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How to Break Into a Young Industry

Here's how to enter a youth-centric industry

tips on how to break into youth-dominated industry

Martin Barraud/Getty Images

Older workers can adjust their job search strategies to break into an industry that favors the young.

As a former recruiter in a variety of industries, I've seen firsthand how some fields overweight the youth factor. In my experience, the toughest are banking, media and entertainment, as well as certain functions in technology. If you're an experienced professional wedded to an industry that favors the young, factor these key things into your job search and career management. (And check out The Tech Industry's Darkest Secret: It's All About Age by Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at the Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University.)

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Be youthful when it counts.

What is it about youth that your target industry values specifically? In banking, many of the front-office roles have very fast promotion trajectories, so if you're not at a senior level by your mid-thirties, there must be something wrong with you or your career. In media, the target audience is young, so the assumption is that you need to be young to stay connected with emerging trends. In technology, the fast pace of change requires constant learning, flexibility and adaptability, all associated with youth. But none of these traits is exclusively the province of the young, just of youthfulness.

One executive who stepped into a senior banking role after decades in government and non-profit had authored a well-received book (achievement!). Another executive I hired into a media company from academia knew all the executive players and influencers in her area (connection!). A tech executive from one of the big brands moved into a start-up by taking on a business development role for one of the emerging technologies (adaptability!). These executives were in their late 40s or 50s but met the expectations more closely aligned with their younger competitors to thrive in a young industry.

Go ahead and play the age card.

At the same time you highlight positive attributes associated with youth, play your age card when it matters. The search where we hired the media executive from academia had been open for almost a year. It was tricky because the group straddled operations and finance across several different lines of business. The media industry was undergoing huge shifts (as it is today) so each of the business lines had disparate projects running simultaneously. The person we hired had worked in media earlier in her career at an organization that had lived through a series of mergers and acquisitions. She moved into academia at a time of restructuring and streamlining.

While this media executive could dish about the latest trends and displayed the requisite command of all things pop culture, she also highlighted the wisdom-from-experience factor and walked senior management through the different markets and environments she survived and thrived in. Believe it or not, there are times when experience trumps youth, and knowing when that's the case is a competitive job search advantage.

Find a reverse sponsor.

Reverse mentoring is a new term, referring to junior professionals who mentor their senior counterparts, often on trends and technology. Beyond mentorship, there is also sponsorship, where someone doesn't just give advice, but actively promotes your career. I haven't heard anyone use the term reverse sponsorship but for these youth-centric industries, it would be helpful if this phenomenon took off. The media executive I profiled above was someone I hired, but it wasn't my search (I was too green at the time for such a high-level search). As luck would have it, I met the hiring manager at a company event and pitched this media executive as a possible candidate when the hiring manager mentioned that she wasn't seeing the right candidates from her regular recruiter.

You would think the regular, experienced (and yes, older) recruiter would be more sympathetic to introducing experienced candidates. But when I debriefed with the recruiter, she told me that my candidate would never get through – she was too old and so the recruiter didn't even bother presenting her. Well, she did get through – no thanks to someone who was her peer -- but thanks to me being too green (and too young) to know better.

Breaking into a youth-centric company, industry or market is neither simple nor straightforward. You have to acknowledge what the emphasis on youth signifies and raise that part of your game. You have to play your experience card too, because that also gives you value. And you have to keep plugging away and expanding your connections because your point of entry will not be obvious.

The media executive who was ultimately hired had applied multiple times to this organization and its various subsidiaries. She talked to people both on the line (hiring managers) and recruiters. Ultimately I was her point of entry, and we met because we knew someone in common (unrelated to media), and she was gracious enough to meet with me, even though I was a junior recruiter in an unrelated area. So raise your game and keep playing.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert with SixFigureStart(R). She is a former recruiter in management consulting, financial services, media, technology, and pharma/ biotech.

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