Fast Track: Help Desk: `Fortysomethings' need to be flexible

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The Independent Culture
The problem

I am 47 years old and was in a management role for an IT firm until it was taken over four months ago. Since my redundancy, I have applied for numerous jobs and been interviewed for a couple, but had no luck. I don't think that I am alone in believing that I'm in my prime, and with years of experience in this industry. People say anti-ageism policies exist in the workplace, but there is no proof that I am less flexible than my younger peers nor slower to learn. What can I do to get around the perception that I'm only fit for early retirement?

S Cartledge, London

The solutions

Mark Knapper of Search & Selection Consultancy, Macmillan Davies Hodes: We recently carried out research among 1,500 European managers which confirms that stereotyping among employers is widespread across Europe and is totally at odds with what managers themselves think. The UK, in particular, stands out as an "early-retirement market" with some of the least positive attitudes. The findings show that managers over 50 years old were perceived to be better suited than younger colleagues to more conventional positions such as general management (75 per cent) and finance, but not to more "modern" jobs such as IT and marketing (8 per cent). Therefore, you may want to consider transferring your skills from a consultancy environment to a more traditional sector such as manufacturing, finance or public administration. You will probably have to be flexible and make some compromises if you want to find another job. Be prepared to relocate, if necessary, or perhaps work for a younger boss or even take a salary cut for the right job.

David Taylor, President of Certus, the association of IT Directors in the UK: If you have any redundancy money to spare, develop a small website with a design student. It need not be expensive. That way, you can set yourself up as a consultant, focusing on an area of strength from your previous employment. One skill much in demand is the ability to translate IT concepts into business benefits, and to take commercial ideas and define overall IT approaches. We are reaching an age when IT is business and vice versa. This will bring many new opportunities for you. Interim management is another option. More than 15 per cent of IT directors are now interim, and demand is growing. There are many specialist interim recruitment companies with which to register.

Aine Hurely of the IT Practice at the head-hunters, Odgers International: There is certainly a perception that technology companies should be staffed by people in their twenties and thirties, especially where a younger age profile is seen as desirable for succession or team planning reasons. However, there are senior level roles where knowledge of the challenges of a rapid growth industry is necessary.

For example, many IT companies have to deal with culture change, volatile markets and a lack of processes and support structures. In these situations, young teams have a clear need for managers who have experienced these situations. For people leaving a job in their early-thirties or late-forties there are a number of career choices. Knowledge of a variety of clients, sectors and technology issues is a clear advantage for senior consultants in service companies and age is often irrelevant in project management and programme management roles - where experience is the key requirement. Look for roles where these skills are required. Changing careers to become an interim manager is also an option for senior managers and should not be seen just as a "way in".

For an executive in this market looking for a new job, well-focused networking is an essential ingredient for success. This should include contacts in client companies, corporate advisors, such as accountants and lawyers, as well as a number of head hunters. The head hunter will understand the personal qualities, experience and skills which you have to offer and can present you on the basis of those qualities rather than your age.