IT Job Hunting at 50: Stress Value of Your Experience

As an older worker, it’s easy to go off recalling the “old days” and how things have – or haven’t — changed.

Job Hunting“I remember a really fun interview a few years ago with a software developer I had worked with way back in the IBM 3090 timesharing days,” says Colleen Aylward, president of executive career and job search firm Devon James Associates.

“’Remember?’ he said.  ‘Back then, the 3090 was the Cloud. And then we empowered users to actually have their own computer on their desk, untethered to “the mother ship” and able to run applications independently.  And now we have ‘consumer apps’ and ‘prosumer apps’ and, just like that, we’re back to the enterprise.’”

In searching for an IT job at 50, however, it’s important to stay focused on the employer’s present and future needs – and how the company will benefit from your experience.

That doesn’t mean leaving dates off your resume to appear less old, according to Shelley Radinsky of T & S Recruiting near Philadelphia. “I think you should be proud of every bit of experience you have,” she says. “If you go in there confident, that will come across.”

‘Pull’ Rather Than ‘Push’

Applicant tracking systems often represent a black hole for job candidates of any age, so Dave Denaro, vice president of outplacement firm Keystone Associates, recommends working around them.

“Rather than try to ‘push’ your way into organizations through the job boards and HR [applicant tracking systems], get ‘pulled’ into organizations by ex-colleagues who know the quality of your work and how well you would fit in their company,” he advises.

Find them though social media, talk with them about the work that really plays to your strengths, and ask them to hand a copy of your resume to appropriate managers and say something nice about you, such as how your strengths could really add value and how you would fit in nicely with the rest of the team.

Focus on Your Value

If a company is looking for an engineering lead to help develop and build capabilities within the team, then the older engineer is an easy choice, says IT resume specialist Jennifer Hay of Seattle. She noted that older project leaders have an advantage, as well.

“If the company is looking for a project leader to keep projects on track and within budget or to turn around troubled projects, then the older engineer is a clear choice,” says Hay. “The basics of people and project management can be learned through education, but experience is only gained over time.”

Aylward pointed out some ways “seasoned” technology professionals have found to equate experience with value:

  • “Over the years, I’ve built a reputation for filling the holes in many projects, as I’ve done most of their jobs before.”
  •  “Have saved my employers thousands of hours in development costs due to my long experience in xyz…”

Find the Right Fit

PayScale looked at the age of workers at 32 top tech companies and found just six had a median age over 35, while eight had a median employee age of 30 or younger. HP had the oldest workers, averaging 41, while workers at IBM and Oracle averaged 38.

“The firms that are growing or innovating around new areas tend to have younger workers. Older companies that aren’t changing with the times get older workers,” PayScale’s lead economist Katie Bardaro said of the findings. “Baby Boomers and Gen Xers tend to know C# and SQL. Gen Y knows Python, social media, and Hadoop.”

Work schedules also tend to vary with age, experts note. Gen-Y workers tend to need to work longer hours because they are still gaining experience, says Hay. But older workers usually have families and prefer a greater work-life balance.

These older engineers should not feel compelled to have to explain or justify these needs to prospective employers. “An older engineer adds maturity and experience to the team and needs to clearly understand the value this provides,” she says.

Staying Current

It’s important, though, to come across as up to date in the field. Tell potential employers how you’re keeping up to date through your social media profiles and resume, advises Aylward, author of the book, “Bedlam to Boardroom: How To Get a Derailed Executive Career Back on Track.”

To avoid coming across as outdated, she advises:

  • Watch the newest television/Netflix series. For a while, every technical interview involved tangents to “Breaking Bad,” and if you didn’t know about it, you were out of touch.
  • Play the latest online games.
  • Stay current on the most current industry vernacular by reading the most popular blogs and newsletters. You’ll chuckle at some of the “new” names they are giving “old” concepts, but get your laughing done before you go in for the interview.
  • Dress appropriately.  When in Rome…  Check out how employees dress though photos on the company’s website, Facebook page, Pinterest pins, and graph searches for employees on Facebook.

28 Responses to “IT Job Hunting at 50: Stress Value of Your Experience”

  1. You lost me at “Play the latest online games”. I guess it’s a hipsters curse to think that IT jobs mostly mean Google and Facebook, but of course that is not the case. One only has to look at the openings on Dice. 90+% are for jobs with companies that sell insurance, transport things, rent cars, etc. Let Twitter and LinkedIn grab the headlines, but the real work in IT is supporting the rest of the economy.

    • ED I agree with you, it’s sad that we are still training younger user(s) on how this technog. on how it can about. All the younger ones know is it is an egg, and can care less how it became.

  2. TheBirdman

    I find it humorous that C# is considered a Gen X skill in this article, but still listed in the top 10 tech skills for 2014 in another article on this site. I imagine the same would apply to Java, .NET, Sharepoint, and SQL Server — also on the list.

