned how to talk to people about many aspects of the filmmaking process and come across as sincerely appreciative of their work.

So when the dot-com I'd worked so feverishly to build crashed, it seemed natural for me to segue into freelance multimedia entertainment journalism, focusing specifically on film. I was able to continue doing junkets on the weekends, and there were the occasional freelance magazine writing jobs. Then there were some Web newswriting positions, which expanded to include blogs. And there were your sundry Hollywood radio reporting gigs, most of which required me to get up at 4:30 a.m. These were made infinitely easier as technology progressed and I was able to record my reports, complete with bites from my interviews and the films, edit them together in Pro Tools, and then deliver them almost instantaneously via e-mail in MP3 format. No more getting up at the crack of dawn for me, thanks to the miracles of modern technology.

But put 'em all together and whaddaya got? Not enough to pay the mortgage every month, that's for sure. What I needed was a full-time job with a steady income, and benefits like sick leave, health insurance, and a 401(k). I'd almost forgotten what those luxuries were like. The uncertainty of freelancing was overwhelming, and it stifled the joy of the freedom. I wanted one boss, rather than fifty-three.

So I dusted off my résumé and added all the new credentials I'd cultivated by promoting How to Snare a Millionaire and a second book I wrote with Bravo's Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger, called Become Your Own Matchmaker: 8 Easy Steps for Attracting Your Perfect Mate.

All that time I kept adding new experience to my résumé and sending it out, and getting very little response. The occasional freelance gig would come up, mostly from friends and business associates who knew what I could do and had extra work. But as the years went by, the competition got stiffer, the jobs got scarcer, and the few responses I got seemed to be tapering off.

I wasn't coming anywhere near the tasty, full-time positions for which I was fully qualified—I wasn't even getting phone calls or first interviews. I was, however, constantly running into the younger, hotter, less experienced candidates who were actually nailing the jobs. I'd meet them at junkets, and they'd ask me, "Where should I sit? How do I do this? What should I ask?" Eventually, the nubile young interviewer would bubble that she had just been hired by the very same outlet I'd applied to several weeks before, and I'd find myself debating the pros and cons of implants. But I often got sweet revenge on those who hired the young, cheap, buxom, and inexperienced. They inevitably ask people like Russell Crowe stupid, personal, and/or inappropriate questions like "have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife-yet-boxers-or-briefs-how-much-did-you-get-paid?" He then cusses at them, throws them out of the interview room, and embarrasses both the journalist and her outlet. I can't say as I blame or hold it against dear Russell and his more cantankerous colleagues. Would you answer a question like that? I actually want to jump up and kiss him for that kind of behavior. Seriously, though, he's not the jerk he's been portrayed as, he just calls 'em as he sees 'em. You go, Russell!

Those types of incidents were becoming more and more frequent as media outlets seemed to be deciding that beauty and youth were more important than experience and professionalism. There was the gorgeous, fourteen-year-old-looking blonde who sat nervously in the Four Seasons hallway, wearing the most amazing pair of pink Christian Louboutins I'd ever seen. She confessed that this interview with Brendan Frasier would be her first celebrity interview ever. "Well, at least you're wearing great shoes," I told her, wondering where someone that young had come up with the funds to pay for them.

"I know, right?" she giggled. "These are supposed to give me confidence and authority. One look at these red soles and people will know I'm no rookie!" I couldn't help myself, it just slipped out: "Unless you lift your leg and scratch your ear with your toe, no one will ever see those shoes." I told her, "They never shoot your feet." Whatever happened to good old-fashioned research and preparation as confidence builders? I wondered. There are actually people out there who think high-fashion footwear is a substitute?

The stories go on. One sad lad returned to the Dark Knight hospitality suite looking as if he'd just spent an hour in the sauna fully clothed, rather than interviewing Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Christopher Nolan, and Aaron Eckhart. "Rough day?" I inquired absently, as I mentally edited the perfect sound bites from some of the best interviews I'd ever done.

"Oh man, these guys are so tough!" he exclaimed. "I'm just not feeling any love. They're even giving me attitude about my killer warm-up question. I can't believe it!"

"What's your killer warm-up question?" I asked, wondering how he could possibly start off on the wrong foot with such a diverse group of actors—especially Aaron Eckhart. He, in particular, is a softie and the consummate gentleman.

"It's a really easy question—it's about something everybody loves," the young journalist explained. "I just ask them, 'What's your favorite pizza topping?' the minute the camera starts rolling. Now, who doesn't like pizza? What's so offensive about that?"

I didn't bother to explain to him that it's ridiculously bad form and unprofessional to ask those types of banal questions. It's like asking Bill Gates what kind of laundry detergent he uses, or Michelle Obama if she prefers broccoli or spinach. It's a total waste of everyone's time.

