Diary of a CIO headhunter: Age issues may not be quite what they seem...
Many think ageism is rife in the IT industry. It's a perception that's generally wide of the mark, says Vicky Maxwell Davies.
People often ask about age. That is to say, candidates often ask about age but those recruiting rarely do.
When we are taking a brief for a role, we delve deeply into the past experience of what an ideal candidate needs to offer. That might include particular sector knowledge, experience of ebusiness, leading large teams or working across Europe.
Then we analyse what competencies and skills that person will need. Perhaps it's really good stakeholder-management capabilities, or a good working knowledge of French or German.
It's unlikely, since we work at the most senior levels, that our clients' requirements will be met by a 20-year-old: they simply haven't had the time to develop and accumulate the portfolio of capabilities we'll be looking for. It's much more likely that candidates will be aged over 35.
Shortage of world-class IT professionals
Does it matter how much over? Truly, for the most part our clients don't care. Apart from anything else, age discrimination is against the law but, more importantly, there is a striking shortage of world-class IT professionals, and those who combine the mix of skills we are asked to look for are few and far between.
Clearly everyone who is looking for a new position needs to demonstrate pace, enthusiasm, passion for their subject and the energy that can give an employer confidence they will deliver. What is not wanted, at any age, is cynicism, apathy, bitterness or just plain mediocrity.
However, the key thing here is trajectory. If your career path has been a succession of roles, one following neatly and logically from the next, you might expect to become an IT director or CIO in your mid to late forties - depending on the scale and scope of the role.
If you are still a project manager or a business analyst at the same age, it may be felt, when you are applying for a new role, that your career has stagnated and the early promise that was shown has not been realised.
Alternative career strategies
What can you do if you feel your career has reached a plateau and your competition - that is, other people who are going for the same jobs as you who might be younger - is pipping you to the post?
Use your grey hairs, your experience and your gravitas to your advantage. These capabilities are always valued in the interim community who need to be able to hit the ground running quickly and make a difference on day one.
Or you may wish to invest in some training in an area or skill where there is a shortage. Employers won't turn down the opportunity to hire someone whose talents they definitely need and can't easily find.
As always, the trick to finding a new role is to be ruthless about what you've got to offer: be clear about your proposition and who will want it. Then communicate that proposition to your market. If you've got the match right, it shouldn't be too long until you are fixed up.
Vicky Maxwell Davies is partner and co-head of the CIO Practice at executive search firm Boyden UK. Founded in 1946, Boyden World Corporation has more than 70 offices in over 40 countries, specialising in high-level executive search, interim management and human capital consulting.