It is a common and somewhat justified belief among executives closing in on their 60th birthdays, that their age is working against them.
They typically respond by revising their resumes — leaving off their college graduation date, preparing a topical resume (don’t get me started on my distaste for those) or picking an arbitrary date to start their career history on their resume, hoping the reader will think they fall within the coveted 45-50 years old sweet spot of recruiters.
Do people really think savvy recruiters and hiring managers won’t understand that executives are embarrassed by their age and see it as a disadvantage?
While there are undoubtedly companies who want to hire executives who will remain with them for 20 years and may not be interested in someone who has rounded the proverbial “third base” of their careers, other companies will value the wisdom and experience of a seasoned executive. Mega law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, just completed a search for an Executive Director by hiring a 60+-year old candidate. So how does an “older” executive level the playing field? Much of it is about attitude and being current.
So what does “being current” mean?
Embrace Social media. While younger executives may not be able to match your experience, they instinctively understand technology and the role social media plays in today’s business world. Executives who pretend that Facebook and Twitter have nothing to do with them should do so at their own peril. We strongly urge every executive to have a LinkedIn profile with a professional headshot that clearly communicates, “I get LinkedIn” and the value of networking. While Facebook participation is more optional, we recommend that executives maintain a Facebook page, whether they use it or not. It is simply another way of staying current. Even if you truly don’t understand social media, don’t denigrate it at every opportunity. The people who say, “I’m not really good at this technology thing,” place themselves firmly in the old fogies category.
Network on an individual basis. You should know your peers at competing organizations on a first name basis. If your peers are retiring, ask for an introduction to his or her replacement. Staying connected through online groups also keeps you informed about who is relevant in the industry.
"As you listen, see what you can learn from the younger generation. If you are too old to learn, you are too old – too old to work and too old to contribute."
Embrace industry meetings and conferences. As executives enter their second and third decade in the workforce, they get busier and maintaining industry relationships and attending conferences is often put on the back burner. Not only do you miss out on seeing old colleagues, you miss the opportunity to meet the up and coming superstars who might be good networking contacts as your own network starts to retire.
Time for a wardrobe and haircut update. The business dress code has drastically changed over the last 20 years, yet many seasoned employees have been slow to adapt. Sure, they understand that a suit is no longer appropriate in every business setting, but their casual dress is woefully out of date. For formal dress, men–lose the pleated pants, and women–ditch the broach. Look at what your young leaders are wearing and try to be current.
Increase your accessibility. Many people who did not grow up with mobile devices are not in the habit of being available 24/7. And while being addicted to your BlackBerry or iPhone has its own drawbacks, you need to adapt to today’s business world where people check their devices after normal business hours. You can’t force the world to slow down by simply refusing to be available, because your competitor will be available and your colleagues will move on without you.
Listen more – Do you ever notice that as people get older, they listen less and talk more? Don’t let this be you. As you listen, see what you can learn from the younger generation. If you are too old to learn, you are too old – too old to work and too old to contribute.
Jane Howze is founder and Managing Director of The Alexander Group. She has more than 25 years experience in executive search and has recruited executives worldwide in banking, energy, not for profit, technology, manufacturing, legal and professional services. She directs Board searches for the firm and is actively involved in The Alexander Group’s diversity practice. Ms. Howze is quoted frequently in major business publications, serves as a columnist for culturemap.com and is the author of Best Practices for Executive Search Firms for the Inside the Minds book series.