Job Search

How Older Executives Can Position Themselves as the “Dark Horse” Candidate….and Win.

Older executive standing under umbrella talking on cellphone

Let’s start here: most ageism concerns held by employers are dead wrong.

64% of workers report experiencing age discrimination (according to a recent AARP study), and yet hiring study after study shows that the fears of taking on someone who’s 50+ are largely unfounded. No, you’re not going to be more resistant to developing new skills. You’re not going to want to slow down and “coast” towards retirement. And you’re not automatically going to shoot down new ideas because they’re unfamiliar.

But here’s the problem: the moment you tackle these issues OVERTLY within your career platform, you put yourself on a defensive footing. And that rarely results in a win.

So go another way.

Position yourself as a “Dark Horse” candidate, someone who brings something that is truly “1-of-1” to the table.

Not only will you shut down ageism concerns, but you’ll be in a position to create new opportunities for yourself.

Here’s how:

Step #1: Emphasize Perspective alongside Experience

The more your career platform, especially the Resume and LinkedIn profile, focuses exclusively on experience, the easier you are to commoditize and compare against others. That’s bad for everyone, but it’s doubly bad for older professionals. So let’s take an entirely different approach:

-Make a list of the proudest moments in your career. These are the moments which you’ll remember when it’s all over, the moments which make the sacrifice and effort worth it. Big project wins, quiet human ones, it’s all fair game.

-Now review these moments and ask yourself, “What are the common denominators here?” What did you bring to each of these success that cross the boundaries of job title and industry? This is at the heart of your unique perspective as a leader, and should be highlighted IN TANDEM with experience.

Here’s an example of a resume opening bullet point that strikes this balance:

“ENTREPRENEURIAL APPROACH to managing large global organizations, developing key talent, and establishing strong business relationships. Can excel in highly matrixed organizations, and lead both union and non-union labor forces.”


Also read: Am I Out-of-Date with What Employers are Looking For?


Step #2: Become a Job Creator, not a Job Seeker

 When you put yourself in the running for an open role, you instantly go up against the expectations of what an “ideal candidate” looks like from an employer’s perspective.

However- if you’re the one who initiates dialogue, and you’re the one who demonstrates unique value, then you can push for an outcome that is completely FREE of competition. To put it another way: you’re not stuck in gridlock. You’ve taken a new path.

If you were going to leverage what you know to secure consulting or contract work, who would you reach out to? What would your gameplan be to close new business? What supporting materials should you have in your back pocket? Consulting work, contract positions, and interim roles are all heavily used by older executives who know that it’s infinitely easier to secure a long-term opportunity after you’ve overdelivered in a short-term capacity.


Also read: How to Avoid a “Price War” Between You and a Younger Candidate


 Step #3: Flex that Network!

That network you’ve developed over the course of your career, the one which spans industries and many of the conventional “silos” that limit those of younger candidates, is arguably the most powerful asset you have. Now is the time to do the following:

-Turn the people who ALREADY know, like and trust you (your inner circle) into secret agents that’ll get you in the “in” at companies. Make a list of them, and shoot them all a quick, personalized message to set up a phone call. Actively solicit their suggestions on who to connect with, and potential avenues to pursue- give them a chance to help and they will!

-Move high-value people in your network whom you’ve had little-to-no real contact with through a “warm up” sequence of messages. A simple 3-message formula here could be the following: a message re-establishing the connection and catching up, a message that demonstrates VALUE or furthers engagement, and a CALL message where you request a 5-10 minute chat. Be sure to space these messages out over several weeks to avoid the perception of “spamming” your connections.

-Tapping into the high-value people that your network knows (these are known as 2nd-degree connections in “LinkedIn speak”), and using them to magnify your career efforts. Shameless plug- I’m currently running a presentation that will show you exactly how to do this (sign up below).

About the Author

Anish Majumdar is a nationally recognized Career Coach, Personal Branding Expert, and a fierce advocate for transitioning leaders. His posts and videos on disrupting the "normal rules" of job searching and getting ahead reach a combined audience of 30M professionals every month. Go down the rabbit hole of Anish’s career videos at HelloAnish.com, and connect with him on LinkedIn to receive daily career tips and advice.