Nancy Pelosi knows all about making a comeback career.
Last year, the House Speaker at the age of 78 reclaimed the title she previously held when she served as the first (and so far, only female) House Speaker from 2007 to 2011.
Mika Brzezinski and I were thrilled to interview Speaker Pelosi for our new book, “Comeback Careers: Rethink, Refresh and Reinvent Your Success At 40, 50 and Beyond.” She gave us her best career advice and explained how age and experience gives women the confidence to be themselves.
Speaker Pelosi began her congressional career at mid-life. She’d grown up steeped in Baltimore politics and spent over a decade in leadership positions in California democratic politics, but her first run for Congressional office was at the age of 47, when the youngest of her five children was a senior in high school.
In 2001, she was elected House minority whip, then minority leader in 2002.With age comes experience and confidence. We asked the Speaker the difference between Nancy Pelosi today, and Nancy Pelosi when she began her career.
She told us that she’d always spoken her mind, but today, with experience and knowledge gained through decades of political and policy work, she speaks with confidence.
“Thirty years ago, I may have been inexperienced and I would have spoken out,” she told us. Today, she says, she knows exactly what she’s talking about and speaks with an assuredness, resoluteness and fearlessness. She calls that “knowing your power.”
“Authenticity is everything”
Pelosi also stressed the importance of women being themselves whether on the job, at the negotiating table or in job interviews.
“Authenticity is everything,” she said. “…Understand what you have inside of you is so unique. There’s nobody like you, and your contribution is an important one from that standpoint. It brings to the table or to the discussion a diversity [of perspectives]. It has value.”We call that owning your story, having confidence in your unique perspective and value - regardless of age, gender, career zig zags or pauses.
“Know your why and show them your vision”
Running for office is one long job interview, so Speaker Pelosi is used to giving advice to political candidates, and job applicants in general.
Her best tip? “Know your why and show them your vision,” she told us. “I think it is important for us to always talk about not just our experience because that’s what we have done but it’s what we will do. Your experience speaks to your capability, your judgement, your record of success. But I always advise women when they go into an interview, don’t just say you deserve this because you have done this, this and this ... Just show your vision. And your vision will speak to your excellence.”
Pelosi continued, “Don’t talk about why you should have it. Talk about what you are going to do next.” As she tells candidates for office, “It’s not about why I should have a job, it’s about what I’m going to do with it.” In other words, sure, your experience is great. You can list those things off in an interview. But you need to go one step further and answer the question, “So what?”
You need to show a potential client, employer or investor how you can be useful to them. Connect the dots for them and tell the listener what you can do for them — how you can solve their problem. That’s your value, or “your vision” as the Speaker says.
When you can convey that clearly, you can do anything. You can walk into an interview and get the job, win clients, grow your network and answer that occasionally uncomfortable question, “what do you do?” So, take some advice from the country’s most powerful woman (arguably most powerful person, period). Know your why, know your vision, know your power and own your story. And dark glasses and a great red coat can’t hurt either.