01 Dec 2006
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Over 50 and Job Hunting?

Check Your Career Currency
by Deborah Blagg

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Age discrimination is a serious concern among executives who contemplate career moves after age 50. In one recent survey, nearly three out of four managers with an average age of 50 said they believed age would be a barrier in their future job searches. Over half of the 168 executives polled felt that their age had disqualified them for positions already.

While acknowledging the existence of stereotypes that portray older managers as less creative, energetic, or knowledgeable than younger job candidates, Pam Lassiter, principal of Boston-based Lassiter Consulting Career Management Services and author of The New Job Security, says that over-50 managers can vanquish negative stereotypes by seizing control of the career-transition process. “Midcareer MBAs, especially those who have been at the same company for a while, can become complacent about career management,” she explains. “No matter how secure you think you are in your job, you need to stay on top of trends and what it takes to stay competitive in your job market. I call it career currency, because it’s really all about staying current.”

Even before a job change is on the horizon, says Lassiter, older executives should inventory their professional skills, attend relevant professional conferences and seminars, and study marketplace trends. “You can’t do anything about getting older,” she notes, “but you can stay in touch with the forces that drive your industry.”

Technology is an area where some older MBAs are particularly vulnerable. “If you’re the only one in the room without a PDA, or if colleagues are regularly throwing around technology buzzwords that you don’t know,” Lassiter cautions, “you are dating yourself.”

After entering the job market, older executives need to have clear goals. “Know where you want to head, stay focused, and be able to show that you have the skills to get there,” she advises. Lassiter tells her clients to scan help wanted ads, not because they’re likely to find a job in a newspaper or online, but because “employment listings help you to position your strengths in terms of the current market’s vocabulary.” This approach is particularly helpful for those who have stepped away from careers for a while, says Lassiter, who is involved in the School’s Charting Your Course program for alumnae not currently working full-time.

Lassiter urges older executives to make the most of their career experience by packaging themselves to fit market needs. “Rather than looking for openings,” she argues, “a better strategy for senior executives is to work on the principle that com-panies have problems that you are uniquely qualified to solve.” Executives who have a strong track record in improving market share, for example, might target a company where sales have been stagnant for a couple of quarters.

Demonstrated profitability is a key competitive asset for older MBAs. “You may be looking for a job after being laid off, after a hiatus from full-time work, or with newfound entrepreneurial ambitions,” Lassiter elaborates. “In any of these scenarios, be sure to highlight your competitive strengths. Quantify your successes. Show how your skills have helped other organizations become profitable and how they will be applicable in a new position.”

One additional aspect of career currency is the ability to make a positive first impression. “Your attitude, body language, and energy can dispel ageist stereotypes in the first five minutes,” Lassiter states. Although layoffs or extended résumé gaps may have an impact on executives’ self-confidence, Lassiter insists “the only person who can see that dark cloud is you. Your competence is the issue, and that’s what you need to convey.”

— Deborah Blagg

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