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Moving into a job in cyber security at 63

Irene Tham on 24 Jul 2017

The Straits Times


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At 63, Madam Ivy Lim's career in cyber security has only just begun.


She was hired in March as a telesales executive at security intelligence and analytics software firm LogRhythm and lost no time in becoming its best-performing telesales employee in the region.


LogRhythm had not only looked past her age to offer her a job, but also invested in her training, including flying her to its headquarters in the United States for a week.


The firm's belief in her and the fact that the global cyber security sector, which is worth US$90 billion (S$123 billion), is a fast-growing one due to increasing cyberthreats worldwide, has eased her fear of losing her job.


The fear was real: Madam Lim had barely worked two years in her last job, in telesales for an Israel- based software firm here, before her position was moved to India.


"I didn't understand. I had been exceeding my sales targets," she said, speaking to The Straits Times in her office in Peck Seah Street.


Prior to this, she was given only a contract position in all the other tech companies she had worked in - despite exceeding her targets selling everything from computers to business automation software.


The common misconception is that older workers are slower and harder to train. "It's a myth and I want to debunk it," she said, her eyes flashing with determination.


With Singapore facing a seven- year high in layoffs and sluggish economic growth prospects, the odds are against older workers like Madam Lim.


But that did not stop her from going for it when she spotted an online advertisement from LogRhythm for a telesales executive early this year, though cyber security was something new to her.


She aced seven interviews, including an emotional intelligence test and mock calls with potential customers, and outshone 50 younger candidates to snag the job.


For the record, Madam Lim is the oldest of LogRhythm's 21 employees in the Asia-Pacific. The firm - whose investors include the Economic Development Board's investment arm, EDBI - joins a handful of firms here, notably McDonald's and supermarket chain FairPrice, in embracing older workers. "Age has never been relevant to us," said Ms Joanne Wong, senior regional marketing director at LogRhythm, which expanded into Singapore in 2014.


But this is more an exception than the norm - especially in the tech sector. Madam Lim said many of her friends in their 50s are facing difficulties finding employment.


ManpowerGroup Singapore's country manager Linda Teo noted that some managers hold back on hiring older workers to preserve "team dynamics". "Most of the technical and front-line employees in the tech sector tend to be aged 40 and below," she added.


Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower chairman Patrick Tay acknowledged the problem, and urged employers to keep an open mind and give mature workers a chance to prove themselves. He also urged mature workers to acquire new skills to stay relevant.


For Madam Lim, the week she spent at LogRhythm's headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, was a "magical" moment. To her, the company-paid trip is her reward for staying in the tech sector despite getting only contract positions previously and being underestimated by younger colleagues sometimes.


In 1997, Madam Lim found herself rejoining the workforce after a hiatus of 10 years, when she moved back to Singapore from Malaysia with her daughter after a divorce. They had to stay with a friend before she could afford a three-room flat in Ang Mo Kio, their current home.


Madam Lim, who has O-level qualifications, found a job as a telesales executive at a Hong Kong-based computer and tech distributor the same year. But at 42, she was a decade older than most colleagues. She recalled how she asked for help when she did not know how to turn on the computer. What she got was a snarky reply: "Somebody doesn't know how to turn on the computer, but wants to sell computers."


Such setbacks - and the need to support her daughter Jasmine, then 12 - made Madam Lim more determined to prove herself. The trick is to be "thick-skinned", she said. She proved herself subsequently by exceeding her sales targets at the Hong Kong-based firm and all other firms that she went on to work for.


As LogRhythm is finding out, Madam Lim's tenacity and grasp of languages - she speaks English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Malay - has enabled her to connect with prospective customers in the Asia-Pacific, opening the door for the firm's field sales people to close deals.


Since joining the firm in March, she has been exceeding her monthly targets to be the best-performing telesales employee in the region. She can now earn double her last drawn salary as there is no cap on her commission, unlike how it was at her previous firms.


Her daughter Jasmine, now 33 and a pre-school teacher, said proudly: "My mother can sell anything; she can even sell air. I'm glad she is finally being rewarded for it."


The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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