“Age Discrimination, or Why Sundance Wouldn’t Jump”

DFN: I’m a member of the Financial Executive’s Networking Group, Matt Bud is the CEO of the group and wrote the following article concerning those concerned about age discrimination.

Why Sundance wouldn’t jump
By Matt Bud, FENG, 02/04/2010

For those of you who remember the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, there was a memorable scene where Butch and Sundance were cornered on the edge of a cliff and the only way out was to jump into a river and float away. As you may recall, Sundance was reluctant to jump, and only with much prodding did he confess to Butch that the reason he didn’t want to jump was that he couldn’t swim. In an effort to reason with him, Butch at this juncture pointed out to him that the fall was probably going to kill him. Impressed with this logic, the two of them proceeded to jump. Fortunately, the movie didn’t end at this point and they escaped, but I digress.

Most senior executives seeking employment these days are obsessed with trying to shave a few years off their career to appear younger. The question this raises is “how old is old?” Just exactly how many years do you have to shave off your resume to appear young enough to be employable? The answer to this question is similar to the one Butch gave. The fall is probably going to kill you. By this I mean, you are engaging in a futile exercise because you can’t possibly remove enough years from your resume to appear properly young.

What is frequently forgotten by those of us who are old enough to be considered “been there and done that” types is that our lack of youth and wealth of experience IS the product. And, if it is marketed to the right audience, it has great value.

I am not going to be disengenuous and suggest to you that Americans don’t worship youth. The visualization of a CFO at the beginning of his career may indeed be 35. Well, that was a long time ago for me and for many of you as well.

The attractiveness of younger folks is primarily in the minds of the large corporations where many of us developed into the well experienced executives that we are today. Large corporations tend not to hire senior level executives. They grow their own because they need to. How quickly we forget. When we worked for the “great corporations” of this world, we resented those that were brought in from “the outside” into senior level roles that we felt blocked our career path. In today’s flattened pyramids, there are even MORE folks waiting for jobs to open up above them. Corporations who routinely hire from the outside are rare because if they did, the best 3 of the dozen folks waiting for a job to open up leave when that happens. The promise of promotion from within is part of the reason folks stay.

I believe that those only looking for jobs in large companies are “looking for love in all the wrong places.”

The primary market for senior level folks is middle market companies, however you define them. These are the places where our finely honed skills are most appreciated. Smaller companies have no time for learning on the job. They are more likely to need a CFO who already knows how to do his/her job.

The only problem with this strategy is that middle market firms are harder to find. Large companies are listed in lots of places. It is easy to get lists of their officers and to research them on the Internet. Smaller firms often don’t even know they need a CFO. There is no open job posted. It requires dogged persistence to find them and to get introduced to them.

This is why you need to do a lot of networking to find them.

What I am suggesting is one needs to stop thinking about age discrimination as the root of all evil, because blaming this issue on why you can’t find opportunities is sort of like complaining about the weather. Everyone complains about it, but no one can do anything about it. It is what it is.

The focus for you in preparing your resume and 90-second announcement is to bring a compelling argument to bear on the issues you know face the companies in the middle market. The biggest one is staying in business, closely followed by making money. These are things you know how to do.

Turn all the energies you are now spending trying to make your resume look younger and expend that writing energy on creating a compelling resume.

If you do it right, you can probably learn how to swim AFTER you jump off the cliff. In any case, you will become totally fearless when you read your new resume.

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