The Old Gray Mare......

"My first 'informational interview' was almost my last--with a longtime family friend, a headhunter. He has placed top executives with firms all over the world.

He asked how old I was. Fifty-eight, I said.

He pushed his salad around on his plate, and didn't look at me as he did so.

'Well, Bob, you know, after 45, it gets kinda tough,' he said.

OK, bad beginning. But no game ends after the first inning.

I hit the phones. I had five breakfasts and five lunches a week with old pals. But 'working' friends was awkward. I had never needed them except as colleagues and playmates. Now, I heard myself swallow and say: 'Uh, will you help me?'"

One of the toughest parts of our business is dealing with candidates who are qualified but are late in their careers. The quick reaction from most people is that we are as a profession (and by extension as a society) prejudiced against those who are older.

This seems like an odd occurrence considering the demographics of our society where the bulk of the population is growing older and we aren't making enough babies to replace those who are dropping off however it does occur.

It just doesn't occur in the way most people think.

Let me give you an example. I worked very closely with a Fortune 500 company who had an employee who was 62 years old. The employee suddenly died and was replaced by a younger man. The replacement was 56 years old. No age prejudice there huh?

Oh I forgot to mention, the position was that of CEO.

CEO is a role where sometimes age discrimination works in the reverse. A younger person is sometimes not considered to have enough experience to handle such a role. Now there are plenty of exceptions but generally most CEO's are over 45 and usually over 50 (although the tech sector would skew that number down a bit).

Now let's consider another position. Let's say Sales Manager for the same company I just mentioned. This is a role that was the first step into management. You started as a sales rep and if you were successful and wanted to become a manager this was how you were promoted ( the exact path was sales manager, branch manager, regional manger, regional vp etc., etc. )

I was once recruiting internally for this position. One candidate was a 30 year old who had been a top sales rep since he had been with the company. The other candidate was 50 and had been a sales rep with the company for 25 years ( also reasonably successful but not a superstar).

The younger man got the job but not because they were prejudiced against someone because of age. The older sales rep had shown no interested in mgt for 25 years and now was applying for a management job? Unfortunately he had demonstrated no career growth at all over the course of his tenure with the company.

That's where older candidates often get in trouble. It's not the age that kills you (sorry no pun intended) it's the career track. If you are progressively moving upwards career-wise generally age wont factor in as much than if you have been doing the same job for the past 20-30 years.

Consider that the next time you get a call from a recruiter. Are you really "happy where you are" or have you been treading water career-wise for the past few years. Don't make the mistake of confusing "happy" with "successful" from a career standpoint.

You can read the article I quoted from at the beginning of the post here.

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