By Barbara Perry Bind
Old Greenwich resident Bob Sloane was over 50 and out of a job. After years as a successful executive at corporations including Colgate-Palmolive, American Cyanamid and the National Football League, he found himself a victim of the rampant corporate downsizing of the '90s.
With no job on the horizon, Sloane began to network and realized he had to redefine himself. "After my executive position was eliminated during a corporate downsizing, I was able to transfer my skills in consumer products general management and marketing to sectors where there was the greatest need for these skills," Sloane said, "in professional sports, B2B services consulting, and a White House advisory role."
While he was reinventing himself, Sloane found he was far from alone -- he was one of many executives facing the same kind of career challenges. Among those in the same boat was Tucker Mays, who had also lost his job. So, in 1995, the two joined forces. Sloane co-founded and was first chairman of The Executive Forum, a Greenwich-based association for executives in transition, and Mays was a founding member.
The two would go on to co-found OptiMarket LLC, where they now coach senior executives over 50 to help them find new jobs -- in the shortest time possible. Toward that end, Sloane and Mays recently published a book, "Fired at 50: How to Overcome the Greatest Executive Job Search Challenge," which Sloane says provides a comprehensive, step-by-step plan for landing a job.
Greenwich Citizen caught up with Sloane to discuss his new book and the obstacles facing the 50-plus job applicant in today's market.
Has there been an increase in the number of people 50 and over who are looking for jobs? If so, why?
Yes. The corporate downsizing that began in the '90s is continuing. Companies are continuing to merge or reduce the size of their organizations to become more profitable, while adopting new technologies and processes to improve productivity.
In the larger corporations, there are numerous younger executives available to step up via succession planning. All of these factors are resulting in the elimination of more positions held by executives over age 50.
You talk about age bias in your book. How prevalent is it?
The unemployment rate among those over 50 is 15 percent -- twice the level it was before the current recession, and higher than it has been since the Great Depression. And these individuals are taking considerably longer than others to find a new job in the slow- to no-growth economy. Most take more than a year to find a job, some as many as two years or more.
What disadvantages does someone over 50 have in searching for a job?
Though often unfair, recruiters and company hiring authorities have a bias against considering hiring candidates over age 50. There is a perception that these executives have low energy and enthusiasm, are inflexible in their management styles, don't have the latest technology skills for their industry or function, or will have difficulty working for a younger boss.
How do you deal with age bias and these perceptions?
In our book, we advise our readers to overcome the age bias in many ways; for example, stay positive, keep in shape, demonstrate their management flexibility, build their technology skills and convey that they have previously worked successfully for younger bosses to help them succeed and grow their careers
What advantages do these job-seekers have?
We advocate that executives over 50 use their age as an asset in order to make themselves more attractive than less experienced, younger candidates. The special abilities they possess are the ones most in demand today -- problem-solving, people management, judgment and leadership. They need to describe examples supporting each of these key skills in their resume and in interviews.
OK. You're out of work, and you're over 50. Is this a good time to consider a career change?
With our constantly changing and more global work environment, there is a continuing shift in the demand for skills and talent. Job-seeking executives over 50 can succeed by targeting sectors that are growing, where they can best apply their own special skills and talents and, most important, where those skills are needed now.
For example, many consumer products executives have successfully transferred their skills to new sectors such as sporting goods, financial or B2B services, and emerging technologies.
What are your top 5 tips for the over-50 job seeker?
In our book we recommend:
1. Have a concise one-sentence job objective -- what kind of position you are looking for, and what kind of an organization would need your three to four key skills.
2. Concentrate on the most productive job search methods. Spend at least 80 percent of your time networking to individuals you don't already know -- because invariably that's where the jobs are -- and no more than 20 percent of your time on recruiters, published leads or networking only to those people you already know.
3. Use LinkedIn as a key job search component in order to be "found" by recruiters and hiring authorities, while also accelerating networking to new contacts
4. During a job search, do consulting work as a "bridge" to a full time job -- up to 40 percent of the time, this can lead to a full time position, and
5. Be prepared to change course if you have not received a viable offer in six months.
Any final advice?
Executive job seekers over 50 should focus on smaller companies; there are 20 times more companies under $100 million in sales than above. Smaller companies tend to be less concerned about age, and they make faster hiring decisions.
In seeking referrals via networking: (a) instead of leading with their resumes it is more effective to use a concise, one-page bio until the point where a resume is required as the bio does not highlight red flags such as the job seeker's age and (b) avoid putting pressure on a contact; the executive should never ask for a job -- instead, it is best to ask for perspective and advice on his or her job search objective and strategy.
In the process, by networking effectively, the executive will invariably be considered for -- or offered -- a job.
For more about "Fired at 50: How to Overcome the Greatest Executive Job Search Challenge," visit optimarketllc.com.
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