The Plight of the 50+ Tech Sector Executive

May 6, 2008

An increasing number of seasoned tech sector executives are struggling to understand why nobody seems to want to hire them. These are capable, senior individuals whose ships have been without a port for some time and who seem to be perennial runners-up for positions they covet. Perhaps even more worrisome, they are increasingly losing out for positions they would have turned down not that long ago. Perplexed and angry, they demand to know why. I am often in the line of that fire.

I suspect there are several forces at play when considering the plight of 50+ executives. The most obvious is ageism, a bias that the years bring with them diminishing motivation, drive, stamina and even health, all of which are biofuel for the manic tech sector. Stated another way, as the hunger of youth is satisfied by success and financial security, individuals are thought to become less inclined, if not less able, to commit to the grueling, all-consuming tech lifestyle. Or so the bias goes. This is not to say that the wisdom of experience is considered unimportant, but rather that it is not so valued that the 55 year old warrior will prevail over the 35 year old whose career is believed to be on the upswing. In tech, innovation is associated with innocence and youth not experience and age. Argue with the logic all you want, but bias is visceral and does not yield easily to reason. It is also tinged with truth and thus with each turn of the calendar, executives will be weighed on the scales of truth versus myth.

Second, I would argue that many of the more struggling executives are burdened with career narratives which simply do not rise above the biases they face. Their resumes read like journeymen baseball players whose once bright careers now feature singles, doubles and more than the occasional strikeout. Averaged over a career, their statistics appear ‘average’ to hiring organizations which lack the skill or motivation to drill into why it should be considered better than average. Instead, they pass over these executives in favor of others whose long ball average and potential appears stronger.

Other lesser culprits include perceptions that seasoned executives may be more expensive, less malleable or able to learn quickly enough for a sector which takes pride in its symbiotic relationship with change.

So what should these individuals do? Affecting systemic changes in attitudes is arduous, long term, rope-pushing work. In time, the sheer numbers in this bulging demographic will force change though this does little to help those dealing with unemployment today. Instead, the answer for these people lies in better managing that which is in their control, notably how they play the game.

In my next blog, I will explain.