Monday, March 17, 2008
Sunday, March 9, 2008
But I noticed something. I've met hundreds, possibly even thousands, of people at these events if you sum up over the last few years. And what have I noticed? That the vast majority of people I've met at these groups are persons over 40 with many over 50 (the fact that most are also male is a separate topic that I may touch on in the future). I daresay this holds true for the networking group I run as well.
Ageism is a fact. It's illegal, but it's a fact.
Companies have all sorts of subtle code phrases for rejecting people based on age, e.g., "you're overqualified for this position," "this requires a high level of energy," and so on.
Yet I believe there are advantages to hiring older people:
- They tend to be more stable. "Young bucks" shift jobs much more readily, are out partying all night, and in many cases these days seem to be lacking the nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic that older workers take for granted (as written about in several sources I've seen in passing).
- They tend to be wiser. Experience matters.
- They tend to come up the learning curve faster. They have probably changed jobs several times, and know how to get installed into a new organization - because they've done it before.
I want to comment a little more specifically on #2. Experience matters. More particularly, understanding how things were done before can be critical.
A number of years ago, back in 19-umptity-umph, I was a co-op at GE Plastics doing finite element analysis. For those non-technical readers, it's a way to simulate the structural performance of a part in a computer without having to test the physical item. It greatly increases the likelihood of getting the design right the first time when it is finally made.
Computers back then weren't nearly as powerful as they are now. So we had all sorts of tricks and mathematical gimmicks to fool the computer into solving a small problem while being able to extend the solution to the larger part as a whole.
Fast forward several years. I was working doing the same thing (I was the "perfect fit") after grad school. We had a very large part and the computer couldn't handle it. So I proposed using one of these tricks to get a solution; the result? Model analyzed, solution found, and customer happy.
My experience from several years before solved a problem that otherwise would not have been solved. For company types - consider how many problems you have in your organization that stem from long ago, when things were set down and now nobody understands why they were done that way. Someone older might know it.
For job seekers - think about mining your experience for examples where lessons were brought forward in time to solve an otherwise intractible problem.
I do want to, however, address job seeker attitudes as well. Someone I know, who is looking for work, carries his age on his shoulder like a chip, daring people to knock it off. He acts old, he dresses old, and he conveys an image of someone who doesn't have drive... even if I know he does. Contrast him with another person I know, who is also older. This second man I know radiates dynamic energy; I suspect that I, many years his junior, might have trouble keeping up with him in almost anything.
Who is employed? The guy who doesn't make age an issue. Ask The Headhunter has an excellent piece about that... you are the age you are, don't let it be an issue.
Wine and cheese get better with age. So do people. But only if companies will give them a chance beyond looking at their starting salary, and if the job seekers will learn to leverage their experience as an asset.