Would your boss hire you today with the same skills you have now?

This from Sue Shellenbarger writing in The Wall Street Journal. It is a great question and one that anyone past the age of 45 should begin asking themselves at least a couple of times a year, especially if you plan to postpone your retirement to earn extra money for your golden years.

While (thankfully) I do not work in a traditional office setting, I can see what is happening.  In airport executive lounges, hotels and in hospital executive suites across the land, the inhabitants are becoming younger and younger.  

And that inevitable onslaught of bright young talent, eager to advance their careers, will impact your own post 45 work-life unless you take action.  Ignoring this inconvenient fact of life is really not an option. 

If you wait to update, writes Ms. Shellenbarger, you increase your chances of being caught in a downsizing.

If you are in that age cohort, and many are, there are some steps you can take to stay in the game as a valued contributing player.

  1. Stay physically fit.  There is nothing that says over the hill any more than an executive who has not taken care of his or herself.  You can see it in appearance and loss of energy.  How people see you shapes their perceptions of competence, like the significantly overweight airline captain who has to squeeze into the smallish cockpit of a commuter jet.  You just can’t help but wonder…worry a bit.
  2. Pay attention to your appearance.  Keep your wardrobe up to date. Do not go overboard because that, too, can send the wrong message. I know one executive, concerned that his graying hair made him look old and behind the times, entered the world of do-it-yourself hair coloring.  The noticeable green tinge that occurred when he tried to correct a color mixing mistake became the talk of the company, especially after he called into the conference room for a meeting from his office next door.  
  3. Re-energize your knowledge base. Your knowledge about direct and indirect issues that impact your job is critical. You cannot afford to fall behind in direct knowledge regarding, strategy, processes or technology. Attend meetings and read, read, read industry journals. Nor can you afford to be out of the loop regarding support tools like social media — not knowing what some of the programs are or how they can be used to enhance your brand and image with your colleagues, suggests “you’re not with it.”  One executive recruiter representing the Millennial age cohort said executives with an AOL email address are showing their age, this even before he looks at the resume.  The pace of change is accelerating — both good and bad. When you begin to fall behind, this, too, will happen at a faster rate. 
  4. Embrace change and your new colleagues. Being perceived as someone who does not like change is never a good idea. Moreover, you have one thing most of them do not have — a great deal of experience so share it. Remember, your younger colleagues have much to share as well so offer to mentor them, take them to lunch periodically and listen a lot. Some of the conversation or ideas may seem lame, but it is important to understand how future competitors for your job think and act.
  5. Do not let arrogance or attitude paint you into a corner.  If a layoff is to occur, as an older employee at or past the normal retirement age, it is nice to have someone at the table speak up for the value you add to the organization. Otherwise you might become an easy choice to receive a severance package.  

You can be a person of “a certain age” and continue your career, if…