Maintaining a successful career in tech when you’re on the other side of 40 is hard enough. But some professionals sabotage their livelihoods by displaying characteristics that reinforce negative stereotypes and turn hiring managers off.
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On the flip side of that coin, those who achieve sustained success throughout long careers have a knack for exhibiting traits and attitudes that colleagues and employers value. Here’s a look at the characteristics of older tech workers who manage to achieve continued success throughout their careers… and those who do not.
Older Workers Who Do Well
Continuing Desire to Grow and Learn
But even though staying abreast of cutting-edge technology is vital, it takes more than a hot skillset to maintain a vibrant career in tech. It requires a willingness to experiment, to try new things (and to fail), and a desire to jump outside your comfort zone, explained Kerry Hannon, a career strategist and author of “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+.”
For example, no one called Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking over-the-hill, even though both worked into their mid-seventies. Why? Because they both had an insatiable passion for learning and never stopped exploring new ideas. Displaying an openness and thirst for knowledge makes you seem ageless.
Professionals who project energy and who remain physically fit appear younger than they actually are, noted executive career coach, Donald Burns.
“Counter the perception that older workers are lethargic or complacent by speaking in an upbeat manner,” Burns advised. “Also, using short sentences and paragraphs in written communications telegraphs a fast, up-to-date style.” Remember, enthusiasm is contagious and draws other professionals to you like a magnet.
Clear Goals and Objectives
Wanting to change jobs because you’re feeling bored, under-challenged or micro-managed is a good thing as your career progresses, Burns noted. But you need to have a clear vision of your goals in order to land the right opportunity and keep your career moving forward. Creating a roadmap can help you avoid a mid- or late-career stall that comes from competing against younger, lower-paid workers for a position you’ve held for the past several years.
Willing to Take Direction from Younger Colleagues
Tech pros who achieve career longevity are comfortable learning from younger managers and colleagues, and they’re willing to pass along what they know. They boost their job market appeal by offering to transfer experience-based competencies such as client-facing skills and decision-making to younger workers.
“Respect is a two-way street,” Hannon said. “Tech professionals who have enduring careers are willing to mentor junior colleagues and learn from each other.”
Present Day View
When you work in a field that travels at warp speed, consistently mentioning older technologies or how things were done in the past can make you seem out-of-touch and set in your ways. Using the past as a way to reflect and make corrections going forward is positive. But try to focus your communications around what is happening today and in the future.
Older Workers Who Do Not Do Well
Sense of Entitlement
Are you unwilling to perform updates or upgrades, or work on programming tasks that you’ve done a thousand times before? If you act as if some tasks are beneath you, your teammates will resent you, and a tech manager is unlikely to hire or retain someone who undermines teamwork and morale.
The same thing goes for compensation. Certainly you want to ask for a salary commensurate with the market and the value you will bring to the organization, but imposing unrealistic demands is a sure sign that you feel superior and self-entitled. You’ll earn more over the long term by being more flexible and negotiating for extra benefits or the opportunity for remote work.
Stick in the Mud
On the plus side, more mature workers tend to have better ballast. When things go wrong, they are calm, firm and steady; no doubt their behavior has a trickle-down effect on the entire team. But if you refuse to take part in so-called fun and games or team-building activities, you may inadvertently reinforce that “grumpy old person” stereotype. Even though research has shown that this stereotype is unfair and untrue, perception is reality. Being socially connected and engaged with your network is one of the best ways to achieve success throughout your career.
Leslie Stevens-Huffman is a business and careers writer who has more than 20 years’ experience in the staffing industry. She is passionate about helping technology professionals build robust, rewarding careers and has been writing blog posts, sample resumes and providing sage career advice to the IT professionals in our Dice Community since 2006. She also loves traveling, cooking and watching football.