Let’s go back to the catbird seat and put ourselves in the hiring manager’s shoes. There she sits with a hundred résumés on her desk with a vision of a candidate in her mind. What does the perfect candidate look like, and how many years’ experience does he have? She’s thinking this director-level job is going to pay between $95,000 to $110,000 with approximately seven years’ or more experience, which translates to a person who is somewhere between the age of thirty-five and forty. Somehow a candidate makes it through the filtering process and walks through the door, and he’s fifty-eight years old. Holy cow, she thinks to herself, he reminds me of my dad. Can I manage my father? she asks herself. “As I like to say, Freud has just entered the room,” career coaching expert Paul Stuhlman says to me with a smile. “The fact that we’ve got a culture in our nation that says it’s important to be young doesn’t help matters either . . . ”
Adman Donny Deutsch has spent his entire career in a youth-oriented business running his advertising agency, ranked among the country’s top ten. His place of work has been described in magazines as “raw, edgy, primitive and home to hundreds of flip-flop clad 20-somethings using kick scooters to navigate the 143,000-square-foot maze of cubicles.” Deutsch doesn’t pussyfoot around when it comes to getting real about aging in the workplace.
“A lot of people have to start recognizing reality and tap into their self-awareness when it comes to their age and career path,” Deutsch says. “Very often I will meet with people who are in their early fifties and lost their last job as a senior VP at an advertising agency, and I will say to them—it’s OVER. Doesn’t mean your life is over. It just means this chapter is over.”
Is Deutsch right? I think he’s mostly right, no matter how uncomfortable it is to hear. You can’t fight the forces of capitalist reality. It just is. At a certain age you find yourself outside the corporate universe, and you have to start thinking like an entrepreneur. At a certain age it is very difficult to find corporate jobs. Fifty might not be the end-all, be-all demarcation line, but somewhere in that decade of life a number jumps out. I’m not yet fifty, but I realize I’m not going to be able to work my way up the corporate ladder starting at, say, fifty-five.
I put the whole fifties fiasco to business icon and media mogul Donald Trump, who tells me he’s a bit of a contrarian compared to Deutsch on the subject:
I don’t think fifty means you have to go and hide or you have to go and find some kind of work that has nothing to do with what you like. To me, fifty is not necessarily the age where you have to give up the corporate world. I know a lot of great people who get jobs well beyond that age, but generally speaking companies are looking for youth. Unfortunately, that’s a sad fact because a lot of great people are over fifty and offer great experience. There are opportunitiesout there though.
Deutsch strongly suggests that people need to start thinking about what they can do to help their own cause as they get up in middle age. He suggests thinking about starting your own business in midlife. The key is to not let a corporation tell you you’ve priced yourself out of the market, he says.
You need to tap into your passions. Stop thinking about the skills and talents you have been using for twenty-five years and dig into what your passions are and then different things start to happen. Let’s say you’re a guy who has been a chief marketing officer at a big package goods company, and it’s very hard to get that next job. You know your skills are marketable, but maybe you’ve been a wine enthusiast all your life, so go out and open up a little wine shop somewhere or a digital wine selling business. Start small. It’s scary, I know, but that’s how you beat the market at its game relative to where you are in this stage of your life.