At what age do you no longer have any contributions left to make to business?
70? 60? 50? Even 40?
Is it as bad as Hollywood sometimes portrays it, where in 1976's Logan's Run you are killed when you reach the age of 30? Or Boiler Room, when Ben Affleck's stock broker says "And guess how old I am. Twenty-seven. You know what that makes me here? A ****ing senior citizen."
Definitely not that extreme. But for all too many experienced people who suddenly find themselves in the job market, it can sure seem that way.
I've read many stories online and personally know of others where talented people who still have much to offer are recounting how their applications are being thrown into the physical and electronic waste baskets when applying for jobs.
For many of these people, this movement into the next stage of their careers occurred through no fault of their own. Rather, there are corporations that are specifically targeting older workers to thin their employment numbers, making Wall Street happy and boosting the stock price – all so that the people occupying the C-suites can "earn" big bonuses. And this is being done in increasingly creative ways to disguise the age discrimination.
So what exactly makes these "seasoned" people now undesirable anywhere else? On one company board I follow, a woman was recounting how no one would give her a look, even though she has a graduate degree and has all of her certifications up to date (thus striking down the usual pat excuses given for not hiring an applicant).
Her sole crime?
And yet we keep hearing over and over again how there is supposedly a lack of available people with the necessary skills in the marketplace to fill the posted jobs.
Meanwhile, companies – especially start-ups – are falling all over themselves trying to hire 21-year olds. And what exactly do they have to offer that is unique? Enthusiasm? More knowledge? New skills?
A person over 50 has just as much enthusiasm for their work and for new opportunities as someone just entering the work force. Don't mistake that thirst for professional stimulation the same as being jacked up on two large cups of Starbucks the first thing in the morning. Experience over time has taught many older people that they can focus on creative solutions much better with a smaller cup of decaf.
How about new skills and knowledge?
In the programming world that is a big misnomer. What is considered a "new skill" by HR is really just another programming language – usually the current flavor of the year. And let's be honest: once you've already learned one or two languages, it is relatively easy to pick up another. The overall concepts are the same.
No, what is really more important is proper programming procedures and techniques. And that really only comes from experience. Often in an enterprise environment.
In my technical career my co-workers and I have had to support a customer set consisting of white collar, blue collar and pink collar workers – along with people working in a research environment. Basically every job title you could think of in the entire company. And all of them using the same application at the same time. You cannot get that kind of customer experience in a classroom.
Over ten years ago, during my first venture into the ranks of the unemployed, I went on a day-long series of job interviews at a company where they knew in advance that I did not have any working experience in C++. They said they were more interested in me because of my background in microcoding and test equipment development. It turns out that that wasn't quite true: C++ was the only thing they really cared about. At the final interview of the day, that manager told me, and this is a direct quote, "Yes, we know that you can probably learn C++ quickly. But initially you might take four months to do something that we budgeted only two months for. You would put us two months behind schedule, and we can't afford that."
No concern seemed to be made on whether the person they would eventually hire for the position – no doubt someone fresh out of school and who had a semester of C++ – was really all that good at it. How might the schedule be affected, or possible failures occur within the project, all because of poor coding practices?
But there is admittedly one trait that new graduates may have that "seasoned" people do not.
And that is – naivety.
It's often been said that one of the detriments to hiring an older person is that they are stuck in the past and how things used to be done, and are not receptive to new ideas. But the truth that is forgotten is that the older person used to be young once themselves. And just as naive.
As the old saying goes, you don't know what you don't know. Sometimes there is a valid reason for not pursing a new direction. And while the excited fresh-out-of-school new hire thinks they are taking a path to rainbows and the pot of gold on their project, the experienced person can show them that that path really leads to a dead end. And the "seasoned" worker won't simply say "no": they'll explain exactly why. Thus passing that knowledge on to the next generation.
The message frequently given to people who want to become successes is to find a mentor. These older workers can be those mentors to your employees – as long as you let them. Again acknowledging that it is fiction, but Robert De Niro in The Intern is an illustration of how hiring "seasoned" workers can benefit not only the people at your company, but the company itself.
There is yet another advantage that "seasoned" workers can bring to a company. And that is stability.
In looking at profiles here on LinkedIn, I am amazed at the amount of movement that is taking place. It seems that staying at a company for two years or less is the norm – and jumping ship every year is all too common. So how can a company operate smoothly and efficiently if they find themselves constantly having to replace personnel?
A "seasoned" worker is not going to be distracted to pursue the latest shiny new thing. They have firmly established roots, and are willing to bring their knowledge and experience to you for as long as you continue to value them.
There is a wealth of experienced talent out there.
Do you have the vision to bring them on board?
© 2017 Michael Marrer, Silver Lake Wordsmiths & Marrer Enterprises, Inc.
Image © Cammeraydave | Dreamstime.com