By Carolyn Heinze
The French have a saying about wine. (Unsurprisingly, the
French have many sayings about wine.) “He’s added water to his wine,” they’ll
say. While actually adding water to one’s wine is, for the French, a cardinal
sin, the expression is something of a compliment. When you add water to your
wine metaphorically, you’ve budged on previously strong –– and not
necessarily reasonable –– opinions. You’ve expanded your perspective, and have
probably grown a little more intelligent as a result.
In America, we may appreciate the wisdom that comes with
age, but in Corporate America, we certainly don’t value it. It’s a well-known
fact that a 50 year-old job seeker will have a harder time finding work than
someone who is 20 years younger. When you consider that most job postings
require that potential candidates boast a significant level of experience, this
doesn’t make sense. And yet, unemployment rates among those in the 50-plus
category remain alarmingly high.
Phyllis Mufson is a career coach at her firm, Catalyst for
Growth in Sarasota, Florida. We recently spoke with her to explore the benefits
of hiring older professionals, and the value that they can offer organizations
that younger workers cannot.
What do older professionals bring to the table?
PM: Older workers bring
experience. What that means for employers is that often they’re immediately
productive; they’re the ones who can hit the ground running. They’re used to
being proactive and self-managing. Often, they have good judgment and
interpersonal skills that have been gained over time, so they understand
nuance. They see a problem, and they have seen problems like that before, and
they can get to the heart and solve it quickly.
Because of the increasingly mobile
workplace, you will find a lot of people at that age who have worked in a lot
of different roles and who have crossed industries. They have the broadest and
deepest set of connections. This can be particularly useful in sales. In smaller
companies, they can wear a lot of hats. In larger firms, they can handle
multi-faceted assignments where they are going to be a liaison for a lot of
different roles because they understand all of them.
What are some of the issues that hiring managers should be
aware of when they bring an older professional on board?
Some of the issues are inter-generational. For example, I
have a client who is only 35 and was just hired as a creative marketing manager
for a large Fortune 500 financial institution. Most
of the people in her department are younger than her, except for her
supervisor, and she is having some of these same issues. She is looking at them
as aggressive, not giving her respect. And it’s all because of her generation:
the idea of respect and work ethic is different than it is with a group that is
10 or 15 years younger.
What advice can you give managers
when they are faced with an older job candidate?
PM: Realize that people are
healthier, and healthy longer, in their lives. You are going to find people
whose goals for their careers are very different from each other, and you’d
like to find out about what those goals are. Some Boomers are looking to retire
and don’t want to work much longer. Others are planning to work through
retirement age and maybe beyond, and the only thing that might limit them is if
they develop an illness as they get older. And even then, they are still going
to plan to work, but they will want to scale back in time or be more flexible.
Then there are going to be people
who either need to work or plan to work full-time into their 70s and even
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance
Catalyst for GrowthtED