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CFO Coach: The 50-Plus Struggle

  • By Cindy Kraft
  • Published: 2011-08-17

It’s certainly a sign of the times when constant questions stream in around the exact same issue: job searching when you’re over 50. Most chief financial officers are 50-plus (or nearly there) and very few CFO positions are filled by those under 45. In fact, in a recent survey by executive search firm consultants, the average age of top-level executives last year was 48.9, up from 45.7 in 2007.

Yet, the angst continues… and with good reason.

• There are only so many senior finance positions.
• Competition for those positions is tough.
• CFOs don’t always have solid networks or networking skills.
• Many finance execs have never had to search in these “new” times.

There are a few roadblocks ... but they are not insurmountable.

Age discrimination
Let’s settle it right up front. Age discrimination exists. But do you really want to work for a company who views you as “too old?” Hopefully not. They don’t want you and are not your target audience.

Now that we’ve addressed the elephant in the room, we can move on. While candidates can’t control who companies want to hire or the parameters they develop around their ideal candidate, they can control their value proposition and marketability.

I was recently asked, “does the strategy for job searching change after you reach 50?” Well that really depends on what your strategy is! If it is primarily responding to posted positions, then my answer is, “most definitely.”

If, however, you are marketable, have a compelling value proposition, and you are executing a proactive and passive search through a variety of channels – including networking – then my answer is no.

But without being crystal clear about what you have that a company would want, your search strategy really won’t matter.

Technology dinosaurs
No time for social media? You might be a technology dinosaur. Your name appears on LinkedIn but you rarely, if ever, check your account? You are invisible and may be on the way to extinction. Still use an Aol email address because, well, you’ve had it forever? 

I remember writing a resume for an executive back in the early days of the Internet and email. My client stated, very emphatically, “I don’t need to understand those things because I have a Girl Friday to do them.” Those who resist evolving and changing are doomed to follow the path of the dinosaurs, and may unintentionally bring the age issue to the forefront.

You don’t have to be a social media guru today. But it is critically important, both from a professional, career perspective and as the boss of the tech-savvy, social media generation that you do not appear as though you never moved into the 21st Century.

At the Career Thought Leaders conference this year, executive recruiter Wayne Mitchell said this about the prospective candidates he will consider ... LinkedIn is no longer an option, it’s a MUST!

Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none
This is a trap that many executives fall into ... particularly out of desperation. Once an executive has been in search mode for a while, he begins to look at anything and everything that he might be able to do. His resume begins to get watered down and instead of being in a space that is narrow and deep as a subject matter expert, he’s in the 5 miles wide and 1-inch deep space - knowing a little about a multitude of things.

At the senior executive level, companies want problem solvers with specific skills. It is a far better strategy to understand your strengths, passions, values, what you do well and want to do more of, and who needs that package. And then, stay in that space. It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s not.

Now I’m not against washing the grey out of your hair, but wisdom does come with age. Embrace those things you’ve learned and the contributions you’ve made along the way to being a 50-something CFO. Then, focus your efforts on the companies who want seasoned leadership who can take away their pain!

Cindy Kraft is the CFO-Coach. Reach Cindy at Cindy@CFO-Coach.com, 813-655-0658, or at www.CFO-Coach.com.
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Copyright © 2015 Association for Financial Professionals, Inc.
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