I cringe whenever I hear pundits telling audiences that unemployment after age 50 is a career death sentence. It may be harder after 50, but there is hope and opportunity. After being out of work for five months, I landed a senior-level job with decent pay and hope my success can bring hope to others surrounded by prevailing negativity.
The key in getting and succeeding at interviews was proving that, regardless of age, I had mastered the four R's –Relevance, Resiliency, Responsibility and business 'Rithmetic. And if that weren't enough, I had to show how I was different.
"Responsible" is the easiest "R" for older workers, but approached in a new manner by today's interviewers. Behavioral interviewing is more the norm than years ago with hiring managers asking situational questions and looking for the potential employee's response in handling difficult co-workers, supervisors and direct reports. In one interview I was asked how I'd handle a difficult client – a question that I didn't nail and I was not invited back for the second round of interviewing.
"Resilience" also comes up a lot in the behavioral interviewing process with recruiters frequently asking how you handled a failure, or dealt with an underperforming employee. In one screening I was asked to describe a nightmare marketing situation. I was so taken back, I initially laughed and stated the key to great marketing is avoiding nightmares! Then, I answered by saying, "I can tell you how I dealt with projects that did not meet expectations at key milestones."
My answer demonstrated good project management, planning and communication skills as well as the need to manage expectations both with employees and senior management. In that situation, I passed the screening and became the top candidate for the open post, until I was asked the next question in the final round with the CEO.
The CEO wanted to know why he should hire me over every other candidate. The question was repeated in almost every subsequent interview. Sometimes the question was phrased, "Why are you right for this position over others?" When first asked this question, I was uncomfortable answering. Then, I realized the question was simply: "What makes you special?"
In the job I finally landed, I had the answer cold, and it wasn't a generic answer. It was specific to that job. I had conducted a study that no one else in the area could have done, and I was the only one who could bring that experience to the job.
"Relevant" is the hardest arena for older workers. The assumption by many hiring managers is that the older employee is stuck in old ways of working and thinking. I countered this with a strong digital profile on LinkedIn, a broad digital presence on Twitter and other social networks, and a deep digital footprint with a dynamic web site, digital portfolio, and involvement with new digital endeavors.
I invested time, energy and dollars in hiring help to build a digital portfolio and update my web site. The delegation was a key time-saver allowing me to concentrate on job postings and timely cover letters. In addition, I volunteered for the digital committee of a well-known marketing organization, got recertified in digital marketing, took online classes, and led various digital marketing groups.
All of that got me to the final round between me and one other top candidate. The difference in getting the offer became 'Rithmetic, or my ability to apply metrics to prove progress in project management.
Of all the interviews I had, age was only an issue in one – a digital company predominated by Millennials. In all other interviews, age wasn't an issue. The ability to be relevant was.