The Monday Line (on Tuesday)
by Denis G. Campbell
Over 50 Ain’t Dead (Pt. 1) by Denis G. Campbell
I am mad as hell. (And that’s a good thing.)
I am 59 years young.
I’ve been an interim consultant and manager for 15-years. That followed twenty-four years in large companies travelling to five continents and building things. I am a pioneer, you can tell by the arrow in my back. I’m outspoken and use whatever tools as audaciously as I can to make my point.
I moved to The Netherlands in 1998. Not a native Dutch speaker (to start), I hooked up with consultants and agencies to do interim projects. At first I enjoyed the freedom to work when I chose. But the cyclical nature of that work was difficult. When I work for a client, they get 100% of the effort until we reach the finish line. I would never carve out client work time, to look for my next role. So, we crossed the line, had a long celebratory dinner and then, bang, the door shut.
I was unemployed. The cycle started anew.
Today, I’d like something more permanent, to build and have colleagues. It’s tough to have colleagues when you are parachute dropped into a crisis and may have to fire everyone and rebuild.
Whilst many eastern cultures honour and seek out the wisdom of ‘elders’ in work, in the West, we throw ours to the kerb. At last count, I’ve been turned down for roughly 682 permanent senior jobs, 56 of which I was in the final two after multiple interviews.
0-56. No sport team ever loses every game. It either breaks you or builds resiliency.
Recruiting today is all about keyword software. Forget interpersonal recruiting skills, if the computer says Nooo… it’s game over. So, you have to write a new cv each time.
To borrow from former US President Obama, it’s all about ‘Hope.’ You ‘hope’ it gets past the screeners. Then you ‘hope’ for a phone call. Then you ‘hope’ for an interview with the client. Then you go through their process and ‘hope’ your nerves can last.
Since turning 55, despite a very full cv, work on five continents and experience in 12 industries, I could start or run any business unit, bring it to profitability and mentor future leaders. What’s available in this market are pyramid consultancies working for a back-end share of what I bring in. I do that for two but the stress of ‘what’s next’ eats one alive.
And none of it is my passion. Rather a means to an end.
The Hunger Games
How did we get here? In the 80’s ‘greed was good,’ and while still operative, I’m not even sure this is greed, rather a struggle for business survival. Bring in a bunch of ‘wet behind the ears’ kids because they are cheap and pray they don’t screw it up? And if we need experience we hire it for a short period and move on?
Politicians eloquently rail against zero-hours contracts? How about creating a Hunger-Games free business environment where workers no longer need to eat each other to live?
We are in the ‘gig’ economy. Anyone of any age can be made redundant (laid-off) in a heartbeat then brought back on a zero-hours contract that is 20-30% less than what you made before. The rationale is, one should be grateful to have a job and therefore work yourself into the ground to keep it? That’s insane.
The number one concern of every independent contractor like myself is loneliness. We toil in our home workspaces or office and no one ever sees us. We are part of the human throw-away society.
Nice, eh? No.
Open Your Eyes
Every business says, “we do not discriminate on the basis of age?” If that’s the case, how do my and so many other older cv’s get tossed when put up against someone 20-25 years younger? Last year an exceptionally honest recruiter (yes, some do exist) said, “my client will not even look at someone over the age of 35.”
Recruiters are the worst. “Your experience is great, but it does not fit the specific remit of my client.” That magical series of ageist code words excuses any and all behaviour. I recruited and filled many a senior position and the remit was the starting point. I would find 2-3 candidates who fit the remit and then a ‘wild card.’ My boss then trusted my judgement because I was not just throwing cv’s at him.
The remit was NEVER the end point. Back then we had balls. We could go to the client and say, “you are being too narrow, here are three who fit, but I really like this woman and her experience base.” You already know who they hired. Four senior roles were filled ‘off-piste” and… they went on to become partners. Too many so-called recruiters run scared, they cannot get out of their own.
So how do you get in the door when the recruiter or company HR department stands guard? You fight like hell every step of the way. You don your black pajamas and run through the jungle to find your target. If you really want it, you go for it with everything you have. 10 of the 56 ‘final two’ rejections were as a result of this strategy. And 8 of those I ended up doing interim work for. Employer respects initiative, recruiters and HR departments demand compliance.
What is this word, No?
My boss said to me once, “I’m going to give you this job, but I don’t think you can do it. You’re problem is Campbell, you never take ‘No’ for an answer.” I was depressed when I heard that… for about ten seconds. I walked down the hall realizing “damned straight.” The day I take ‘No’ as THE answer, is the day they close the lid of that pine box over me.
50+ ain’t dead! We have something to offer these young punks don’t have. Experience. And when a person with experience meets a person with money. The person with experience ends up with the money and the person with the money… ends up with an experience.
So let’s use grey power to build experiences.
Let this series be our manifesto on how to lead the way.
Next in Part Two: A Scurvy Elephant Round Peg