You’ve seen it time and time again. Job ads that say “Recent college grad”, “Digital native” or “Looking for a cultural fit”. Most of today’s recent college graduates are under 30, and most “digital natives” were born in 1980 or later. And a “cultural fit” pushes away the older folks. Do these terms discourage older applicants? Absolutely. Is it illegal? Perhaps. AARP has a fantastic article on this very subject.
Michael was recently interviewed on FOX Radio as a Workplace Cultural Expert. But he took a much different route than dwelling on enforcement issues and legalities surrounding this subject. Whether this can be deemed illegal or not, whether liability is strong enough or not, the fact of the matter is simple–it’s plain bad business! Here are a handful of reasons why.
Younger staff members tend to be more temporary. Recently, we hired and trained a college grad. She said, after 18 months, “Well, I’m off to my next opportunity!” She up-and-left! So much for all of that training and the great relationships she fostered with our service providers, vendors, and customers. When we asked why, she said, “This was just my first job and I need to see if there’s anything better for me. I need to build my experience.” Older employees, on the other hand, are less likely to leave, and more likely to appreciate the job and be more stable in their social and home lives. That stability is key to earning a better ROI in terms of relationship-building and training. To put it simply – older folks are more likely to stay. Remember: Employee turnover is the number one cost of doing business.
When we hired recent graduates, the tech they were familiar with was already obsolete. Many programs we used every day were foreign to them. We were shocked! For example, WordPress, PowerPoint, and maximization of LinkedIn and Facebook were a mystery to these hires, in addition to various other editing platforms. And for good reason – Everything is changing so fast that it’s necessary for people to be in a constant state of learning in order to maximize the use of each of these programs. So, young or old, people need to “start fresh” every few years in order to keep up. So much for the advantage of hiring a recent graduate! They need just as much training as older employees.
Many older employees already have soft skills–they were raised with them. They didn’t grow up surrounded by technology, thinking that human relations were obsolete and unnecessary. Ironically, when we went to a commencement ceremony for a young friend who graduated with a master’s in engineering from Stanford, the commencement address surprised us. The Dean warned, “We, your teachers, have given you the best technical education possible. But we are concerned about you because the number one reason for tech startup failure is a lack of soft skills.” He described how these skills are essential to get the best prices, get the best credit, engage others, cooperate effectively, and make sales happen. He encouraged his students to learn them.
The best hire we ever made? A 70-year-old employee! He knew our industry’s key buyers, and he knew exactly how to get noticed at retail. He had four decades of experience! An absolute Godsend for a startup with limited knowledge of the industry. Not only did he know how to navigate on his own, but he was also experienced in teaching others. Our younger employees loved him because he was interested in their successes and endeavors. He was everyone’s go-to guy! Suddenly, our young staff gained respect with other businesses we depended on because he followed their procedures and policies. We think all of today’s older applicants should sell themselves on this: It isn’t about what they don’t know–it’s about what they do know! Businesses in the startup and buildup phases should be looking for this exact type of experience.
After a tiring day of interviewing potential candidates for a receptionist position, an older applicant arrived who was in her late 60s at the time. She said, “I guess you’re wondering why you’re going to hire an older person like me to sit out front and represent your business.” She then described her 25 years of military experience working for a General. She was hired. Two years later, a middle-aged gentleman started looking at our pictures and licenses hanging up in the lobby. He didn’t say a word. He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts, and had a camera draped over his shoulder. Was he on vacation? Was he lost? Our office wasn’t open to the public. Was he there for an appointment? Our receptionist asked politely, “Are you a supermarket buyer?” He responded, “Does it show?” She had already told our much-younger national chain manager to “Get out here right now!” This led us to get in to 26 Arizona stores, all because of her social abilities, sensitivity, and understanding our challenges. Someone with less social experience might have told our visitor that our office was closed to the public, and brought him to the door!
Older employees are typically more stable and have more soft skills than younger folks. Never mind the level of experience! They are more likely to be engaged, appreciative, and will work with your business at heart. Don’t let this fantastic opportunity pass you by. It will add a level of knowledge and experience to all aspects of your business. Balance the youth’s inexperience and enthusiasm with the experience and stability that only age can bring. Your bottom line will see the benefits!