Back in the day when young professionals were trying to break into the job market, nobody told them what was coming. Nobody explained that thirty-plus years later, after all those years slogging away to make a living, with all that experience under their belt, it was going to be harder than ever to keep a job…..or find a new one.
And why would they? Who wants to hear that when they’re young, with their lives ahead of them, full of dreams and the promise of things to come?
We didn’t know what we didn’t know
A large factor in those young professionals’ lack of enlightenment by their elders is that their parents/teachers/mentors simply didn’t know. Many Baby Boomers stayed with the same company for life – working their way up the ladder at the same company was something to aspire to. They were praised for their loyalty and commitment and rewarded with a tidy little pension to sail off comfortably into retirement. How was anyone to know all that would change?
And change it has - as we all know. These days workers in their fifties-plus - often the most senior and expensive employees - are the first to be cut loose or made redundant when companies merge or restructure. But with all their experience, it should be relatively easy to find another company that values their expertise, right? Wrong.
So why does this happen? Certainly, there are less jobs at the more senior level, so the competition is tougher. But often these experienced workers are willing to take a step back in position and pay to mid-management roles, and they’re still fighting an uphill battle.
Assumptions can lead to missed opportunities
Why wouldn’t a savvy executive want to hire someone who’s an expert in their field over a relative novice? It’s because ageism, whether conscious or subconscious, often leads to a lot of assumptions about a candidate. As a recruiter I’ve heard it all from clients:
- Experienced people are more set in their ways; younger people can be molded (that’s the blunt term).
- Older candidates aren’t very motivated or willing to work hard, while younger people are eager and excited to learn.
- The fifty-plus crowd doesn’t have a strong awareness of the digital marketing landscape, whereas with mid-level and younger job seekers that’s all they’ve known.
The fact is, one or more of these things could be true for some of these candidates. But in no way are they valid for all fifty+ candidates.
Being set in their ways can be a good thing
Many experienced professionals I’ve met are very adaptable and capable of adjusting to a new environment or new processes. And even if older candidates are set in (some of) their ways, that could be an asset to their team and the company. If it’s the “ways” that taught them how to collaborate with all kinds of personalities; deal with people’s foibles and quirks; learn how to manage up and manage down; how to be nimble and flexible. These aren’t skills that can be learned in a crash course – you have to live them. And that just comes with time and experience on the job. There’s no substitute for those important soft-skills.
The young aren’t the only ones who put the hours in
Many fifty-plus people still love to work hard and make an impact, and they thrive on contributing to a team. The fact that they can do their job while also mentoring other employees is a bonus. They bring valuable wisdom and skills they can impart on your younger, less-experienced employees. And for many older candidates a mentoring role produces a strong sense of satisfaction.
Ageism in the age of digital
As for the increasing need to understand digital marketing and how it fits into most Communications roles, that’s a very individual thing. Certainly, some older candidates are resistant to learning and adapting to the new reality. But many thrive on the digital marketing landscape that’s now such an integral part of business and, specifically, the communications field. Many have already incorporated digital/social media programs into their current or previous roles and have solid experience in this area.
One other factor to consider, is that many older candidates have grown kids so they don’t have the family commitments or distractions of many people in their thirties and forties. This can be a great advantage for time-intensive communications roles that require flexible availability.
To be clear, I’m not disparaging the younger or mid-level Communicators. Many are brilliant and bring excellent qualities to the table. Just don’t dismiss the fifty+ crowd with preconceived notions based on age alone. Why not make it a level playing field and give everyone an equal chance to show what they have to offer?
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Susan Rogers Executive Recruitment provides search and recruitment services to connect companies with top Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs experts.