Combating Ageism in Tech: Tips for Competing in a Crowded Marketplace

It’s no secret that older tech professionals are being passed over for jobs and promotions, even as unemployment dipped to 1.7 percent in January and jobs grew for yet another consecutive month.

An analysis of hiring data confirms that even when technologists are rated as top performers as they age, tech companies still hire a higher proportion of younger workers for managerial and non-managerial positions than non-tech companies.

The elephant in the room: How can veteran technologists compete more effectively against their younger colleagues? Here are some ways to prevail in head-to-head battles with viable but less experienced competitors.

Tackle Negative Perceptions Head-On

When managers evaluate technologists for an open position, having a vast amount of experience and a veteran’s knack for handling tricky situations (such as conflict among team members) is actually viewed as an asset as opposed to a liability, explained Michael Solomon, co-founder of talent and compensation negotiation advisory companies 10x and 10X Ascend, as well as co-author of “Game Changer: How to Be 10x in the Talent Economy.”

However, you can’t escape the negative stereotype that mature tech workers have lost their ambition and desire to grow and develop new skills. The only way to overcome this damaging preconception is to assume it exists and tackle it head-on.

How? Volunteer to organize learning events internally and outside the company, and make sure to highlight in-demand skills, certifications and cutting-edge projects at the top of your résumé, online and when answering “tell me about yourself” questions. 

Change How Others See You

Marketing yourself as an indispensable, go-to expert who is responsible, committed and resilient can completely change how you’re perceived by your peers and managers or potential employers.

The key question: Do you want to be perceived as an overqualified technologist who needs a big title and salary to be satisfied, or do you want to control the narrative, asked Michele Lanza, founder of Work Wider and advocate for underrepresented groups including job seekers aged 50-plus. 

How you frame your experience and apply your skills gives you the opportunity to ensure that people see you the way you want them to, Lanza noted. For example, if you commit to doing a phenomenal job and voluntarily share knowledge with junior colleagues, mentor them or suggest creative solutions to problems, you transform your experience into value and hone your reputation as an indispensable pro who comes through in the clutch.

Raise the Bar

Your technical skills might not be a differentiator in head-to-head competitions with younger colleagues. To draw a distinction, focus on your daily activities, résumé work history and answers to behavioral interview questions on critical soft skills like empathy, emotional intelligence (EQ) and kindness. In doing so, you’ll show you possess abilities that can only be learned and nurtured over time.

“Younger workers don’t always have the savvy or emotional maturity to grow others or handle office politics,” noted Julie Rysenga, principal of 3LS Consulting.

You can show you have a high “EQ” by displaying a sense of calmness and self-awareness, sharing credit for team success, and being open and willing to admit mistakes and grow. EQ has been called a superpower possessed by 90 percent of top performers. Emphasizing your ability to understand, use and manage your emotions in ways that improve your performance and deliver value can provide a sharp contrast to someone who functions on a more fundamental level.

Ask Insightful Questions

The types of questions you ask during one-on-ones with your manager can make a strong impression and set you apart. For instance, asking how key projects support the business strategy or what the IT organization is doing to control risk and spending shows you are comfortable and capable of operating effectively on a tactical and strategic level.

Also asking questions about the organization’s culture and how you can contribute, or expressing ideas that demonstrate expertise in a particular field, establishes you as a valuable resource capable of handling advanced tasks and responsibilities.

Present Yourself as a “Sure Bet”

Frankly, every hire poses some sort of risk. That’s why hiring managers like to cover their bases by hiring technologists with elite pedigrees from prestigious colleges and employers. 

Portraying yourself as a low-risk option or insurance policy against a bad hire can tip the scales in your favor, Solomon noted. This is where having a lengthy track record of high performance, consistent work ethic and a stable job history works to your advantage. Many young professionals will jump ship for a better job opportunity at the drop of a hat. Showing a boss or hiring manager that you are loyal and can make everyone’s job easier makes you the ideal candidate.