Mon 6 Jun 2011
I looked at the resume with anxious anticipation hoping for a perfect match to the job opening. “Oh no”, I sighed. I saw he had over 20 years of experience and no date on his degree.
My conclusion—he’s too old. I knew my client would never interview him.
I am an Executive Recruiter by trade. I’ve been recruiting in Southern California for over 25 years. I place accounting and finance professionals like CPA’s, Controllers, Financial Analysts and CFO’s. It is true—it is the “kiss of death” to be 40 years old and looking for a job in a top company—unless you are on the fast track to CFO of a large company.
Even though age discrimination is illegal, we all know it exists. But the point of this scenario is to emphasize a prevailing paradigm in our culture—that success belongs to the young.
I did not understand, even early in my recruiting career, why years of experience and maturity were a “bad” thing. Sure some people get set in their ways over time, but on the other hand, young adults can be stubborn and impulsive. A good employee fit should not rule out a mature person who may be exploring a new career path or someone who has grown and learned from their mistakes—after all I read the average person changes careers 3 or 4 times in a lifetime. Time and time again, I have seen “older” professionals start their own businesses and practices for lack of a different option.
Another example of our younger is better paradigm is the May issue of OC Metro with the cover story “40 under 40” touting the tales of 40 young professionals who achieved incredible success before the age of (horrors) 40.
Not only do we see this in careers and business but, of course, in sports. We buy into the fact that our bodies deteriorate over time and that we can no longer jump higher or run faster as we move into middle age and beyond.
I challenge you to not buy into the younger is better paradigm. Let’s look at two success stores.
Harland Sanders cooked chicken dishes at the age of 40 for people who stopped at his service station in Corbin, Kentucky. As his popularity grew, he moved to a 142 seat restaurant. At age 65, his station failed (due to the new interstate). He took $105 from his first Social Security check and interviewed potential franchisees.
His new franchisee, Dave Thomas (of Wendy’s fame) turned the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant around and revolutionized the fast food industry by simplifying its menu to basic fried chicken and salads. Colonel Sanders expanded and later sold the corporation in 1964 for $2 million but still maintained his Canadian operations where he continued to collect franchise and appearance fees.
Colonel Sanders died on December 16, 1980 at the age of 90—a successful and wealthy man. His fast track career didn’t start until the age of 65.
Another late bloomer was running star Priscilla Welch. Priscilla didn’t start running competitively until she was 35. Up to that point, she smoked a pack of cigarettes every day. When she met her husband Dave, she quit smoking and trained under his guidance and ran the London Marathon at the age of 35.
Four years later (age 39) she qualified for the British Olympic team and ran the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles (the first women’s Olympic marathon) and finished sixth. (Joan Benoit-Samuelson of the USA won the first Women’s Olympic Marathon.) On her 40th birthday, Priscilla began setting age group world records for the masters division.
But putting the masters division to the side, Priscilla won the New York Marathon in 1987 with a 2:30:17. She also placed second in London and set an age group world record with a 2:26:51—this was also the sixth fastest time in the world in 1987! Priscilla ran the Boston Marathon in 1988 setting another age group world record with a 2:30:48. This record stood for 14 years.
These are two important examples of success in middle age and beyond. Of course, I must also emphasize my own success having just set a marathon personal record of 3:53:23 at the age of 56 beating my Boston Marathon qualifying time by over 21 minutes.
So maybe you missed the career fast track and turned 40 or even 50—disappointed at your stalled career. Maybe you didn’t make the team in high school and you considered your effort a failure. Maybe you didn’t qualify for Boston after having tried for 14 years (like me) and decided to retire. It’s never, never too late to achieve something incredible! Let’s focus on what is positive and move forward with courage and confidence and believe that the best years are yet to come!
Next—Dating and Middle-age—Being In Shape Does Help!