Mid-level career crisis: Gig offers new lease of life to those above 40

If one is agile, then age cannot come in the way of employability

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The fear of losing one’s job all of a sudden is very real, and more than ever in these uncertain times. It is even more dreadful for senior executives considering one’s life responsibilities change with time. Talent with decades of experience in their arsenal is increasingly feeling the threat of corporate ageism. There is widespread insecurity amidst mid-senior to senior executives, of losing their roles to cheaper and younger resources. However, as it turns out, recruiters believe these anxieties cannot be farther from the truth. Here’s a checklist of five points to make sure your career continues to soar way beyond 40.

Just a number

“Age is just a number and 40 is definitely not the age for careers to plateau,” says P Dwarakanath, non-executive chairman, GSK. The veteran HR leader believes that it is, in fact, after 40 that one “matures, becomes more developed and evolved. One’s ability to navigate different circumstances is much more effective than when one was younger.”

If at all the fear is real, it has more to do with the candidate’s mindset than ageist organisations. “There are cases where the person has not acquired the new skills required, or may have outgrown the role. There may be a mindset issue or they may be totally out of the market in terms of their cost,” points out Dwarakanath. “But I would not translate that into a common threat that applies to everybody.”


P.Dwarakanath

Age is just a number and 40 is definitely not the age for careers to plateau. the ability to navigate different circumstances is more effective after 40


Upgrade & evolve

Vinod Parur, CHRO, Nilkamal, firmly believes, “How one’s career shapes up post-40 entirely depends on what one has been doing before 40.” He also points out that the challenges and opportunities remain the same, irrespective of gender. “The competition is between talent. If I’ve not kept myself updated then it may definitely impact my career movement chances post-40.”

Just as software and apps keep dishing up newer versions round-the-clock, candidates too, says Parur, “must keep upgrading and upskilling. Then their chances of being impacted by such threats are minimised.” Hiring managers have shifted their focus from degrees to skills. “It’s a lot more skill-based hiring now, both technical and behavioural,” observes Reena Wahi, SVP, head-HR, Business Excellence & CSR, Tata Realty & Infrastructure.

The ability to adapt to new environments quickly is the most important, notes Dwarakanath. “No matter what one’s age and whether one has lost one’s job due to COVID-19 or any other economic downfall, agility remains the need of the hour.” One must be willing to learn and relearn. “If one develops lifelong skills, I do not see an issue,” adds Dwarakanath.


Reena Wahi

I think there are better opportunities opening up for people over 40. Earlier, making a ‘comeback’ to the workforce meant full time, but now one can come back as a gig worker


Gigs up for grabs

The global pandemic has made hiring conducive to gig workers, with companies better placed to hire project-based consultants or retainers. “I think there are better opportunities opening up for people over 40,” notes Wahi. “Earlier, making a ‘comeback’ to the workforce meant full time, but now one can come back as a gig worker. It also gives organisations the flexibility to manage,” she adds.

Wahi points out that gig work doesn’t come by as easily for junior talent because it’s one’s background and expertise that makes senior talent fit for gigs. “It’s based on the skill set one is able to bring to the table.”


Vinod Parur

How one’s career shapes up post-40 entirely depends on what one has been doing before 40. one must keep upgrading and upskilling

 

 


Flex your flexibility

It is true that as one moves higher up the corporate ladder, the number of roles reduce. One can only have so many CxOs after all. However, not clinging to titles, corner offices and team strengths is what determines the trajectory one’s career takes post-40. “The way to look at one’s career is dramatically changing,” says Wahi. The challenge lies in the goals one sets for one’s career.

“If I need to get to the next level and get promoted, then it is a challenge,” notes Wahi. “If one is willing to work and contribute without thinking about possessing a title, or a team, or what one used to, and so on, it would be easy.” Candidates are often prone to restricted thinking, focused on having been team leads and holding weighty titles in their former roles. “A level of flexibility and adaptability is now expected. That’s where the fungibility of talent shows through and needs to take a new shape,” adds Wahi.

Solid XP is irreplaceable

Companies are infamous for rejecting candidates for being “overqualified” which is often considered subtext for ‘can’t afford you’, but HR experts think otherwise. “Of course organisations may have the choice of younger talent, but the knowledge and experience one has gathered in the organisation and career when one crosses 40, is something that the younger talent pool cannot replace,” says Parur.

Besides, such a move will only hurt the company in the long run. “Even companies understand the value that an individual brings,” explains Parur. “No company would like to lose their talent because of a temporary setback.” Competing organisations pose a threat too. “A company can lose its talent’s wealth of experience to competition, and I’m sure no recruiter would like to make that mistake.”

Companies that believe younger talent will help them cut costs are short-sighted, says Dwarakanath. “This strategy can only survive in the short term. If one does not get the right person regardless of age, one may improve one’s P&L in the short term, but damage one’s balance sheet for the long term.”