Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: if you’re an older executive, you will almost certainly experience some level of concern/interest/criticism related to your age while networking. It’s going to happen. In fact, nearly two-thirds of professionals between 45 and 74 years of age have experienced age discrimination (according to a recent study by AARP), and 92% of those who did said ageism concerns were common.
So if you’re out there, presenting and pursuing a new opportunity, it would behoove you to have a few tools at your disposal to address this in the RIGHT way.
I can’t stress this enough: going in there with your shoulders up, on the defensive and hostile in the face of ageism concerns is not going to work, and will most probably just cement the negatives come with the “too old” label: resistant to change, etc.
Here are some better ways:
1) Embrace the Perspective Only You Possess
Fighting ageism concerns doesn’t mean pretending to be young. It means fully embracing the fact that your career journey, all of the twists and turns along the way, have given you a mix of wisdom and perspective that is impossible to find anywhere else. That’s what you stand on. That’s what differentiates you. So don’t think in terms of washing away your old experience, but rather boldly going in the direction of communicating this unique value.
Start by identifying some powerful highlights from your career. Think 2-3 stories that either go MACRO and demonstrate how you operate on the strategic level, or go MICRO to show how you execute the details. Practice them, record them on your smartphone, and use them while networking. Avoid the temptation to go through your entire history — being SPECIFIC is the key to communicating unique value, and that’s your best defense against concerns about your age.
2) Leverage Deep Connections
One of the biggest assets you have as an older executive is your varied network of peers, associates, and friends, that you’ve developed over the years. Now is the time to get creative about tapping into them- do not restrict yourself to a limited pool here!
The key to doing this effectively is to take an approach that’s about rekindling the relationship FIRST, followed by an opening to ASK FOR HELP afterwards. You want this person to think well of you, and to serve as someone who vouches for you (which, next to point #1 is the SECOND best defense against ageism), and that means making sure they are seen and heard by you, first and foremost.
Here’s a “catch up note” you can send, either via email or LinkedIn, that will help you set the right tone:
How are things? I was just thinking about [THE LAST EXPERIENCE/PROJECT/INTERACTION YOU HAD WITH THIS PERSON], and would love to catch up on what’s going with you.
Want to [GRAB A DRINK/COFFEE/SET UP A CALL] next week? Let me know what works for you- looking forward to it!
Notice that there isn’t a single detail in the message above about what you’re trying to accomplish career-wise. If all you do during the meeting that follows is ask questions about this person, you’ve done great. Follow up with them via email the next day and clue them into your current career goals. Request an introduction. Ask them to keep their ear to the ground, and nurture the long-term relationship. This is what leveraging your deep connections are all about.
3) Make LinkedIn Your Wingman
Now is the moment to stop making excuses about that “word soup” of a LinkedIn profile. You CANNOT afford the luxury of seeming out of step on the digital front. And frankly, why would you when something as simple as an effective LinkedIn presence can both address ageism concerns, AND boost your credibility through “social proof“?
-LinkedIn Headline: Think a 1-line branding statement (ex. Technology Go-to-Market Strategy and Execution Leader | Delivering ROI in Early-Stage, High-Growth, and Turnaround Environments.)
-LinkedIn Summary: Written in the first person, conversational. Don’t overload with details- think about the driving motivator behind what you do, and back it up with 2-3 major pain points you solve. What would HOOK the people you’re networking with?
-LinkedIn Recommendations are powerful credibility builders. Don’t be hesitant about asking your network for them.
-Skip the business cards in favor of installing the LinkedIn app on your phone. When you’re meeting someone, ask right then and there if you can add them on LinkedIn- and fire off an introduction at the next available opportunity. You can now easily follow up with them, AND are giving them a chance to view your profile and be further assured of your “rock star” status!