50 and Fired? How to Sell Yourself When No One is Buying
by Tucker Mays and Bob Sloane
There have been a plethora of advice for job seekers on how to conduct a
successful interview. However, there has not been much focus on the toughest
interview of all, the one you face when you are over fifty. The over
fifty-age group has the highest rate of unemployment today, and the highest
level since the Great Depression. And, it takes this group longer than ever
to find a job; over a year for most, and two years or more for many.
Interviewing is especially challenging for executives over fifty, because
most recruiters and company hiring authorities have a bias against hiring
“older” workers, most of whom are not good at interviewing to start with.
Promoted up through the ranks or recruited to better jobs with new
companies, they never had to learn how to interview seriously for a job
while out of work.
There are five important ways the over 50 job seeker can win the
The Five Keys to Interviewing Success
1. Pre-empt the Age Issue
As this is the most important thing you must do, we will devote most of
our article to this critical need.
Know that the elephant in the room is your age. Should you sweep this
under the rug and hope it does not come up or wait until it does and address
it then? Neither. All effective salespeople know that the best way to
counter a major, anticipated objection is to address it first, you.
Don’t be defensive about your age. Instead, subtly introduce examples in
you career history that reinforce your “agelessness”. Do this by making your
age an asset. Specifically, describe the special abilities you have gained
that are most in demand today that will give you an advantage over less
experienced younger executives.
At age fifty or over, there are few challenges you have not faced, or
solutions you have not considered or tried. You have learned what action
steps work best for certain situations, and what do not. Because of this
experience, you are now able to solve business problems faster than most job
seekers younger than you. You can more quickly identify the important
drivers impacting underperformance and the best solutions to shorten the
time required to improve sales and profit results. Give relevant examples in
You have learned that people are a company’s most valuable asset. It is a
given that companies with the best people usually perform the best. Knowing
that, you have discovered over time how to quickly assess who should stay
and who should go, and how to make those who stay even better. You have
helped them to strengthen their innate abilities, make more informed
decisions, and work more effectively with others on a team.
Cite examples of people you managed who went on to successful careers, or
those who struggled, but flourished when you changed their responsibilities
to better match their skills.
Good judgment is a highly valued trait for all successful executives.
Companies now demand it. At fifty, your extensive business experience
enables you to make better decisions across a broad array of alternative
courses of action. From who to fire and who to hire, to where to cut and
where to spend, you are in a better position to make these important
decisions than younger executives because you have faced and made more of
During the interview identify examples in your career where you quickly
identified drivers impacting performance and implemented solutions that
improved sales and/or profits.
As few executives are born leaders, this ability takes time to develop.
At your age, you will most likely have more proven leadership experience
than those younger than yourself. During interviews describe examples of
challenging situations where you led teams, initiated new programs and
projects, spearheaded a company’s shift to a new direction, or motivated
your people to achieve aggressive goals.
Further, leaders are decisive. They evaluate options, chose what they
believe is the best course of action, and commit to it. You must do the same
in a job interview. After researching the company, be very clear on the ways
you would leverage your extensive experience to help them achieve their
2. Describe Your Flexible Management Style
As there is a perception that over fifty job seekers have become set in
their ways and are reluctant to change how they manage. Describe how you
modified your approach to fit different challenges and varied business
cultures. For example, you could discuss how you altered management style
when working on special projects. You had to adjust to changing priorities,
make quick decisions with limited information, produce with fewer resources,
and manage individuals on a team that did not report to you. You can also
talk about how you responded to unanticipated threats to your business such
as late shipments, a product recall, loss of a major client, or a new
3. Cite Success Working for a Younger Boss
Recruiters and companies are concerned that executives over fifty will
have problems reporting to a younger superior. Egos get in the way, and
younger individuals may view your greater experience as a potential threat
to their job security. During interviews with recruiters and HR personnel
describe examples where you enabled a younger boss or bosses to succeed,
grow, and advance their careers. When interviewing with a prospective
superior who is younger than yourself, ask him or her what their greatest
challenges are, and cite specific examples of how you believe your skills
and experience can make their job and mission easier. You will be less
likely to be considered a threat when you demonstrate that you respect their
authority and are as committed as advancing their career as you are your
4. Adapt a Flexible Compensation Position
You will have a significant advantage over younger candidates when you
are willing to accept less salary up front in exchange for greater
performance-based bonus and or equity. Companies prefer executives who are
willing to prove themselves first and “bet on the outcome”. Decide what
minimum salary you need during preparation for interviews. When asked what
your salary requirements are, mention that once you learn more about the job
requirements and the company’s full compensation structure (salary, bonus,
profit sharing, perks, equity etc) you will be in a better position to
answer. Also say that given your strong interest in the job, you will be
flexible and are confident that you will reach an agreement comfortable for
For executives over fifty, reducing salary requirements can often be the
key reason they get an offer. And in most cases, they end up making more
money over the long run from deferred compensation received for good
5. Describe Intarpreneurial Achievements.
Over fifty executives are often perceived as being too corporate. Having
enjoyed the full resources of larger companies, many are not equipped to
succeed in smaller companies where they have the best chance of finding jobs
at their age. The best way to counter this objection is to relate examples
in your career when you worked on projects with larger organizations
requiring “intrapreneurial” skills. Explain how you led or worked on
successful projects with cross-functional teams supported by a small budget
and lean staff. Then you can stress your unique ability to combine larger
company experience with small company skills.
Bottom line, at its heart, interview is selling. To win, you must sell
yourself more convincingly than other qualified candidates competing for the
About the authors: Tucker Mays and Bob Sloane are
Principals of OptiMarket LLC, an executive job search coaching firm they
co-founded in 2001 to help executives over 50 find their next job in the
shortest time possible. Tucker and Bob have also co-authored the book Fired at 50: How to Overcome the Greatest Executive Job Search Challenge. For
information, visit their web site at