Over 50 & Fired? How to Sell Yourself When No One is Buying
By Tucker Mays and Bob Sloane
There have been a plethora of advice for job seekers on how to
conduct a successful interview. However, there has not been much
focus on the toughest interview of all, the one you face when you
are over fifty. The over-fifty age group has the highest rate of
unemployment today, as well as the highest level since the Great
Depression. And, it takes this group longer than ever to find a job
� over a year for most, and two years or more for many.
Interviewing is especially challenging for these workers, because
most recruiters and company hiring authorities have a bias against
older workers � most of whom are not good at interviewing to start
with. Promoted up through the ranks or recruited to better jobs with
new companies, they never had to learn how to interview seriously
for a job while out of work.
There are five important ways the over-50 job seeker can win the
Pre-empting Age Issue
Know that the elephant in the room is your age. Should you sweep
this under the rug and hope it does not come up, or wait until it
does and address it then? Neither. All effective salespeople know
that the best way to counter a major, anticipated objection is for
you to address it first.
Don�t be defensive about your age. Instead, subtly introduce
examples in you career history that reinforce your �agelessness.� Do
this by making your age an asset. Specifically, describe the special
abilities you have gained that are most in demand today that will
give you an advantage over less-experienced younger people.
At age fifty or over, there are few challenges you have not faced,
or solutions you have not considered or tried. You have learned what
action steps work best for certain situations, and what do not.
Because of this experience, you are now able to solve business
problems faster than most job seekers younger than you. You can more
quickly identify the important drivers impacting underperformance
and the best solutions to shorten the time required to improve sales
and profit results. Give relevant examples in your career.
You have learned that people are a company�s most valuable asset.
Knowing that, you have discovered over time how to quickly assess
who should stay and who should go, and how to make those who stay
even better. You have helped them to strengthen their innate
abilities, make more informed decisions, and work more effectively
with others on a team.
Cite examples of people you managed who went on to successful
careers, or those who struggled, but flourished when you changed
their responsibilities to better match their skills.
Good judgment is a highly valued trait for all successful
executives. Companies now demand it. Your extensive business
experience enables you to make better decisions across a broad array
of alternative courses of action. From who to fire and who to hire,
to where to cut and where to spend, you are in a better position to
make these important decisions than younger executives because you
have faced and made more of them.
During the interview identify examples in your career where you
identified drivers impacting performance and implemented solutions
that improved sales and/or profits.
During interviews describe examples of challenging situations where
you led teams, initiated new programs and projects, spearheaded a
company�s shift to a new direction, or motivated others to achieve
Further, leaders are decisive. They evaluate options, choose what
they believe is the best course of action, and commit to it. You
must do the same in a job interview. After researching the company,
be very clear on the ways you would leverage your extensive
experience to help them achieve their goals.
2. Describe Your Flexible Management Style
As there is a perception that over-fifty job seekers have become set
in their ways and are reluctant to change how they manage. Describe
how you modified your approach to fit different challenges and
varied business cultures. For example, you could discuss how you
altered management style when working on special projects. You had
to adjust to changing priorities, make quick decisions with limited
information, produce with fewer resources, and manage individuals on
a team that did not report to you.
You can also talk about how you responded to unanticipated threats
to your business such as late shipments, a product recall, loss of a
major client, or a new government regulation.
3. Cite Success Working For Younger Bosses
Recruiters and companies are concerned that executives over fifty
will have problems reporting to a younger superior. Egos get in the
way, and younger individuals may view your greater experience as a
potential threat to their job security. During interviews with
recruiters and HR personnel describe examples where you enabled a
younger boss or bosses to succeed, grow, and advance their careers.
When interviewing with a prospective superior who is younger than
yourself, ask him or her what their greatest challenges are, and
cite specific examples of how you believe your skills and experience
can make their job and mission easier. You will be less likely to be
considered a threat when you demonstrate that you respect their
authority and are as committed as advancing their career as you are
4. Adapt Flexible Compensation Position
You will have a significant advantage over younger candidates when
you are willing to accept less salary up front in exchange for
greater performance-based bonus and or equity. Companies prefer
executives who are willing to prove themselves first and �bet on the
outcome.� Decide what minimum salary you need during preparation for
When asked what your salary requirements are, mention that once you
learn more about the job requirements and the company�s full
compensation structure (salary, bonus, profit sharing, perks, equity
etc.) you will be in a better position to answer. Also say that
given your strong interest in the job, you will be flexible and are
confident that you will reach an agreement comfortable for both
For executives over fifty, reducing salary requirements can often be
the key reason they get an offer. And in many cases, they end up
making more money over the long run from deferred compensation
received for good performance.
5. Describe Intrapreneurial Achievements.
Over fifty executives are often perceived as being too corporate and
not equipped to succeed in smaller companies where they have the
best chance of finding jobs at their age. The best way to counter
this objection is to relate examples in your career when you worked
on projects with larger organizations requiring �intrapreneurial�
skills. Explain how you led or worked on successful projects with
cross-functional teams supported by a small budget and lean staff.
Then you can stress your unique ability to combine larger company
experience with small company skills.
At its heart, being interviewed is selling. To win, you must sell
yourself more convincingly than other qualified candidates competing
for the same job.
Tucker Mays and Bob Sloane are principals of OptiMarket, an
executive job search coaching firm they co-founded in 2001 to help
executives over 50 find their next job in the shortest time
possible. They have co-authored the book �Fired at 50: How to
Overcome the Greatest Executive Job Search Challenge.�
For information, visit their web site at