For older IT job seekers, ageism occurs in subtle ways during the application and interview process. Use this advice from recruiters to tackle the challenges.
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Are you on the job market with a head full of gray hair? You might find the hunt tougher than when you were in your 20s and 30s.
IT pros and recruiters say ageism is a real thing, adding that it's a particular problem for people older than 50. They also agree that it rarely takes the form of explicit age-related discrimination, which is illegal. Instead, ageism occurs in subtle ways, often during an employer's application and interview process.
"It's unlikely that they're going to say to you: 'Geez, you know, you're really too old,'" said Tom Hart, a former C-level IT executive who is now chief marketing officer of the recruiting firm Eliassen. "It's more likely that they'd say: 'Well, you know, we're not completely convinced that you fit culturally.'"
InformationWeek interviewed Hart and other recruiters to get their advice for older IT pros on the job market and how to minimize age-related challenges.
1. Don't make the problem worse. Step one, said Hart, is to not to stick your head in the sand. Jobseekers "can make it a bigger problem if they don't take certain steps to avoid that situation from ever happening in the first place," said Hart, who himself underwent a career transition at age 54.
"To me, as long as you're doing everything you can to secure that [career] opportunity, you're increasing your chances of being extended that offer, regardless of who you're competing against," Hart said. "Those tips are relatively straightforward. They're not always going to work, but they'll help."
2. Yes, you need to stay current. "Keep your skills current" is common career wisdom in the rapidly changing IT field. It's common for a reason, especially for older workers who find themselves back on the job market either unexpectedly or by choice. Hart jokes that a goal for any IT pro should be to not turn into their parents.
"As you age it's really important that you stay current with technology," Hart said. "I'm not saying you have to have a Facebook account and a Twitter handle, but you do need to be completely conversant in the technology that is used today either personally or professionally, inside the workforce or outside of the workforce."
3. Be realistic about compensation. While we all might like to think our salaries always increase over time, the job market is indeed a market subject to supply and demand, economic factors, geography, and other forces. There is no promise that X years of experience will equal Y salary. This can be a particular challenge for IT pros who find themselves back on the job market for the first time in many years. You're not promised anything just because you once earned a certain salary or have a certain amount of experience.
"The argument may not hold up where you get to say: 'Hey, I'm way more experienced, I've been doing this stuff for 25 years,' because that may or may not be a consideration of the employer," Hart said. "You have to level-set your expectations."
4. Represent experience in achievements, not years. Rona Borre, CEO of IT recruiting firm Instant Technology, advises translating years of experience into terms of value for an employer -- for example, how a long track record with certain types of projects or responsibilities enabled you to spot cost savings or other efficiencies in a previous role. "Try to highlight the innovative thinking and dedication to work that comes with the amount of experience," Borre said.
Matt Brosseau, Instant Technology's director of recruiting, added: "Focus on similarities between previous project experience and the assignment [you] would be joining without putting too much emphasis on the years of experience."
Look at it this way: "25 years of experience" doesn't give employers any indication of the quality of your work -- it just tells them you've been working for a long time. Mediocre employees can accrue 25 years of experience, too.
Borre also advised showcasing relevant examples of adding new skills over time while on the job. "Organizations want to stay at the forefront of new technologies, and showing that you do the same is a highly marketable skill," Borre said.
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