    • John Munson

      Beemer: She did say, by implication, that IBM is not an innovator. She noted that IBM had one of the oldest median ages in that survey, then immediately quoted someone saying that innovative companies have younger workers and non-innovative companies have older workers.

      But things like this are only trends, not absolute rules. And in the case of IBM, lack of innovation is certainly not an absolute rule. Perhaps you’ve heard of Watson, i.e. the “Jeopardy computer”, or UIMA, which it uses? Both developed by IBM Research.

      Disclaimer: I’m not an IBMer and don’t have any particular interest in them. Just calling ’em like I see ’em.

  3. Ed: Two months ago I had an interview and was asked at the end: Do you have experience with X-Box and answered plainly: No. The follow up question was: But you know what it is?
    Finally, I didn’t get the job, despite passing two interviews successfully.

  4. Dress appropriately? As in, just like the existing employees? That doesn’t seem right. When I interview I’m usually the only guy in a suit, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable showing up in either jeans or casual pants even if that’s how I’ll dress once I get the job.

    • Hi Mike,
      When I interviewed, I like you wore a suit, and heels I also didn’t get the job, I was over gualified, and I think because I didn’t walk in with jeans and 5 inch heels, and some exposure that added to my experiences as well with this new generation. And as for X-Box I see it in the malls, have no need to deal with this. thanks to all you experience peoples out there with some much to give

  5. 50, try 60!

    Getting a technical interview by a 30 something who has no idea what’s under the hood, and just knows what checkbox to click, and you better know the checkbox series like you do it every day. It’s just depressing. Management couldn’t detect productivity if it hit them in the head with an H1B.

  6. June R Massoud

    Most of us are not looking for an IT job at 50 years old. Such would be futile. We know the ropes and we’re already employed and we’re having our own businesses which we are expanding. We are not fresh spring chickens who are naive enough to be throwing ourselves to the wolves. If you want to talk, talk sense and treat 50-year-olds with due respect for their intelligence and acquired life experience and work experience they have gained, which makes them a lot smarter about the world and capable of navigating the murky waters of IT volatility. Don’t give bad advice. Hyping up 50-year-olds doesn’t work because they’re not gullible nor highly impressionable. The only type of job security at 50 is the one you have acquired through the journey of your professional life. Certain assets, certain advantages and certain connections, besides a track record and some cash. Don’t lead 50-year-olds down the garden path of volatile IT jobs that are here today and gone tomorrow. There’s no time to waste and there’s too much at risk. Nobody who’s 50 should give up any of their present assets, to throw themselves to the lions. I’m sure you wouldn’t do the same yourself, for your own financial security, so don’t do it to others. Being a journalist does not make you immune to the realities that IT people face, as though writing about other people’s problems is a good way to avoid jumping into the same boat.

    • There are scads of “older workers” pushed out for whatever reason who cannot find a position equivalent to the position held. Those of us fortunate enough to be able to look down on those who are not as smart, successful, connected, etc. would do well to pray there is no serving of humble pie on the horizon.

  7. Mauricio Leventer

    Stay up to date is mandatory in any profession, dress appropriately is common sense, so, Focus on Your Value is the thing. What value you can aggregate to the team? Remember, you will be there only if you can Add something.

  8. I am 66, my 2-year contract ended in November, 2013. Age discrimination is illegal. I wish companies start enforcing this law or pay consequences. Most of my interviews were conducted by panel of professionals that care less about how I was dressed or how firm my handshake was. They were drilling to the core trying to determine if I can perform the job better than anyone else.

  9. I’m amazed at the number of snotty-nosed comments on here poo-pooing playing current games and watching current series. What are you guys going to talk about at work? And yes, C# is out-of-date. If you don’t know that then you are too old. I would not hire you.

    I’m 51. In the past 3-4 weeks I have been contacted by recruiters every day wanting me to interview (no, I’m not getting contacted by the old companies, but by startups and the big players). I work in Mobile Development. Two weeks ago I presented a Google Glass app to a major site in New York. I’m learning new skills all the time. It’s my job. Most of the people I work with are in their twenties.

    To stay current you have to fight, fight, fight. You have to fight against prejudice and ageism. But mostly you have to fight yourself and continually challenge yourself to not stay complacent. You have to work every day to do things new ways. That’s the industry we are in.

    Be wary of getting put on projects that are not using new skills. Leave the project. Do something else. Be wary of being put on maintenance projects. Ask for the new project. If they don’t give it to you then build your own apps at home. When talking to twenty-somethings, talk about new tech. Don’t bore them with SQL. Most of them won’t care about your age if you make sense and know your stuff. Attend hackathons and meet ups. The new tech is not difficult, it’s just different.

    Five years ago I was a mainframe maintenance programmer. I fought my manager and his manager. I couldn’t even get a license for .Net from them. I was assigned to mainframe. I told them they MUST start doing mobile development. They didn’t listen. I went off and did it on my own. I got an Apple Developer license. They criticized and ignored me.

