Are you too old to get a job? One of the advantages of being an insider is that employers often tell me things they would never mention publicly. There is an implied obligation on my part for complete confidentiality. There is no circumstance under which I will reveal the contributors to this article. So, please, don’t ask and don’t try to guess. I share this with you because I feel it is valuable information which will help many to make appropriate adjustments.
Forewarned is forearmed. This post is written entirely from the point of view that if we know what the battlefield looks like, we are apt to win the war. I do not pretend that this is extensive research, only that some companies have issues. And you have to trust me when I say, this is just the tip of the iceberg. So, read on to learn what you need to know to fight the good fight. Take heart in knowing there are many boomers whose careers continue to thrive. Make the proper adjustments and you too can have job security.
Why some employers are reluctant to hire those over 50. In the past ten years as a career coach, I have often worked with clients who believed they were overlooked for promotion, dismissed or not hired because of their age. Not one of these people looked to their performance or work place interactions for clues. And while each was subsequently successful in achieving their career goals, it wasn’t because we changed their age. Instead, we changed their behaviors, messaging, approach and expectations.
When someone tells me they were fired or overlooked because of their age, I can’t help but think, “That is the symptom, what is the disease?” What is it about age that causes folks to be overlooked or fired?
Are boomers overly litigious? I look to those who hire and work with people over 50 for the answers. All those interviewed said they were apprehensive about hiring people over 50 in case the individual didn’t work out because they were reluctant to expose the company to potential litigation. Their observation was that older workers seem to be especially litigious.
Those companies, especially those in California where there are significant numbers of high tech employers, are at risk because the laws favor the candidate. Even with extensive documentation on performance issues, companies suffer from bad PR and expensive legal disputes. Not something a thinking executive willingly puts on their agenda. So the very laws in place to protect those over 50 are what makes some companies averse to hiring them. Ironic, that.
From individual contributor to VP, during a three-year heavy hiring period, one company experienced a significant performance issue with every over-50 hire compared to a 20% record for younger employees. Each boomer was replaced at great expense to the company. The company is culturally and gender diverse and up till now, more than happy to hire older employees.
Executives with whom I spoke gave many examples of why they avoid hiring older workers. Each complained the candidates or employees often referred to their ’30 years experience’ which provoked employers to respond, “Number of years is irrelevant. the only thing that is relevant is the last four or five years and what was achieved or learned. To me, age is a fact, not a credential.”
Leading with your age. One executive mentioned, “When a resume or LinkedIn profile begins, ’25 years experience’ I assume the person will rely on old expertise rather than up-to-the-minute and contemporary solutions. If they lead with number of years and not recent accomplishments, I run away.”
Work ethic. While you can argue the efficacy of doing so, high tech companies typically develop product plans based on a 50-60 hour work week projections which means employees consistently spend 60-70 hours working. One employer noted, in every case, older employees left work long before their younger colleagues. When a senior manager was asked why he thought leaving ‘early’ was acceptable, he said, “I have more experience than the others. I can get done in less time because I know how to do this.” He was wrong.
The employer responds, “While experience is valued, the processes and techniques for creating products and doing business have changed significantly. Things take as long as they take regardless of how long you have been doing them. Arguments to the contrary, this system works and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.”
“Our younger employees are less encumbered and are more than happy to spend the time at work. They are eager to prove themselves and hungry. Whereas the older employees, especially the individual contributors, feel they paid their dues and don’t have to work as hard. Like it or not, we reward employees based on their contribution. Someone who works 65 hours contributes more than someone who works 45 hours.”
Adaptability. Employers require employees to adapt to new technologies (i.e. Agile), new processes and new business concepts. Older employees who constantly refer to what they did in the past alienate their peers and are not productive. “Here’s how we did it at xyz company…” is a poor substitute for a solution.
The employer responds: “We need innovative ideas, not a report on what worked in the past. When employees cling to their past experience, it is an impediment to moving forward.”
One of my clients had a manager that simply could not adapt to the Agile methodology for product development. He was a constant road block for release dates and the product quality suffered. He was invited to take classes, givin on-site mentoring and still could not adapt.
The ripple affect was he could not set proper expectations for his team and his old-school techniques were passed on. After nine months trying to solve this issue, the manager was moved to another position; one where he had no impact on the schedule. The company would have fired him for well documented lack of performance, but they were concerned about litigation. Based on this, no one over 35 was considered as his replacement.
Takes longer to make decisions. The ‘fail-fast’ mentality of modern technology companies requires quick decision making. If it is the wrong decision, immediate course correction ensues. Older workers tend to take longer to evaluate and assess and over analyze thus taking more time to make decisions that impact schedules and the bottom line.
The employer responds: “Fail-fast is the key to our modern design, delivery and production technology process. Everything is affected when decisions are not made quickly. Older employees, especially those not accustomed to working that way, clog up the system. They are no longer hungry and eager to impress. They cease to be aggressive and appear to have stopped caring.”
Attitude. Employers need high energy, enthusiastic employees committed to the corporate mission. Older workers often behave as though this is their last job and they can do the minimum, relax and enjoy job security.
The employers responds: “Without the constant energy and creativity of each of our managers and executives, we will not succeed. If an older worker is not engaged and forward thinking, they damage the team morale and productivity. They have to keep up.”
“When an older worker reports to a much younger manager, the dynamic is often disruptive. We can’t afford all the personnel issues. If an older worker argues or won’t cooperate because they feel they know more, everyone loses and a lot of time is wasted.”
The bottom line is, often the track record of older employees and the ill-will generated by their behavior and lack of performance makes the company and hiring authorities gun-shy about hiring older workers.
These are just the facts as they relate to some companies. It is a substantive peek inside the rational for avoiding hiring older workers. All that having been said, there are many people over 50 who are not only gainfully employed, but revered by their employers. There are many prospective employers who consider people of any age as viable candidates. It is still important to learn to navigate these potentially career-killing waters.
If you are looking for a new job and are over 50, it behooves you to vet the employer carefully. If you see age diversity, you have found a good prospective employer who has likely not been negatively affected by your poor performing age mates.
I caution you not to kill the messenger. This insider’s information is shared in good faith and I certainly hope that those of you who recognize your own behavior or attitude can make the changes required so employers are more willing to hire your peers.
Age discrimination is absolutely a fact of the over 50 candidate. It is a reality that you can manage and learn to minimize the affect on your career.
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Rita Ashley is a career and job search coach for executives. In the last two years 98% of my clients, many over 50 years old, achieved their goals within six months. Is it your turn? Contact me directly to discuss a customized solution.