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IT Age Discrimination: You're Not The Dinosaur

In our discussion of IT ageism, many IT pros say they feel caught in a hiring trap. Don't wait for some big, slow and stupid organization to snap you up.

Let's say that every time you interview with a big corporation, you think it's a "purple squirrel" interview. Every time you apply, you're sure that your gray hair or years of experience will rule you out because your healthcare and salary requirements will be too costly for the employer. Don't you think it's a bit strange to keep trying and not consider something else?

At the root of many readers' aggravation is a sense of depression or hopelessness. But if you're a talented IT pro, you need to overcome the rocks and glass that life throws in your career path. Contrary to what some readers implied, I've had many of my own to overcome. We all need to pick ourselves up and keep going.

I reached out to Dr. Annemarie Carroll, a licensed clinical psychologist and college professor. She told me about a psychological theory called locus of control, which frames where people believe the control in their lives comes from: internally or externally. For those who believe in an external locus, "they can't even begin to understand the argument that they can do something about their situation," Carroll says. And they tend to surround themselves with people who agree with them, when they need people who will bring their control locus inward, show them that they have some control over their own destiny.

What To Do?

One awesome reader acknowledged that age discrimination is alive and well, but that he's taking action. He has started a company that commercializes technologies with which he's very familiar. And when he's ultimately successful -- and he will be -- that's his old employer's loss.

Whether you've been laid off because you're too experienced/expensive, or you're waiting in fear for that day to come, here are a few things to consider.

Talk with others. Be open to feedback from a friend or counselor. Conversely, be aware that a friend or colleague may need a little kind nudging to get started. This process is grief-like.

Build social resiliency. If you think the only way you'll get fired is because you're too expensive or experienced, guess again. People get fired for plenty of other crazy reasons. That's why I always recommend building social resiliency -- that is, cultivating a life outside of work or job seeking. Volunteer. Pursue a hobby. Join a club. Not only will you have 20 people who'll want to connect you with your next gig should you lose your job, but you'll also have a healthier work-life balance.

Learn the new world of work. I recommend a few books: $100 Startup, Escape From Cubicle Nation, The Startup Of You and Free Agent Nation. They're data-based and include action plans. Get involved with events like Startup Weekend and Founder's Institute, either locally or nationally. You'll learn a lot and meet like-minded folks who will be part of your new world of work.

Write your future, not your past. I've seen far too many resumes that read like a museum brochure. As you move out into this non-dysfunctional world, don't waste valuable resume (or LinkedIn) space listing skills that don't matter anymore. I can list my experience with DCL and the VAX/VMS batch control language, but will anyone want them? No. And it will just make you seem old school and obsolete. Write the resume of your future, not of your past. What you leave out is just as important as what you put in.

So get to it! Don't wait for some big, slow and stupid organization to hire you. The big corporate dinosaurs are the ones that are obsolete, not you.

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User Rank: Apprentice
3/12/2013 | 9:14:06 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination: You're Not The Dinosaur
Good stuff, Jonathan. I appreciate the IEEE data sources and quotes from professors -- a welcome antidote from pontificating. I also agree with Somedude8 -- the enthusiasm level among 40-something and 50-something IT workers is often substantially different from that of 20-somethings. The desire for excellence remains, but the passion has become more nuanced. "I know what it feels like to push really hard, and not seem to make progress -- been there, did that. Give me some tough, technical problem to solve and get outta my way!" Another factor affecting passion/enthusiasm for older IT pros are those who have spent some time in supervision (like me). Are my technical chops current? Um, no. I had to invest some time and effort in improving my leadership and people skills. Will that help me get a job doing mobile app development or big data analytics? Nope. More importantly, how would I position those skills to distinguish me from the bazillion other IT supervisors who may also have been laid off in a recen re-org or outsourcing?
User Rank: Strategist
3/12/2013 | 7:32:33 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination: You're Not The Dinosaur
I've not yet read that far into your article, but to answer your first question:

Welcome to corporate America. It may be a distorted view, but we generally have three options: 1) work where a future exists, 2) work where a fabulous future might exist if the cards fall right or 3) work where there's no future but comfort. The last two are essentially the same--smallish companies. (2) is simply newer or still thinks they're destined for bigger things. The first then is the only established option--large corporations who treat employees like cattle, but where there's an infrastructure that retirement, movement, new initiatives and the annual reorg at least provide potential for growth. Also, just because the current management in your company may be stupid does not guarantee that the next reorg's will be.

Personally, I was recruited and ready to be a manager days before the layoffs started. It left me four years away from being in even a partially similar situation again.

And sometimes, not all of us get to have our dream job. I find it fairly cavalier possibly even naive to insinuate we should be happy to be tossed aside because of what we see as current poor management.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/12/2013 | 7:13:17 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination: You're Not The Dinosaur

Over the years I have come to judge IT departmental management by the level of urgency - or lack of urgency - of their personnel needs as displayed in the job requirements submitted to their preferred vendors (personnel agencies). Requirements like ***HOT***!!! URGENT!! *IMMEDIATE* START!!! ... I know already that the management of the department is poor and does little to no planning. They've probably piled all the knowledge, work, and responsibility onto one person with a name - that name is leaving - and no system was ever in place to spread that knowledge beyond that one person. And if I submit my resume and get and take the assignment, I know that I will be walking into a Mess. At that point I have to think about the rate, the commute, and any other perks and decide if they are worth walking into the Mess.
This speaks to the plea we hear from the executives and lobbyists that the companies simply can't be bound to a process of having to look for American talent first before reaching for the phone and calling the H-1B visa mill, because they need people almost immediately due the exigencies of the tech business blah blah blah... I just call it poor planning.

User Rank: Ninja
3/12/2013 | 5:49:48 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination: You're Not The Dinosaur
For older IT people that keep their skills up to date and relevant, there seems to be no shortage of work, at least form what I am seeing. However, there does seem to be some expectation that if you are older, you probably haven't kept your skillset up to date.
Another thing that sags with age for too many people is the interest in the work, the excitement about it. Finding an older person who has kept current, and is still excited about cool new stuff is not so easy. I am one of them though, and have had no problem finding work. In fact, I have turned away more work in the last 2 or 3 years than ever.
I can't blame companies if my skills lag behind what they need, or I am not excited about my work.
User Rank: Ninja
3/12/2013 | 5:24:27 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination: You're Not The Dinosaur
Technology changes faster than corporations are willing to invest. Corporations are all grasshoppers not ants that prepare. When they decide its time to invest in new technology, most often their staff are NOT up to the task. Instead of investing in people, they'd rather raid overseas companies that do. Its very hard for the current staff to keep up to date on technology not used by the current employer and when the employer finally decides to upgrade there isn't enough time to retrain existing staff. They are disgraded for those that have the new technology skills.
User Rank: Strategist
3/12/2013 | 5:02:35 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination: You're Not The Dinosaur
While I can't disagree with the technology portions, you still are missing the point.

When you have applied for all civil service jobs.
When you have applied for all private sector jobs.

And you can't buy a interview.

What do you suggest?

I ask because I believe the people that I hear from at Keep America at Work would like to know.
User Rank: Author
3/12/2013 | 4:21:50 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination: You're Not The Dinosaur
Jonathan makes some good points, yet I suspect some of his advice may not be very soothing for people who have never worked in a smaller company, never mind a startup. Running your own company, or even working at a startup, is not a fit for every personality.

There is no shame in saying you don't want to run your own company but you do want to work with a smart team at a small or midsize company. But if that's where you are at, your personal network will be crucial.

Laurianne McLaughlin
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