Career advice: Fiftysomething and looking for a job

Premier 100 IT Leader Catherine Bessant also answers questions on pursuing a master's degree and getting buy-in from the business

Catherine Bessant

Bank of America's Catherine P. Bessant

Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader
Catherine P. Bessant
Title:
Global Technology & Operations executive
Company: Bank of America

Bessant is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com.

My own experience and observations tell me that IT workers 50 and older have a harder time finding jobs. Now that I am an older IT worker in need of a job, how can I break through what seems to be a bias toward hiring younger people? Know your audience. What do hiring managers want? They want high-energy, forward-thinking teammates with an obvious desire to grow with the organization. Make a point of projecting those traits. Leaders also want experience, maturity and the self-actualization that tends to come with age. Don't be afraid to talk about those advantages in interviews. Whatever you do, don't project yourself as a fiftysomething in desperate need of a job. Remember high school -- nobody wants to date someone who desperately needs a date!

I have a bachelor's degree in computer science and am now planning to get an MBA. Since my goal is senior-level IT management, should I pursue a general MBA degree instead of something more focused on MIS? The first CEO I worked for said that if you work for a bank -- even if your role is in marketing, human resources or technology -- you are a banker. His point was that career growth and advancement depends on expanding acumen beyond technical skill into broader business and management expertise. Our most valued teammates are those who have proved their functional depth, but who also show the desire and ability to understand and lead the business. Given the question, my choice would be a technical undergraduate degree combined with an MBA that provides a broader management perspective.

I think IT can do a lot more for the business than keep the servers humming, but fellow C-level executives in my company are dismissive. The feeling seems to be that IT is only interested in getting funding for expensive toys. The things I'd like to invest in would provide a great return. How can I better make my case? Earlier in my career, I led the communications team for my company. Leaders we supported would come to the team and say things like, "I need to make a video." Our response was, let's start by defining the problem, not choosing a solution. What's the business purpose, audience and message? And what are the available communications tools? Let's answer those questions first, and that will point us in the right direction.

In a similar way, some IT execs suffer from the perception that they start by offering expensive solutions before they've defined the problem. It looks like chasing investment dollars. We need to remember that business leaders don't wake up in the morning thinking about how to spend money. They wake up thinking about how to solve business problems -- to attract customers, improve quality, cut costs or reduce risks.

We need to first understand the needs of customers and clients, and then work hand-in-hand with our partners to create solutions to meet those needs. What buys credibility is sharing our business partners' perspective, speaking their language, and crafting solutions for real business issues. We need to present technology investments as a tool to move the business forward, not as a destination itself.

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