I stumbled into the world of technology in the ‘80s and have embraced it ever since, including almost a decade at Google and recently nearly five years at Twitter. When I got into tech, I could learn on the job, because no one back then was much of an expert. But as the industry grew up around me and waves of innovation have taken root, many younger companies have emerged, and most start out wanting skills largely associated with younger people. Here’s my best advice on dealing with reality and also being successful later in your career.
Many people at or near age 50 may already know what a 2015 study by three economics scholars revealed: age discrimination is on the rise. Stated or unstated, there are many reasons, including these: Older employees are more expensive. Young companies often seek what they describe as “culture fit,” which all too often is designed to reflect one (younger) type of employee. When it comes to promotions and raises, there are real and discriminatory moves built into downsizing, reorganizing, or otherwise passing over older workers (aiming to drive them out without the appearance of discrimination).
But of course people want to keep working — and also need to keep working. According to AARP, 70% of experienced workers say they plan to work in retirement, whether full or part time — and 35% of those aged 65-74 are doing it for the income.
All of this is in the background for older workers. In the foreground, the booming technology sector actually needs experienced people for a wide range of non-technical jobs. Many of the iconic tech giants that have led a consumer technology revolution over the past 20-30 years have thousands of jobs available, ranging from operations and finance to partnerships and communications.
If you’re interested in pursuing roles in a technology-related company (many of which ranked on this year’s LinkedIn Top Companies list), there are nuances to understand and incorporate into your approach. Here are a few pointers based on my 30+ years working in and around Silicon Valley. I have loved my career, but it’s come with a few wake-up calls along the way.
When you apply
Because there is both conscious and unconscious bias in the offing, I agree with recruiters who tell you to collapse your job record and lightly summarize (or just skip) anything farther back than 15-20 years. The sense at (many) tech companies is that so much has changed over the last decade or two that a lot of older experience isn’t going to be relevant. You may disagree, and if you’re hired, you can demonstrate your accumulated wisdom then. But first you have to get in the door, and an exhaustive listing of every job you’ve ever had doesn’t help.
Your experience matters, but you can’t lead with it. You won’t be hired into these companies strictly on the basis of what you’ve done in the past. Yes, they may be looking for your operational experience gained over the years, but you’re also going to be learning a lot that’s new on the job. Don’t think you can dust off the old playbook and be successful. Tech employers want to see how well you approach real-time issues with creativity and resourcefulness more than they want a catalogue of your greatest hits.
Read widely on the specifics of the company. Know its recent products and how they’ve been received, be familiar with recent press, consider its competition. Have some broad business thoughts ready to weave into the conversation to show you’re tuned in. Even if you’re going for a job in accounting, you want to demonstrate that it matters to you where you land a job. Interviewers will make note of your interest — or lack of it.
Be genuine, and don’t overdo “youthful.”
Most tech companies, and plenty of other businesses today, have an informal dress code. If you’re uncertain about how to dress for your interview meetings, ask your recruiter for guidance. In general, when you’re first meeting people, for most roles less formal is better than too formal. (If it turns out you’re overdressed in relation to everyone you meet, make light of it to reassure them that’s not your everyday wear.) And please don’t try to go too far the other way, into super-casual or (worse) “youthful” casual — it may seem weird. In my experience younger colleagues like an experienced person around who’s comfortable in their own skin and not hung up on age or style — theirs or everybody else’s.
Yes, social media — theirs and yours.
For interview purposes, it’s good to be familiar with what the company and the executives already do on any or all of these major services: LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. If the company is good at social, you’ll find helpful material in their posts and videos, and also get a sense of the style of the place. (Do they have a generous or humorous tone when appropriate? That’s good. Is their company news full of jargon and hard to decipher? Not so good). As for your own accounts, of course your summary of skills and contemporary resume must be on LinkedIn. Beyond that, if you are already a big Instagrammer or Tweeter, I’d mention that in passing, assuming, of course, your activity is suitable. I don’t think Facebook should count for as much in job hunts, because it was designed to be personal, so don’t expect to be Facebook friends with your colleagues just because you (a) have met them or (later, b) work together.
Once you’re inside
Get used to younger decision-makers and managers. There’s no tenure system in tech companies per se. There will be younger people, sometimes decades younger, in positions of authority, even over you. Don’t spend time at work exclaiming about this. Just get to know people individually as colleagues and do your job well.
There may not be a playbook. Big tech companies do have processes and standards, but they may not be clearly documented and they are definitely not in print. If you can capture and codify repeatable information, that’s great — and efficient — but few tasks are “write once, read always.” Information and procedures don’t tend to stay static. This is why internal intranets or company portals are handy. Get familiar with yours to inform your questions about process, and then you can make improvements.
Open is the norm, not closed. This goes not only for seating plans in a lot of tech companies, but the flow of information. Collaborative learning and doing is the norm. If you like completing your work alone and don’t share it till you feel done, you might not enjoy this openness. The advantage of collaboration is that you can accumulate buy-in along the way. In an open company, people resent unnecessarily secretive people and process. It’s better to limber up to ask for help and give it. Pride of ownership, and control of process or outcome, are not going to win you any points.
Being a good sport counts for a lot. You might not have chosen wall-climbing or karaoke for the team outing, but you’re going to have to give them a whirl if that’s the plan for socializing. Your efforts, however meager (as mine have been for such activities!) can win you points for being good-natured. And that can get you a long way with your teammates.
Build a brain trust for yourself. Make connections with people on your team and elsewhere to give you perspective and guidance about company culture, jargon, and approach to doing things. Your brain trust will be great for reality-checking when you’re working on projects, and also helps you understand how other parts of the company function.
Advice to companies
- Make sure your professional development offerings are broad enough to reflect the needs of older (and non-technical) employees. Everyone can use skills in negotiating, communications and public speaking, writing, user experience, and so on.
- Make sure performance evaluations factor in all kinds of experience. It’s unfair to boost a younger employee because he was free to move to Brazil and open your office there — while ignoring a solid performance by someone who spent the year care taking for elderly parents while exceeding expectations at HQ.
- The HR liaisons for teams, sometimes called HRBPs (HR business partners), should receive training, and spend time understanding, older workers. Yes, they need to fit with the overall mix, but it’s worth understanding their drivers so that training and performance is not simply based on the law of large numbers.
- Managers must learn to recognize and celebrate all kinds of personal milestones their teams achieve. If you are toasting the triathlon a 30-year-old completed, don’t forget to shout out the 60-year-old who finishes her first 10K. Everyone ought to be celebrated for their achievements.
- Develop programs for transitioning older workers into positions that offer a mix of knowledge transfer, mentoring, and flexible hours. Even in tech companies, valuable institutional and cultural knowledge walks out the door when you lose older employees. If your corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs are in place, they are another arena where older workers would like to engage.
What experiences have you had, either as an older worker, or a colleague of someone who is? How do you think companies can better support a wide range of age groups and older workers? Share your comments and stories here.
Content Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/want-get-tech-company-job-after-50-heres-what-i-learned-karen-wickre