The Age Issue

ViewPoint

A New York Times article pictured an executive seated behind the desk at an Over Forty Club office in Chicago. For those who don’t know of this organization, it is a well respected association with locations in major markets throughout the country that is dedicated to providing executives who have reached the venerable age of 40 with the skills required to overcome this very real job challenge. Incredible as this may sound to many, the age bias does begin at 40 in America, much earlier than most imagine. Rarely spoken of and denied by companies and recruiters, but very real nonetheless, what are some of the reasons behind the so called “age factor” in search?

The Problem

In most cases, companies resist hiring older executives because they are concerned about the following issues:

Outdated Skills

Senior managers often lack the latest computer skills as well as experience with the most recent management approaches in key functional areas such as Internet marketing or IT driven financial management and inventory control systems. Working in large corporate environments, their support staff was usually better versed in the new technology.

Less Energy

In today’s pressured work environment, senior executives are often required to work longer hours and weekends with greatly increased responsibility and less support. Companies assume that older managers will have difficulty adjusting to the heavier workload and will fall behind, further compounding the problem.

Inflexible

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” often surfaces as a reason not to hire older executives. The concern is that senior executives are “old school”, heavily indoctrinated in an outdated management style and approach that no longer apply.

Health

Older employees clearly have increased health risks. This increases the probability of above average sick days and health coverage cost to the employer, nether of which most companies are comfortable assuming.

America’s Cultural Age Bias

Our country is notorious for celebrating youth and “abandoning” older people. A stark contrast from other developed nation cultures in Europe and Asia. These more caring countries have greater respect for older individuals both in and out of the work force.

The Solution

Impress with Your Presence

Always exhibit proper posture [no slumped shoulders, head slightly dropped, tie askew, hair out of place, shoes un-shined, etc. Sounds obvious. Yes, but many executives, especially those who have been out for half a year or more start letting down their appearance. Do not make this mistake. Remember, you are always on stage with friends, fellow job seekers, colleagues-not just in interviews. No one wants to help or hire someone who gives a negative impression.

Maintain a positive attitude at all times. Only give in to disappointment when alone with your spouse, or executive job search coach. It is natural to let down now and then, but do it privately.

Stay fit by exercising regularly. As a minimum jog or fast walk for a half an hour. You have the time. Get down to within 10% of your acceptable weight for your age. Studies confirm that overweight people are hired last. The reasons are obvious. Greater health risk and assumption of laziness.

Finally, exude a high degree of enthusiasm and energy. Most job seekers find the best way to do this is to repeat a list of what they are grateful for each morning. –health, family, friends, education, skills, greater economic opportunity and life style in the US. Further, any successful job seeker knows that the more positive and energetic their search, the sooner they will land.

Search for Companies Where Experience is Critical

The greatest competitive asset a senior executive possesses after twenty-five years in business is experience. You have been faced with and overcome many of the challenges younger executives have yet to meet. This means that you will generally be able to anticipate and solve more problems faster, a significant advantage.

Develop three success stories around difficult business challenges you faced, describing the alternative solutions you developed, the action plan implemented, and results achieved. Each story should take no more than two minutes or one page to describe.

Consider focusing your search on smaller companies, under $ 100 million, as they are not only less concerned with age, but more interested and in need of hiring older, more experienced executives. Many sectors such as the Internet, start-ups, early stage companies, non-profits, and turnarounds are relaying more and more on seasoned executives to accelerate growth. Write directly to companies that match profiles such as these and emphasize your relevant experience. If a good fit, attach one of your success stories.

Update Your Skills

If you are not current in Word, Excel, and Power Point, use some of your search time to become fluent in these program disciplines. Small to mid-size companies will often provide no or limited administrative support. Dozens of books and articles have stressed that the dramatic rise in American productivity over the past three years is largely due to hundreds of thousands of office workers taking on more responsibility and working longer, harder hours. Technology has been a major driver for this change.

Take an evening course either in your functional area or one outside of it that naturally supplements core competencies. For example, enhance traditional consumer packaged goods marketing skills with an Internet course. Supplement strong IT skills with a capital budgeting or corporate finance course. Add the further education to your resume. It will impress recruiters and companies, and give you an edge.

Emphasize Your Flexibility

Flexibility has several important dimensions. First, after age 50 your children are probably out of college which makes it easier to relocate. Second, expenses have dropped after graduations so that fixed compensation requirements may be lowered. Senior executives who can negotiate and accept a comp package that balances a reduced salary supplemented with higher performance base bonus and equity, have a significant edge landing a job than other job seekers who cannot. Third, it is helpful to frame your job history by describing a variety of relevant challenges you faced and how you solved them. The richness and breadth of your experience is a major advantage for senior executives.

Consider Interim Assignments

Many companies are more willing to hire senior executives on an interim basis to start. They want the strong skill base and experience but are wary about age and fit. Accordingly, many older executives who have experienced resistance seeking a full time job, and received honest feedback that age is an issue, are well advised to refocus their search in alignment with a “side door” strategy that we call “interim first”. Importantly, up to 40% of all senior level interim executive assignments lead to full time positions.