    Then, we got new management. I was suddenly the only person in the department who had bothered to learn new skills. I zoomed into mobile dev. and was praised by all. I may have been one of the oldest in the department but I had the youngest brain.

    Take charge of your own life. Your brain is all you have. Use it or lose it. You didn’t get a job in IT to keep doing the same thing forever.

    • John Munson

      I agree with almost everything you said, especially avoiding maintenance projects. They’re the kiss of death. As you pointed out, change is the nature of the beast, and we have to deal with it.

      But playing current games and watching current TV series so you have something to talk about at work? No. I’ve worked at places where I had very little in common with my coworkers, other than work, and we got along fine. There was enough stuff to talk about. I’ve never had any interest at all in computer games, going all the way back to Pong — whenever I see a reference to PSP, I have to think for a while to remember that it refers to some version of Playstation. I just don’t care, and I’m not going to start caring now. And it hasn’t hurt my career at all. Having common interests with coworkers isn’t as important as being able to work with them and get along with them.

  10. It depends. I am 55. I had done work on UNIX, C/C++, some Java. I was away from the US for 10 years working in a small company abroad and not related to the latest technologies. When I started looking in the US a few months back, I did get quite a few interview calls. I did not see that my age was a major factor. I did concentrate on ‘contract’ positions. I would think mid-level full time positions would be a problem.

    I was not current. My feeling is that if you are good at the skills companies are looking for you have a fair chance at getting a call for an interview and get hired.

    Also, just mention last 10/15 years of your experience and no more that that unless the position requires it.

    I did find that the hourly rates were low. I had interviewed (telephonic) with AT&T. The needed a whole slew of networking skills, UNIX/C/C++ and a lot more for $35 an hour. They did not even bother to ask me anything technical. Last I checked, they still were looking. These people play around and no respect for peers.

    Outsourcing is a real problem. Even Govt outsources bulk of its work to companies who in turn hire only H1-B people.

  11. madison lady

    Although a lot of the opinions in the article don’t apply to my industry, I always find it useful to hear other opinions. As an overweight 56 yr old in this recession I hear many say that if we have a job we should consider ourselves lucky. I don’t subscribe to that mentality.

  12. I don’t play video games, I smoke, drink and play rock and roll. My recent favorite was being asked syntax questions by a 20 something H1B who claimed to speak english but clearly didn’t. It was like being on a call with Charlie Brown’s teacher. How comforting to know my opportunities will open up if I just binge watch some cable TV. Meanwhile, 60% or so of all IT projects fail. Gee, that wouldn’t have anything to do with be focused on the writ memorizing of command syntax while failing to understand dealing with humans, getting freight off a dock and how to use technology to manage the two, would it?

  13. Claire

    This post is lame. TV is lame. I enjoy playing Rock Band on my Wii, with my decrepit tube TV, but I’m not going to get cable “so I have something to talk about with my colleagues”. I’m the handy person at my place. Fixing stuff is more interesting. Streaming foreign language shows on my phone and reading books (e or dead tree) is much more interesting. I’m also starting up a boutique business.

    I’ve been working in a “rescue job” for the past four years. I still have valuable skills and I’m targeting myself to those types of positions. Age is a number printed on a piece of paper at the county clerk’s office. I feel a whole lot younger than that. When the guys and I needed to stress test a network for a client, I kicked butt in Duke Nukem, before the poster was a gleam in anyone’s eye.

  14. Geez, it seems like most (but not all) of the over 50 crowd is really determined not to know anything about current trends because it is not worth their time. Seems like they spend a lot of time mocking the younger folks. I think this new generation is a wonderful bunch and quite easy to get along with and they seem a lot less prejudiced than my generation ever was.

    I’ve had few problems being accepted by younger people but it requires having an interest in new stuff. It’s not that complicated or even hard. Try to imagine you are seeing things for the very first time again. Show wonder openly and gladly. Try to stop judging others inside your head and expecting that they cannot see your true feelings on your face. Thoughts can be controlled. Every negative thought we think about others is transmitted to them via the muscles in our face. We cannot hide this no matter how clever we think we are. So we must train our minds to think good things about people around us. They will then respond in kind. Try.

  15. Rick Wenrich

    While I wouldn’t have chosen to leave the company I’ve been with for over 15 years, The industry I was in is in financial straights and they’re laying off 50 to 100 people at a shot. They have to reduce their administrative costs and labor, especially high salaried labor is they’re biggest admin expense. I’ve heard stories where people had to train their replacements or loose their severance packages.

  16. I didn’t need to watch Breaking Bad. I didn’t need to play or know all the latest games. I walked into my interview and showed them screen shots of where there were problems in their program, told them how these problems affected their bottom line, and showed them what I could do to contribute to the elimination of the problems.

    You can’t go wrong with initiative.

    Although I did laugh at some of the buzzwords that were just another name for an old concept.