How to overcome ageism in the job search: five case studies

The common themes in recruiting older executives are reinvention, a recrafting of backstories, and a repositioning going forward, says executive recruiter Andy Cowan. “These older jobseekers and I openly discussed lowering some of their expectations about salary and benefits,” explains Cowan. “I encourage flexibility, a willingness to relocate and/or to take on contract work. Reinvention means the sharpening of new skills, the embrace of change, and a fresh understanding of the realities of where they were in terms of the competitive landscape.”

Cowan provides five case studies. Only the names have been changed.

Chris had worked for a leading consumer electronics company — think Samsung, LG or similar — for 15 years, working his way up to running the firm’s national service and repair operations. When he was unexpectedly laid off in a reorganization at 54, he was at a difficult career point for re-employment. Most companies were looking for younger workers who welcomed the “excitement” of travel, long hours, etc.

After revamping his resume to highlight very current technology-oriented skills as well as detailed examples of his expertise and financial and operational results he’d delivered to his former employer, I marketed him to competitors as a candidate both for long-term contracting and full-time employee positions. He was positioned safely as a candidate who could be tried out as a contractor before being converted to a full-time hire. Within three months he was hired by a direct competitor and is enjoying his new role.

Randi was running the call center and field-service operations of a national home-improvement center. In her mid-fifties, she’d worked her way up and was managing four call centers with a total of 1600 agents. Then her employer opted to outsource all its contact-center work to a third party. She led the transition over six months and was then let go with severance pay.

I updated her resume and coached her on how to promote her experience leading the transition of an in-house call center to an outsourced relationship, saving her employer millions of dollars in expense over the course of three years. I positioned her as an expert in identifying and leading these types of opportunities for large companies not only in the home-improvement space but in unrelated areas. Armed with a resume packed with financial and operational details of cost-saving and efficiencies she’d delivered for her previous employer, she was hired within four months as a long-term consultant.

Peter, a 58-year-old sales executive in home services, had after a long career in finance pivoted to leading sales of solar-energy services for a large national provider. When the company sold off his division, he struggled to get interviews. He was out of practice. His Linkedin profile and resume indicated his age by stating his college graduation date and dates of employment back to the 1980s.

I advised him to shorten his employment history and remove his graduation dates. I suggested he lightly update his hair (color and cut) and have a professional headshot for his Linkedin profile. Instead of looking 60 with tired, rumpled hair he now looked 50 and crisp to a prospective employer looking up his Linkedin profile. This helped him get on deck for initial interviews. I focused our efforts on marketing him to smaller compared firms in high-growth mode looking for a seasoned sales executive. He was hired within five months.

Ralph, in his mid-fifties, was a victim of his own success. He’d been with the same employer 30 years. What once was viewed as admirable worked against him when he was laid off. Potential employers viewed him as being too insulated, too narrow in his experience.

I revamped his resume into a dozen sub-sections to reflect all the positions he’s held within the company over the 30 years. I made his background as varied and progressive as possible to mirror that of a candidate who’d held several different external positions,  while at the same time showing his upward career growth. I marketed him to former business partners he’s worked with externally over the years, and had him in a new position in four months.

[related: This week’s Help Wanted section]

Carol had worked for several Fortune 1000 companies leading their field services. Laid off at 56, she floundered for several months, contacting her relationships looking for her new position. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a good resume, and didn’t know exactly how to position herself, She couldn’t get many interviews.

I coached her to have a clear message with her network, a story she could quickly tell to position herself as a candidate to be remembered. Since her children had long since left home and she wanted to move South, I encouraged her to be open to relocating. I encouraged her to not look for the same salary and rich benefits she’d enjoyed in her last long-tenured position (new employees aren’t usually given vacation and other benefits that match what they may have had previously), but to focus on interviewing well in order to develop employment interest and subsequent offers. Once hired she could earn her stripes and get the salary/benefit improvements she deserved. She was hired within six months and moved to Florida for her new gig.