By James Philip
20 years ago, if you were a 50-year-old C-level professional looking to change companies, you could bank on your 30 or so years of experience and the prestige of your title to at least get interviewed. Most of the time you’d land whatever job or salary bump you were aiming for eventually.
Today, we hear from our C-level candidates that it gets harder and harder every year to even land the interview. There are many possible factors contributing to this, most of which are indicating a larger shift in how tech companies are recruiting their leaders.
Today’s C-suite skews decidedly younger than it did 20 years ago. The tech boom brought with it an influx of super young CEOs and CTOs, many of whom are even now only in their 40s. Tech wunderkinds are pretty common; a billion dollar industry has been built on their ideas, and many of them did bring in more experienced executives to lead the business side of things.
But, now that most of those veterans have already retired, and a younger and younger crop of candidates is taking their place, where does that leave the 50+-year-olds who spent three decades working their way up a ladder to reach executive status?
Well, it leaves them with a lot of opportunities—after all, industry is growing and there are always needs for experienced leaders—but with a lot more competition for those opportunities too.
The Gig Economy has now become a significant factor in job searching, and it’s particularly pervasive in the tech world. Developers, designers, programmers and content creators are all able to work on remote/freelance basis, and many companies are taking advantage of that to keep their payroll costs down.
At the executive level, obviously, most positions are salaried and full-time, not gigs, but this shift does mean that recruiters are looking harder at gig workers to elevate to executive level positions. It’s not just about all those years spent at a single company anymore. It’s common, especially in tech, to bounce between short-term engagements, and it doesn’t signify a lack of dedication or engagement to recruiters, as it once did.
This has broadened a competitive field that was once narrowed to candidates with, typically, long tenures at a company or in an industry and usually previous experience in other executive or management roles. Now recruiters want to know, what have you done with those years of experience?
It can be easy for anyone, once they’ve reached a certain level of success, to rest on their laurels and assume that the way they got to the top is the same way they will stay there. Unfortunately that’s not the case anymore in most industries, and definitely not in tech, where things can change practically overnight.
The most important piece of advice we offer our C-level candidates is to not wait until you’re ready to make a change to update your resume. And we don’t just mean the document itself; we mean updating your skills to suit the needs of today’s executive leadership roles.
Every leader at the C-level, particularly in tech and digital fields but really all of them, needs to have at least an understanding of, if not expertise in, data science. Data Scientist is one of the most in-demand roles across many industries, because so many of the decisions made in a business, from the top down, are made based on insights derived from data science. If you expect to lead a tech company and have lots of experience but no grasp on Big Data, expect to find yourself easily outmatched by other candidates for your job.
It’s not just technology that has evolved but leadership and management styles as well. If the last leadership seminar you took was in 1994, how do you know the most effective methods to lead a largely Millennial workforce? Would you expect a team of programmers in their 20s to clock in and out and never work remotely? Do you understand the importance of work/life balance and mentorship? Employment culture has changed too; old school management styles may work in some instances and industries, but the majority of your employees will likely be in the 20s-40s range, and will have a foot out the door if their work styles aren’t respected.
Even in younger industries like tech, age doesn’t have to be a barrier. While it’s true that you may encounter ageism in some individual instances, the vast majority of executive level recruiters would love to have the combination of experience and practical skills, no matter the age of the candidate. However, if there is someone with less experience but a more updated resume that they can hire for cheaper, they will do that.
C-level executives should be seeking out continuing education just as should anyone else making their way up the ladder. So take the seminar now. Sign up for the online course now. Get that certification now.
Not only does it benefit your organization for you to be up to speed on new information and technology, it ensures that whenever you’re ready to start seeking a new position, you’re proving yourself not just experienced, but experienced in the skills necessary to lead a thriving business in 2019.
James Philip is the CEO of JMJ Phillip an Executive Search company.