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On the Job Hunt at 55: Finding a Finance Position in Today's Market

For 30 years, Martin Kwitter worked for Big M Inc., a family-owned company that ran 165 clothing stores along the East Coast. This past September, faced with a business situation that was becoming untenable, the company brought in a turnaround specialist. Kwitter, the company’s director of finance and real estate, was soon laid off, along with the rest of the senior executive team. A few months later, Big M filed for bankruptcy.

Kwitter and the rest of the senior team had known for at least five years that the company was in trouble, but they had stayed out of loyalty to the owners. “We felt an obligation to them,” he says. “And obviously they felt very little obligation to us at the end of the day.”

Since then, Kwitter has been looking for work. “It’s tough out there,” he says. “It’s a full-time job getting a job.”

Kwitter, who’s 55, has no real way to know if potential employers are discriminating against him because of his age, but he’s often the only one with gray hair applying for each position. “The other day I had an interview, and the person I was being interviewed by was probably about 30,” Kwitter says. “Like I told him, I’m usually on the other side, hiring people.”

Recruiters and employment specialists say being in the 55-plus demographic can have both advantages and disadvantages for financial executives looking for work. And, they say, this age group has some particular issues to consider on the job hunt.

Size and Age Matter
Matthew R. Bud, chairman of the Connecticut-based Financial Executives Networking Group and managing partner of the Financial Executives Consulting Group, says older executives are better off targeting middle-market companies than large ones. While big companies tend to promote talent from within, midsize ones don’t have time for learning on the job. “They want somebody who’s done it several times, and those are people who are Baby Boomers,” he says. “They’re big on hiring Baby Boomers.”

In fact, these companies are generally not concerned about older workers jumping ship for retirement soon after they’re hired. “Their timeframe is usually five years,” Bud says. “Even if you’re 65, you’ll probably do another five.”

Generational differences can actually tip in an older job candidate’s favor. A 63-year-old, having grown up in a working world that prized loyalty, is more likely to stay longer than a 43-year-old who’s used to changing jobs every three years, according to Jack Mohan, owner of Management Recruiters International’s Boston Group. “That [younger] candidate is going to leave and leave [the employer] in the lurch,” he says.

On the other hand, Mohan adds, loyalty can backfire on older workers since they’re likely to stay with an employer until the very end, as Kwitter did at Big M. It’s much easier to find a new job while employed, Mohan notes, so executives who can see the end is near should work with a recruiter to plan their next step.

No Rest for the Unemployed, Older Exec
For those who do end up unemployed with no prospects, Omri Avdi, practice director of finance and accounting staffing firm Parker + Lynch, says it’s crucial they keep their skills current, by attending conferences, continuing to earn CPE credits, and keeping up to date on their areas of expertise. Depending on their specialty, financial professionals should also keep track of changing rules, including new accounting standards, tax law regulations, and reporting requirements from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“I think, whatever specialty you have, if you’re able to demonstrate to an employer that you have made a real effort to maintain your knowledge in that area, that it really paints a much stronger picture of you during the interview process,” Avdi says.

The downtime between jobs should also be spent coming up with anecdotes that show you’re a problem-solver and leader. Look over your career and see what stories you have to tell that could set you apart from the crowd of older, unemployed managers.  “If you’ve been somewhere for quite some time … chances are you have been tasked with either leading or participating or being part of special projects,” Avdi says.

Write up project summaries explaining how you helped integrate an acquired company or reorganize a firm, for example. “Those things are transferable,” Avdi says.

As for other steps older job-seekers should take, the recruiters we spoke with say you need the same to-do list as the younger generation. These basic rules apply: Network online and in person, concentrate on positions that are a strong fit for your talents instead of sending hundreds of résumés to imperfect matches, and avoid focusing too much on job listings since many job openings aren’t posted. The difference is, in many cases, all this work may be easier for 60-year-olds than 35-year-olds since the older job-seekers have had more time to develop both their talents and their networks. At the same time, though, all that extra experience may mean they’re priced out of potential employers’ budget range.

One potential solution to that problem is to take consulting assignments, Avdi suggests. He’s had candidates he was working with stay at a single consulting job for two years, while others lasted only six months before getting hired full time.

Whether it’s through consulting or by finally finding the right contact to help land a perfect full-time position, Avdi says more experienced workers shouldn’t give up on getting an excellent job. “What you find is the people in this age group have a wealth of talent,” he said. “They know how to get things done.”

Livia Gershon is a freelance writer in Nashua, New Hampshire.