It’s ok to feel nervous as an older executive pursuing a new role.
For every inspirational story of a person reinventing themselves in their 50s, there’s a tossed off comment like Mark Zuckerberg’s infamous assertion in 2007 that, “Young people are just smarter,” that’ll make you think the entire game is rigged against you.
And if you play into their little ageism game, it will be.
So the simple answer: don’t play it. Play your own.
The (slightly) longer answer: use the tips below!
#1) Build a Brand that Defies Comparison
Yes, the question, “Why should we hire you over someone with less experience?” is rude and doesn’t bode well for the rest of the hiring process. But the truth is, a jobseeker’s career platform is often to blame for this line of “comparison shopping,” not simply an obtuse interviewer.
- Does your Resume strategy involve mimicking the job posting as closely as possible?
- Is your LinkedIn profile nothing more than a collection of business buzzwords, or worse, a desolate wasteland?
- Has the idea of sending along a letter every time you send that resume which addresses the culture fit side of things never even crossed your mind?
Ask yourself the following:
-What are the 3-4 “marquee skills” I possess which can be used to further the goals of my “dream companies” TODAY?
-Stress these skills at the start of the resume, and frame it along the lines of ADDRESSING PAIN POINTS these companies are facing.
-Highlight these skills within the “Professional Experience” section via hard-line accomplishments. Think C-A-R (Challenge, Action, Result) when developing accomplishments, and remember: metrics always impress.
-Think of your LinkedIn Profile as a conversation starter, precisely geared towards key decision makers at target companies. Be human, be simple, be clear about your POV. In fact, the bolder you are about expressing your take, the better! Expert tip: use the LinkedIn headline to tell people what you’re about (ex. Chief Operations Officer who loves deploying new technology to solve Logistics and Supply Chain challenges) and use the LinkedIn Summary section to your advantage. These are the most viewed parts of anyone’s profile.
-Create a Value Proposition Letter that answers the questions, “Why you, why this company, and why now?” Highlight your value-adds. Got a deep bench of industry contacts? Highlight it. Have you ridden out insane crises and lived to tell about it? Let them know. Showing a human side, and framing your career like the journey it is can be a powerful way to communicate culture fit. And concerns about culture fit are one of the biggest reservations employers have about hiring older execs.
#2) Address the Elephant in the Room
Let’s say you walk into the interview room and can immediately tell that the interviewer is surprised by how old you are.
The worst thing you can do is ignore it. The second worst thing you can do is overcompensate through talking about how “active” and “energetic” you are (cringe-worthy and ineffective).
I suggest a third option: addressing it. On your terms. Via an answer or two that you’ve thoroughly practiced beforehand.
Here are some examples:
Admit Your Age: “I just turned 51 in July. I’ve spent X years gaining expertise in this industry, with Y years spent doing exactly what this job requires. I know what it’s like to struggle with HIGHLIGHT PAIN POINT #1, and can address it using the following KEY EXPERIENCE STORY. A big benefit of my experience is that I’ve made every possible mistake under the sun, and come through every time. I don’t scare easily. And I can offer a depth of experience, and level of agility in bouncing back from mistakes, that can really make a difference here.”
Empathize with Their Concerns: “If I was sitting in your chair looking at me, I’d probably have a bunch of age-related questions that I wanted to ask, but couldn’t. So let me offer some answers without being asked. Here’s how my experience will enable me to successfully navigate the current crisis with ISSUE X. Here’s why you won’t have to hire someone new in this role after a year or two (OUTLINE VISION FOR HOW YOU WISH TO CONTRIBUTE). Here’s how I can lead, and contribute, from a place of openness and collaboration, not ego (OFFER CAREER EXAMPLE).
Do this right, and fears of ageism will be replaced by:
–More interviews with quality companies.
-Initial interviews that are less about establishing credibility and more about job specifics (exactly what you want).
-Being perceived as a leader with a unique POV, who is unafraid to ask the hard questions.
Your experience is priceless. Don’t let the non-believers run the show!