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Is the CIO job a young person's game -- and what's considered young?

When should a CIO on the job market start lying about his or her age? Or, to put a finer point on the question, hiding one’s age? For one of the headhunters I consulted on a story this week about writing a resume to land a CIO job in 2011, the answer is never; don’t do it. When he sees a CIO resume that leaves off the dates for education, that’s a dead giveaway the candidate is worried about age. Facts are facts.

“If somebody isn’t going to hire you because you’re 58 rather than 52, then it is probably not the right place to be anyway, because that is a narrow view,” he said.

That’s true, I was thinking. But in a job market with 9% unemployment, taking the moral high ground could come at a hefty price for a middle-aged, out-of-work exec looking for a CIO job. Especially when older workers are having a hard time getting hired.

Another headhunter made a slightly different point when I raised the age question. When he sees a date left off on one’s education, his first thought is that the person didn’t go there or didn’t graduate. It’s not an age issue, it’s an integrity issue, he said. Not to mention annoying. He then has to call up Columbia or Carnegie Mellon and or wherever and verify whether the person was awarded a degree. Not a good way to make friends with a recruiter.

This interesting but minor debate about whether to include a date for one’s education on a CIO resume, of course, raises a more fundamental question: Is the CIO job a young person’s game? Given how quickly technology changes, are companies more comfortable hiring a youngish CIO — and what is youngish anyway? If so, the bias seems to be quite different for CEOs, where experience is valued and it’s quite common for companies to yank very seasoned fellows — think Ed Whitacre at General Motors — out of semiretirement to set the business straight.

So far, I’ve been batting around this idea about ageism and the CIO job mainly with consultants and headhunter types. I’d love to hear from CIOs of a certain age who have some firsthand experience with this issue.

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