Age, Experience and the Tech Job Search or IT Job Search… Does the number work for you or against you?
One of my favorite types of clients to work with is the more “experienced” professional, the one whose been around the tech/engineering fields for a while and has watched the evolution of technology and different trends come and go. It fascinates me that anyone (no matter how well intentioned) would suggest to these valuable professionals that they should:
1. Hide their experience
2. Ask them to pretend to be younger
Logic dictates that if you have 30 years of experience in your field (or 20 or 40 or whatever you have) and have been a valuable member of that community, it should be a source of achievement, not suddenly an impediment or something you have to change or hide about yourself (as if you really can anyway).
And in my mind as career strategists, we need to ensure that our industry STOPS reinforcing this notion.
It certainly doesn’t help these professionals continue to progress in their fields, and we aren’t sending an effective message, other than “there’s something wrong with you, which you can’t control, but you have to fix it anyway” and, my favorite:
“Compete with younger people as if you are younger too.” In other words, the message becomes “be hip”. And “sell yourself like a commodity.”
There’s nothing wrong with having 30 years of experience, and we need to stop acting like there is.
Instead, where there’s a problem that needs to be addressed is in how that 30 years of experience is presented.
All too often, there is a tendency to position more experienced workers as “stagnant” in which their education was learned once a long time ago and simply repeated throughout the course of their career. Or worse, their earlier education is tossed out and the focus is only placed on the last couple years.
So rather than demonstrate 30 years of accumulating education and experience, it comes off as much less, and it gives the employer an apples-to-apples comparison between the younger worker and the older one.
What we really should be doing is making an apples-to-oranges comparison.
In other words, when it comes to the two groups, there is no comparison. They each bring different types of business value to the organization, and the challenge for the more experienced candidate (as well as for the less experienced but in a different way) is to communicate how he or she does that.
For the professional with 30 years of experience, it is a matter of building a story of how that amount of experience culminates in understanding today’s business challenges and how you can leverage your background to solve those problems. Any organization that wants to profit knows it needs people who bring business value because that value produces results, and like it or not, results are what organizations are after (private sector AND public sector).
Now, you might be thinking, “I have been doing that. I’ve been telling them how relevant I still am.” Chances are you’ve been telling them from a skills-based focus. You’ve been telling them how up-to-date your skills are. But that’s not really leveraging your background with your skills. In other words, it’s not really giving them the full breadth of what you bring, and it’s not being tied in to that bottom line business value.
We all have this tendency to think that hiring managers are good at connecting the dots…but they aren’t. No matter what age, we still have to do it for them.
We think that our latest credentials we paid handsomely for or our work history will just tell the story for us, but it rarely does. Instead, potential employers often just look at us and think, “is this person going to make my life easier or harder?”
And the more experienced you are, the more difficult it can be to show how your background can be leveraged to make life easier for the employer because it is, well, complicated…there are more dots that need connecting. Therefore, the focus by the older worker often dissolves into “defending” his or her experience.
Contrary to popular belief, most employers only want to do so much “molding” of younger workers. They might think at first that this will make their lives easier (because it is easier to identify with younger because you were younger once too; it’s harder to identify with older when you haven’t been through that yet) until they start trying to “mold” them. 🙂 So there are only so many of them they can realistically hire/promote. That can mean opportunity for those who are “different” (who are that “orange” and not another “apple,” so to speak). Unfortunately, though, most candidates believe that “difference” is really a bad thing and try to hide it, but that comes back to not knowing how to leverage it properly.
But difference has to “know” its relevance, not just “say” it’s relevant. (Think of how companies are continually looking to differentiate themselves.) And that “knowing” comes in understanding the results you can bring (or support) to the organization because of the amount of experience you have.
It’s funny. Communicating that is what makes you “hip” again….trying to act younger does not.