So, age discrimination in project management... Is it happening and what does it look like if and when it does happen? I'm not personally experiencing it as I'm independently consulting and have been for several years, but if you're 50 or 60 years old and you are trying to change jobs or switch companies are you finding it difficult even with a great deal of successful experience. And what about the younger crowd among my readers? Are you 25 or 30 years old and finding it hard to make career changes because you just don't have 10 years of project management experience to document even though you may have just successfully led projects as successful as landing the Rover on Mars? Read on but be ready to tell us about your thoughts and possibly frustrations at the end.
You're too old for this position. I don't know when this happens... but I'm certain it does. Does it happen at the human resources level, at the PMO director level? I don't know. But somehow, somewhere, someone – a hiring manager or project manager who is part of the interview process - sees that a candidate has 30 years experience and thinks “this guys is old and set in his ways – he won't fit in here.” BAM!, age discrimination. I'm not talking about some discrimination that is illegal, of course. They can hire who they want to hire, but overlooking the experienced candidate can really short-change your organization when you're trying to build the best project management infrastructure or best project management office (PMO) possible. Someone with that much experience – if it's been good, successful experience using best practices and possibly, hopefully certified – usually has some great ideas or experience with successful (and unsuccessful) PMOs and projects and can bring a lot to the table.
We can learn a lot from the successes and failures we encounter during our careers and from those colleagues we've worked closely with. When a project manager comes to the table with 25 or 30 years of experience to share with others and the ability to mentor you project managers on the path to project success and career growth, then your organization will be the big beneficiaries of that experience. You're reading more words now, right? There's your proof right there. I have the experience and I'm sharing it now.
You're too young for this position. Just like being too old, you can be weeded out just because you don't have 10 or 15 years of experience already. It may be a government contract that mandates that and I understand when that happens, but judging an individual solely by the years of experience listed on their resume without looking to see if they have other key skills and experience is a bad call. You an end up losing out on great candidates who may have a 25 year run in the organization and may even be your next great CIO, CEO, cybersecurity expert, PMO director or some other major contributor. You won't know if you boot this person to the curb because they only have three years of successful PM experience.
All successful project managers have to start somewhere. Yes, they need to gain some experience, they need to gain some successes and some failures, and will need some training and probably project management certification. All of that takes some career time and organizational dollars to accomplish. But some of your best candidates may not have 10 years of experience – don't be bias and overlook them just because you're too busy to consider a wider pool of candidates.
How to get past the first roadblocks. Experience, success, attitude, excellent communication skills and the ability to lead are the biggest qualifiers for the best project managers. That can be all experience, experience plus training and certification, or maybe just some experience and certification. You don't need to list 40 projects that you've excelled on – one or two will do. And take liberties... make them sound as good as they really are because full-on project successes are hard to come by. It doesn't matter if it was a $50,000 implementation or a $5 million implementation, you still succeed and that's what's important. You led a very successful project, own it.
And in terms of experience, be general not specific. Eventually they'll find out how old or young you are. Your goal is to get in the door and make them want you for you, not your age. So if have a million years of experience, don't say that because it won't necessarily impress them. If you have 30 years experience, tell them in the application or cover letter that you have 20+ years of experience or maybe even 15+ years of experience. It's the same thing. Likewise, if they are asking for 10 years of experience and you 8, don't address that. They'll figure it out on their own. Don't lie about your experience – ever. But don't flag it either if it can be a negative. Make them want you for you and what you bring to the table, not your age. They'll figure it out eventually, but by that time they will already be hooked on what you have already done and can likely do for their organization.
Summary / call for input
So you may be too old or too young – which you aren't... experience, success, training, certification, best practices, a good team... these are all ingredients to success that have little or nothing to do with age. Age is an excuse for the lazy and ignorant hiring individuals. By looking at age – either young or old - they are likely overlooking the best candidates available in an effort to make their own hiring jobs easier and their candidate pool smaller. It's sloppy and it's the reason why some projects – and project management offices – ultimately fail. They weren't built with the best available.
Readers – what is your take. Have you been deemed too you or too old for a project or a job or by a hiring supervisor? Maybe not outright told that is the reason, but you have reason to believe this is true. Please share your thoughts and discuss.