Moving from a manager to an individual contributor

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Q: I am 59 years old and was just laid off.  I would like to work a bit closer to home and not have to travel to Cambridge anymore.  My goal is to work in a company in a non-management role.  I moved up through the levels over my career.  But now, I am hoping to be in an individual contributor role and be less responsible for others.  I am a tech guy with people skills, so automatically I seem to always get pushed into management roles.  Less of my focus is about compensation.  It is more about doing a great job as an individual contributor but still making reasonable compensation.  I don’t need to make what I made for years.  In the few conversations I have had with recruiters, it seems like I am getting labeled as overqualified or too old.  I am stunned.  How do I get around this?

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A: Age discrimination is alive and well unfortunately.  I believe it is more prevalent in some of the tech sectors.  Here are some pieces of advice that might help your search:

  1. Know your industry and keep abreast of technology and changes within your industry. You might get tagged with an “old technology” label either consciously or unconsciously.  Drop a few hints (without seeming obnoxious) that you are “in the know.”
  2. Convey a position, energetic and flexible work style. Counter the “old dogs cannot learn new tricks” bias.
  3. Communicate your vision of working in a role where you can contribute, as an individual.
  4. Give examples of ways you have added value, especially in your last role. Companies buy value.  They want you to contribute quickly and effectively.
  5. Be realistic. Managers typically make more than their team members.  Don’t assume your prior compensation history is a baseline.  While I agree that age discrimination exists, I also have observed many candidates put a number on the table that is unrealistic.  We know that is what they made in a tech company as a director.  The candidate seems unable to reduce their compensation expectations.  Sometimes a candidate digs themselves into a negotiation ditch, and then the negotiation ends.
  6. Ask for feedback. Ask recruiters for feedback and tips on how to best present yourself to one of their clients.  They will share what a client might be focused on.  Use this information to your advantage.  We are also stunned that candidates don’t press us more on the details of the intangibles.  Sometimes there are details not included in the job description, which are important.  It might be willing to assist in another department or working through December.  Sometimes these qualifications can give you an edge.

Finally, be yourself.  You don’t want to land in a role that is not a fit for your skills, work style or values.

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