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Executive Recruiter: 'Man Up' to Foreign Competition, Age Discrimination

Don Tennant

It's rare to find anyone with a technology background who has the fortitude to tell technology professionals what they really need to hear about the realities of getting a job in 2011. It's especially rare to find an executive recruiter with a technology background who's willing to express her lack of patience with people who blame foreigners or age discrimination for their unemployment. Colleen Aylward is just such a rarity.

 

Aylward, whose technology background dates back to the days of Dun & Bradstreet Computing, is founder and president of Devon James Associates, an executive recruiting firm in Bellevue, Wash., and author of the book, "Bedlam to Boardroom: How To Get a Derailed Executive Career Back on Track." I spoke with Aylward last week, and I found her straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is style tremendously refreshing at a time when no one seems to be willing to do much more than commiserate with the hand-wringers.

 

For starters, I asked her if she had any advice for people in the over-50 crowd who feel they're facing age discrimination in the recruitment process. Her response:

Lose weight, get a tan, start working out. I'm serious-it sounds awful to say, and no one wants to approach that subject. But like I say in my book, if you've let your body atrophy, then we just assume you've let your mind atrophy. If you take a while, and huff and puff to get across the room, can you really work in an agile environment? Maybe I'm just so geek and into high tech, and the rest of the world isn't like that, but it certainly is in technology. We love to manage by crisis, we love to multitask, we love to jump when the investor says jump. Those things speak of speed, and not thoughtful, process-oriented, group thinking.

 

In fact, we've learned, as executives, that you sit in a meeting and keep your mouth shut and listen to what everyone says, and then thoughtfully come up and say, "Let me see if I can tell you what you just said, and here are the things I think we should think about." We're trying to be diplomatic, we're trying to let the manager manage, and all that. If you're in an interview with a 30-something, he's going to say, "Dude, cut! Why didn't you blurt out the answer?" So there's a culture gap, as well. Maybe it's just the way we were trained in the white-collar professional world. We weren't trained in startups-we weren't trained to run down the hall, clean the toilets, get back here and talk to the board members, go over there and do a PowerPoint yourself. That's just a different culture.

 

But this is one of my passions -- this demographic between 50 and 65 is still a huge demographic with a huge footprint on the United States. Don't be afraid of social media, don't listen to the scare tactics. It's not that difficult-it's based on everything you were taught. It's based on logic, it's based on the numbers game-it's the same thing, don't be afraid of it. If you're not controlling it, then you're out of control.


Aylward was equally blunt when I raised the topic of the concern and resentment that a lot of tech workers feel with respect to jobs in America being taken by non-U.S. citizens:

Yeah, I have a lot to say about that. The phrase "man up" comes to mind. We have to stop bitching about all of these people coming in and taking our jobs. When I recruit, I go looking for specific technical skills, and anymore it's not necessarily because [non-U.S. citizens] are cheaper. It's because I can't find them in the white, American-bred boy who went to MIT or Princeton, and who wants $225K and two spaces for his BMW, and he wants to get off at three o'clock to go work out with friends. We really have to man up as a nation and say, globalization is here. That means it's kind of an open-door planet now. Get educated. In India, they value education very highly, and they get it, no matter what, by hook or by crook. Now, of course we can have a discussion about whether their degrees are as robust as ours are. But I don't have a lot of patience for people who say, "I don't have a job because of age discrimination," or "I don't have a job because all the foreigners are taking our jobs." For one thing, when was the last time you saw a 20-something with a degree sweeping floors, or starting at the bottom rung? There's a sense of entitlement here.

That sense of entitlement is something I've written about for years, and I share Aylward's lack of patience with it. She has some very interesting views on some other topics, as well. I'll pass them along in a subsequent post.


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