But instances like these made me begin to question whether anyone even cared about interviews that enlighten, educate, and entertain anymore. Was everything I'd been taught in journalism school and honed over the years completely obsolete? Did anyone even care anymore about anything other than who's schtupping whom? I contemplated one of my favorite colleagues, an insanely beautiful blonde who was the star of her own wildly popular website and the ultimate fantasy of anyone with a good helping of testosterone. She had been blessed with the face of an angel, a perfect body, a razor-sharp wit, and a sweet disposition. Not only was she popular with all the studio reps and her fellow journalists, but she was superlatively admired by her demographic, those much-coveted eighteen- to thirty-four-year-old males. She got hundreds of millions of hits when her interviews appeared on YouTube, partly because she was one of the hottest women on the planet, but also because her mandate was to get the stars to drop the F-bomb. Face like a saint, mouth like a sailor. It's a combination that's unrivaled. Now, how exactly am I supposed to follow that act? I can't even write the F-word, let alone say it. It sounds ridiculous coming from my mouth—it's sort of like listening to your grandmother talk about sex.

So how was I supposed to compete with someone like that? The revelation came to me in two words: "I don't." I decided it was all about creating my own niche, just as she had filled out her own niche more than adequately. The fact that I'd recently created my own personal niche and finally found the love of my life, my first and only husband, at the tender young age of forty-seven, gave me encouragement.

I'd come up with all sorts of resourceful ways to distinguish myself from the hundreds of thousands of other single women, many of them much younger and more beautiful than I, who were all trying to attract the same men. If I could find my perfect match in my late forties, surely I could find my perfect job. There was hope for me yet!

There had to be someone out there who didn't care in the least how outrageous, buxom, or young I happened to be, or not to be. I'd even met people who didn't care about those trivialities, and had been talking to them every morning for the past several years. I had a steady gig with a great station in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where I was affectionately known as Lisa Live in Hollywood. Each morning at 6:00 a.m. I'd give those listeners the rundown on what was happening in Tinseltown, which movies were worth their valuable time and money, and which new DVDs to put in their Netflix queues. They couldn't care less what I looked like or what year I graduated. They just wanted to know which quality independent films were finally available on DVD, because the smaller films don't often make it to a theater near them. They also wanted to know which movies they would enjoy with their kids, and they trusted my judgment. Those midwestern listeners have surprisingly sophisticated taste in film, and I love them for that.

Keeping that in mind, I try to be cognizant of the films' intended audiences when I conduct my interviews with the stars and filmmakers. I wonder, "What can I ask these folks that will make my viewers and listeners feel like insiders, and make their valuable moviegoing experience that much more fun?" For me, this is so much easier than trying to figure out new and interesting ways of getting celebrities to confess their sexual secrets. My reviews and reports are distinguished by the fact that I focus on entertainment value for the time and money spent, which are major considerations these days.

With a niche, a mandate, and a mission, I renewed my job search efforts, convinced there was indeed room in the entertainment world for someone like myself. Like the numerous stars I interviewed, I would stage my own comeback—a career comeback! But there was still that one problem that my husband was pointing out to me. No doubt about it; on paper, on my résumé, I looked old. When potential employers saw my "twenty-plus years of experience" highlighted at the very top, they likely thought, "too expensive," or "over the hill." Even my husband, who is an agent and producer with his own studio and frequently goes through the hiring process, very honestly admitted that sometimes those thoughts go through his mind as he reviews résumés similar to mine.

So together we set out to "make it work," as our favorite reality host, Tim Gunn, says on Project Runway (one of the few guilty reality pleasures my husband and I openly admit sharing). I started my own "Project Career Makeover" program and took a series of steps that, to my total and complete surprise, gained amazing results with lightning speed. By spending only several weeks and very little cash, I was able to garner several fabulous job offers. I was turning down interview opportunities and actual positions because, after all, there are only so many hours in a day. I recouped my investment in my career comeback in the first week of full-time employment. And I did all this at a time when the economy was on the verge of tanking and my younger, hipper colleagues were being downsized right and left. I've never been the most youthful or beautiful girl in the room, and probably not the smartest either. But I can give them all a run for their money when it comes to resourcefulness, and it's that resourcefulness that I want to share with you.

Basically, my own career comeback plan involved finding my niche, branding myself, freshening up my image from head to toe, rabid social networking, and age-proofing my résumé so that my over-forty status would not be immediately apparent. I also sharpened my interview skills so that I could be ready for anything, and cool and calm under pressure.


On Sale
Jan 7, 2010
Page Count
256 pages

Lisa Johnson Mandell

About the Author

Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award-winning entertainment reporter and film critic who gives daily reports on 16 Entercom radio stations and runs She has appeared on news and talk shows including NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s The Early Show, Dr. Phil, Inside Edition, CNBC, CNN, Rachael Ray, Fox News, and others. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Mademoiselle, Forbes, and on the AP Wire service. She is a popular lecturer at The Learning Annex. She is the author of the tongue-in-cheek book How to Snare A Millionaire (St. Martin’s Press) and is co-author with Patti Stanger of Become Your Own Matchmaker (Atria, January ’09).

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