I’m 55 and for the past 30 years, or thereabouts, I have been a company director. I’ve produced a terrestrial TV series, created a baby sling when I couldn’t find one that worked for me and then went on to manage a successful PR agency with my husband before transitioning my career into technology.
I count myself as one of the few people able to (fairly!) smoothly change career paths. My rationale for each move was always the same – I wanted a fresh challenge.
I know for many people, starting again isn’t always so easy. I remember one recruiter telling me that if a CV came through that was from a person over 50, it was thrown in the bin, the assumption being that the person was too senior and therefore too expensive to warrant an interview.
If that’s true, then older people are in for a rough ride especially as we’re entering the age of no retirement where many people will, by economic necessity, be forced to work far past pensionable age. Said investor and entrepreneur, Yvonne Fuchs, 63, who works with many older entrepreneurs, when asked about the businesses opportunities for people over 50, “It’s very tricky for them, especially with so many starting out on their own!”
So, what are the options for older people right now?
Leigh Carrick-Moore, tech recruiter says, “I have always championed the older tech specialists but I’ve found it very hard to place anyone over 50. In fact, in the 15 years I’ve been working in recruitment, I’ve only had one success story placing a very experienced developer. What I would say is that if you are older, it’s important to keep abreast of emerging technology. Where the opportunities exist for older people in tech is in contract work, where age doesn’t play such an important part and developers are judged by experience alone.”
Consulting is another option. Freelance licensing agent, Henrietta Garnett, transitioned her career to consulting after the company she was working for went into liquidation. She says, “I found work through exploiting all my contacts, thru LinkedIn & through face to face. Everyone I had ever worked with or exchanged a business card with. That is what worked for me. I realised how much experience I actually had and the variety of skills I could bring to a business. Consultancy gives a certain amount of freedom to fit around family etc. and the luxury of working from home. My work/life balance is the best it has ever been…”
For others, it’s about starting over or starting afresh. Louise Chunn was a prize-winning magazine editor before she was made redundant. Unsure what to do next after a lifetime spent in permanent employment, she used her redundancy money to create an online platform, welldoing.org, to help clients find their ideal therapist after discovering how hard it was to find one herself that suited her needs. Jumping in at the deep end and the world of technology, was a real eye opener. She says, “I had very little idea about how to run a website — to help get the first few steps I actually did a few days internship on a teen site with someone my daughter’s age! I met with anyone who would see me, pulling any strings, reaching out with a friendly email, LinkedIn message or social media hello. Everyone is much more helpful and open than I had ever experienced in the magazine and newspaper industries. Also, if you can find them, try to join up with any associations, mentoring groups, organised meet ups. Again, not the sort of thing I did much in the past, but really useful in the current means of working.”
“Don’t give in to the orthodoxy that younger people they know everything. Of course, they may know about the technology, but they don’t understand people the way you probably do if you’re over 50. You’ve got experience of life, dealing with success and failure, and understanding how people get along, and that is worth a great deal in real terms, even if not everyone will acknowledge it.”
Senior executives who prefer not to jump in at the deep end again but relish the opportunity to contribute to the success of the business, should consider becoming a NED (non-executive director). Roger Portnoy has been non-executive director for nearly a dozen firms in the last 15yrs. He took up the challenge of becoming a non-executive director after enjoying a career that involved a successful build and exit of a start up business, an executive role in a corporate venturing business units, and a series of senior business and product development roles within both technology and media organisations.
“In my experience, there is a certain amount of sacrifice involved in becoming a NED,’ he says. “While a lot of success in acquiring positions will be driven by business reputation, past experience, and one’s particular network of contacts, one must also be prepared to provide valuable time and advice, often without compensation to build both trust and value with entrepreneurs and investors alike. Often this involves not only valuable introductions, but also assistance in sales, product development, operational strategy, and other areas where a NED should be able to contribute.
The exciting aspect of being NED is undoubtedly the ability to work with people who are passionate about what they want to accomplish, and who actually possess the expertise, courage, and confidence to execute it.
For those seeking these opportunities, the ability to demonstrate “deep” expertise, and experience with building sustainable, operationally sound, scale, matters. Anyone who is a NED today knows how competitive the marketplace is, and often how fragile for almost any type of business, and thus it is essential for Non-Executive to bring both world class perspective, as well as fresh ideas to the table.”
What’s clear is that there are plenty of opportunities for those over 50 contemplating a change of career. Use your network, exploit your Linkedin contacts and, above all, be open to the possibility that while the 9-5 permanent position may be out of reach, there are plenty of other ways to earn a living and find job satisfaction.
By Suzanne Noble, co-founder of Frugl