Recruitment tips for senior executive women

Women who have broken through the glass ceiling and achieved executive management success are finding that employment over the age of 50 presents a more formidable barrier than any glass ceiling, according to the CEO of a recruitment and career coaching company.

Kathryn Sandford, who is the CEO of M2M, says that capable women with vast executive level experience can find it almost impossible to get a role in today’s environment.

 She says it is common for her firm to encounter women candidates with impressive credentials, former directors and department heads, who cannot get work.

“It is an incredibly demoralising experience for these executive women who have achieved extraordinary success in their careers only to find themselves locked out. Repeated rejection leads to fear, uncertainty and a loss of confidence, and this only makes the situation worse.”

Sandford says one stereotype she is aware of is that men are perceived of as more technologically adept, which gives them an edge in the job marketplace.

“There are the obvious reasons women are struggling to get back into executive leadership positions: sexism, ageism, and woman’s need for more flexibility because many become carers to elderly parents. But I think the situation has got worse since the pandemic because employers perhaps worry that older women are a greater health risk.

“As a result, women over 50 are more likely to be unemployed for longer or to simply fall out of the job market.” Those that do find work may have to take a pay cut.

Employing the concept of whakapakari (to develop, strengthen and refine) M2M specialises in recruitment as well as the coaching of candidates—particularly those from diverse backgrounds—to be more capable, more prepared and employment ready to meet the needs of employers in a time when so much talent goes unrecognised.

Sandford offers the following advice to women over 50 trying to get back into the job market:

Beware cognitive closure: “I coach many women who have struggled to get back into the job market and one of the biggest risks is succumbing to repeated rejections. When faced with uncertainty and ambiguity, your brain goes looking for an answer because it wants closure, and this leads to depression, negativity and a sense of desperation. 

“Employers will sense negative emotions. Avoid ruminating on failure because it consumes energy, and it shows. Instead, step back and rethink, re-strategise—figure out what is working and what is not. 

 “Writing a new CV is not going to help. Eight pages of task is boring. Stop trying to figure out what you are doing wrong and change what you are doing altogether,” she says.

Believe more in your technical capability: Sandford said women are particularly strong in skills like teamwork empathy, collaboration and motivation, but men have an edge in employer interviews because they tend to be more transactional and technical in their approach. It’s a difference of approach, not competence.

 “Shifting the conversation into technical and commercial territory seems to help with dispelling ageism and gender bias. Take control of the conversation by asking technical questions. Rely on your ability to deliver, not on your CV. If there are things you want to communicate, then do so—don’t wait for questions that may not come.”

Clean up your digital footprint: Having a poorly constructed LinkedIn profile plays to the ‘older woman are bad at technology’ bias. “If your online footprint—your social media, columns, comments, directory listings, past profiles—is less than impeccable you’re doing yourself a disservice. Everything must be up-to-date and current from a professional and career perspective to demonstrate that you are still active, and you are still relevant.

 “It does not help for employers to see ‘so-and-so has not posted in a while’. Be an active commentator in your industry to show you are still up with the play,” Sandford says.


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