Fifty and Forgotten: How to Find your Next Job When No One Wants to Hire
by Tucker Mays and Bob Sloane
This article is written for you and the thousands of other executives across
America who are age fifty or over and lost their jobs. The unemployment rate
for this age group is now higher than that of any other and at the highest
rate since the depression. Why is it that America’s most skilled and
experienced workers struggle to find work?
Although they will never admit it, most recruiters and companies admit
privately that they are significantly less interested in hiring executives
when they reach the age of fifty. There are many reasons for this bias but
the most important are: inflexible management style, difficulty reporting to
a younger boss, high compensation needs, and lack of computer skills. In
order to overcome these objections and maximize your experience, you need to
follow a three-step plan. First, prepare counter arguments against these
four objections. Second, leverage your age as an asset. Third, revise your
job search tactics.
I. Overcome Objections
During interviews discuss how you modified your management approach to
fit different challenges in different business cultures. Specifically,
describe how you had to revise your style when working on special projects
that required you to adjust to changing priorities, make quick decisions
with limited information, produce results with fewer resources, and manage
an ad hoc team of individuals who did not directly report to you.
Cite examples during your career when you enabled a younger superior to
succeed, grow and advance their careers. During an interview, emphasize that
you will manage what your boss wants to get done now, so that he or she will
have more time to work on what should be done in the future. Also, convey
that you are as committed to their success as well as your own.
You will have a significant advantage over younger job candidates the
more you are willing to accept less salary up front in exchange for a
greater performance based bonus. Companies prefer individuals who are
willing to take some risk to prove themselves, and ‘bet on the come”. For
executives over 50, compensation flexibility can be a key factor in getting
a job. A reduction of up to 20 percent from your previous salary is
As every aspect of business continues to be impacted by our fast changing
technology environment, it is important that you know the latest
technologies that are specific to your managerial function, whether it be
general management, sales, marketing, finance, operations or HR. To do this,
it is advisable to attend industry or functional group training programs or
conferences, and also to consult with trusted colleagues in your field.
II. Make Your Age an Asset
At age fifty or over, you have developed special abilities, highly valued
by companies that offer significant advantages over less experienced younger
executives. These are problem solving, people management, judgment, and
Since you have faced more challenges and solved more problems, you can
solve most problems faster than younger job seeking competitors. This is a
critical skill companies are in urgent need of in today’s fast paced world.
Therefore, try to find examples where you quickly identified key drivers
slowing impacting performance, and developed solutions that achieved
improved results in record time. Examples might be delays in new product
introduction, late shipments, cost overruns, or declining quality control.
By the time you reach age fifty, you have discovered how to quickly and
accurately assess who should stay and who should go, and how to make those
who stay even better. When interviewing, give examples of people you managed
who went on to successful careers, and others who struggled, but flourished
when you changed their responsibilities to better match their abilities.
From who to fire and who to hire to where to cut and where to spend,
you’re in a better position to make the right decisions than most who are
younger than you and less experienced. You can further strengthen your
candidacy by discussing decisions you made that others either avoided or
doubted that were successful.
As few individuals are born leaders, this critical trait takes time to
develop. Accordingly, most executives over 50 will poses greater leadership
credentials than their younger counterparts. It is important during
interviews to describe examples where you led cross functional teams,
initiated new program and projects, spearheaded a company’s shift in anew
direction, or motivated your people to achieve record results.
Finally, job seeking executives over fifty must understand that the job
search strategies which worked for them during their thirties and forties
are no longer as effective. They should not rely on recruiters, friends, and
published job leads to find jobs in growing mid-to-large size companies.
III. Change Your Search Strategy
Executive recruiters now account for less than 10 percent of all job
opportunities, and have a reluctance to recommend unemployed executives over
fifty to their clients for the reasons previously addressed in this article.
Therefore, you should spend no more than 10 percent of your time working
with recruiters, and only engage with those you know, have worked with, or
to whom you have been referred.
Published Job Leads
The competition is so intense that you should only respond to leads with
job specifications that are close to a perfect fit with your skills and
experience. Given the low probability of gaining a job via this route, spend
no more than 5 percent of your time responding to published job
opportunities. Network to the unpublished job leads, for which there is far
Larger companies usually have built in succession plans and hire from
within nearly 90 percent of the time. In contrast, smaller companies usually
hire executive talent from the outside as they grow. Further, there are 20
times as many companies in the U.S. with sales of under $ 100 million as
there are above. They are less concerned with your age, highly value your
experience, and make faster hiring decisions. Therefore, focus your search
efforts on smaller companies.
In order to overcome the strong job market bias against hiring executives
over 50, you must develop compelling arguments to counter job market
concerns behind the bias, cite the key reasons why your age is an asset, and
use different job search strategies in order to find you next job faster.
About the authors: Tucker Mays and Bob Sloane are
Principals of OptiMarket LLC, an executive job search coaching firm they
co-founded in 2001 to help executives over 50 find their next job in the
shortest time possible. Tucker and Bob have also co-authored the book
Fired at 50: How to Overcome the Greatest Executive Job Search Challenge.
For information, visit their web site at