Too Old For IT Jobs? 7 Fight-Back Tips - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
10:15 AM

Too Old For IT Jobs? 7 Fight-Back Tips

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 real question is: Are You Too Old For IT?]

"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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User Rank: Apprentice
12/3/2013 | 10:45:45 PM
Some things grow better with age
I own a technology company and will be turning 60 in about a month.

I'm constantly amused at many of my younger employees who seem to think they invented technology. Trust me, there's very little new under the sun, especially when it comes to software. Most of the current "toolsets" de jour are just rehashes of old stuff with new vaporware PR campaigns.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/3/2013 | 8:36:29 PM
How to handle the age issue like Reagan did?

After reading this post, I wrote this blog based on how Ronald Reagan was prepped for his second debate when age became a big issue after his disastrous performance in the first debate. I think there is something to learn from that.  

Read the blog I write about it.  Note, I do reference this post in my blog since it inspired me to write it.

User Rank: Apprentice
12/3/2013 | 2:40:00 PM
Confusing "Age" with "out of date"
So most of these points are 100% relevant to IT workers of all ages.

#6. It doesn't matter if you're 25 or 55, you should be updating your resume/CV every 6-12 months. Do it with every performance review or set a calendar reminder to take 15 minutes to do it. At the least it will serve as a good "what have I done recently" reminder.

#2. Of course you need to stay current. In IT, it's not just about "staying current", it's a bigger question of "why do you not want to stay current?". You should be learning a new language / major toolset every year. If you're not doing this already, you're actually failing at your current job let alone the job you want to find.

#3. Everyone should be realistic about compensation. If you've been at this for 20 years you have seen 3 or 4 boom/bust cycles. You should know better than anyone what you're actually worth.

#4. This is equally important for young people because they can easily knock off "achievements" that didn't take much time.

I'm really happy you added both #7 & #8, if you're failing at these bits above, it's probably a good time to ask yourself if you really belong in IT.
User Rank: Moderator
12/3/2013 | 11:55:01 AM
Re: Use your age as an advantage
Re: the management track, one underlying driver of age bias in IT and other industries seems to be the perception that if you're not in management by a certain age, there's something wrong with you. But that's an inherently flawed mindset: It suggests that everyone would be a good manager. If you've spent any time in the workforce, you know that's not true.

What's wrong with being really good at what you do, very productive, delivering consistent value to your bosses/employer, etc. without necessarily wanting to manage a team of people, ascend to the C suite, etc?

There's a sports analogy here. Many of the best players in the NBA, MLB, NFL, etc. would/will make terrible coaches or GMs. There are exceptions, of course. But ask a basketball fan what they think of Michael Jordan's tenure as GM/owner, or Isiah Thomas's track record as a coach/executive.
Kristin Burnham
Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
12/2/2013 | 8:23:31 PM
Re: Use your age as an advantage
@JayOza -- that's a great point. Use what some may call a disadvantage to your advantage.
User Rank: Strategist
12/2/2013 | 2:28:51 PM
Re: Use your age as an advantage
Mak63- here's a couple of reasons I can think of:

1) Not everyone is cut out for management.  It takes a certain personality and desire to want to manage people.

2) IT is easy compared to management, especially if it's project management.
User Rank: Ninja
12/2/2013 | 2:18:57 PM
Re: Use your age as an advantage
You could hide your age doing something like dyeing your hair. But it seems a better idea to go on offense, as JMO mentions. In that regard, why don't IT people with skills and experience aim for management positions?
User Rank: Apprentice
12/2/2013 | 2:03:33 PM
prove to them that you're a valuable asset
If you are worried about being viewed as "old school", then it's up to you to prove that you're not. Break the mold and learn a cutting edge web development framework, for example. Devote your nights and weekends to creating a Google App Engine python app, or a Ruby on Rails app... talk about your drive to continually expand your knowledge base, and use your newly developed app to prove that you know what you're talking about.

Ageism in hiring is a reality. You're going to have to prove wrong whomever is on the other side of the table, but it can and should be done.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/2/2013 | 1:51:15 PM
Use your age as an advantage
You can't  hide your age so don't play defense, but go on offense.  This means you have to clearly show how your expereince helps companies make and/or save money.  If they care about that then you have just leveled the playing field and even taken an edge over your youthful competitors.

User Rank: Ninja
12/2/2013 | 1:14:06 PM
Re: Jump Before Pushed?
No question it matters if change is big enough. I have relative who works for Microsoft out of Dallas area. Whenever we would visit, he would always hit me up to work there even though my entire career has been in ERP support and development on IBM mainframe and midrange computers.

His argument was that kind of knowledge is what Microsoft needed, to learn from professionals from different platforms, especially a heavy hitter like IBM. But now at age 55, it is way too late to make major shift like that. By time I would integrate with Microsoft so I could actually contribute, how many years of useful work could they expect? It would have made sense back when he first asked when in my 40's, now it would make no sense for Microsoft to make that investment in someone so close to end of career. And who would blame them for that?

Point is, at a certain age, I don't think jobs which are a major change in technology base make sense anymore, for you or for them.
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