Question: Help me market my dad. He’s over 50. It seems that as soon as his age is known, he is somehow no longer qualified.
Are there any businesses who hire someone with 25 years of experience anymore? He was a vice president until he got caught in a downsizing. People are still young and bring a lot to a job at his age. What can I tell him?
My Advice: Lately I’ve been doing webinars for alumni of some of the top business schools, including Kellogg (Northwestern), Ross (University of Michigan), and Anderson (UCLA). We take questions in advance, and I’m struck by the anguish over the subject of age.
I agree with you: People your dad's age (50+) bring a lot to a job. They're not too old to contribute significantly to a company. You clearly believe it. The question is: What does your dad project in job interviews? (The answer may not be as obvious as you think.)
When AT&T went through one if its downsizings, the company hired me to coach a group of executives who were told they had eight months to find a new job. Most people take that kind of time and use it to engage in wishful thinking. You know: "Oh, they'll find something for me so I can stay. I've been here 20 years. They won't let me go."
One of the guys I coached (I'll call him Mike) took it dead seriously and started looking immediately. But by the time I met with him, he was disheartened. All he wanted to know was, "How do I get these interviewers past the problem of my age?" What Mike was saying was, "I'm too old, and I know it."
Mike was 58. Sure, some employers prefer younger guys. Some employers are also bigoted about all sorts of things, from race to religion to sex to where you play golf. My advice in those situations: Either file a discrimination suit or move on to the next employer.
Call me an optimist, but I really believe most managers are more concerned about a person's ability to do the work than about anything else, and they're basically good people who will give you a fair shake.
But something funny happens, as it did with Mike. When he acted defensively about his age, interviewers shut him down. The last thing an employer wants is a worker who is worried about his age because the preoccupation is likely to affect their work.
I spent about four hours with Mike. I taught him to focus on one thing in the interview: the work an employer needs to have done. If the age issue comes up, I told him to shift gears and ask the manager what problems he needs fixed, and then to demonstrate how he's going to tackle them. You should have one goal, I told him: to show the employer what you're going to bring to the bottom line. Do that, and you control the interview. Do that and—much of the time, not all—you transcend the age (or almost any other) issue.
Mike changed his attitude, if only because for four hours I didn't let up on him. A week later I ran into him at AT&T. He had a grin on his face as wide as a barn. He walked up and clapped me on the shoulder. "I did what you said. Company XYZ not only hired me, they're giving me equity. When the interview started, I cut the manager off at the pass and asked him to lay out a live problem he was facing. That helped me get more comfortable by focusing the meeting on what I do best. Then I showed him how I'd handle it. It changed the whole interview."
I'm proud of him because he got past the age obstacle himself, and in doing so made it unnecessary for the employer to try to scale it. When an employer encounters this sort of obstacle, they just "pass" rather than deal with it. So the candidate has to deal with it.
This story is the best thing I can offer your dad. He has to get his age completely out of the equation. Sure, he'll encounter a jerk or two. But he'll also encounter employers who need what he can do for them. It's up to him to communicate that without bringing his fears to the interview with him.
Not an easy task. But doable. I wish your dad the best.