In life, perception is often reality and there are many perceptions of the mature candidate. Those who fall into this category must anticipate what they potentially are and be prepared to overcome them. Let’s examine these areas of concern, both spoken and unspoken, that many employers consider when interviewing the Baby Boomer generation.
Perception #1: Baby Boomers are “overpriced”. Because of this, they are more likely to be made redundant in a bad economy. Younger workers are more “affordable”. Even if older workers are willing to take a pay cut or make a lateral move in regard to money to get the job, employers sometimes fear that their job satisfaction will be compromised at a lower or equal salary and that they won’t stay or be motivated.
Perception #2: They’re settling. Employers fear that if the mature candidate has been unemployed awhile and previously employed in a capacity beyond that for which they’re interviewing, they’re only willing to take the position until something better comes along. In other words, they simply need a job.
Perception #3: They’re looking for a retirement home. Motivations are attributed to having a place to hang their hat for a few years and get benefits. This is usually far from the truth, but can be a concern nonetheless.
Perception #4: They’ve lost the “edge”. An underlying fear here is that older workers won’t have the same drive and determination (otherwise most often referred to as ‘fire in the belly’) as they once did, the belief being that their younger counterparts may be “hungrier”.
Perception #5: Their credentials aren’t equivalent to those of their younger counterparts. Sometimes older workers don’t have the same educational credentials as younger workers. Baby Boomers more often went to the ’school of hard knocks’ as opposed to going the traditional educational route as is more common today. An education back then, though important, didn’t carry the weight it does today in many companies and organizations.
Perception #6: They’re job hoppers. Older workers have more jobs on their resume, leading to the perception that they’re ‘job hoppers’ regardless of time frame involved.
Perception #7: They have too many expenses attached to them. Health insurance costs are higher for older workers. It’s a practical consideration for employers who provide health coverage to their employees, maybe even more of a consideration today with the possible changes in the healthcare system being discussed.
Perception #8: They’re limited in flexibility. Younger workers tend to be more mobile either to relocate or travel, whether now or in the future. In some careers, that can be a benefit to a corporation.
Perception #9: They’re overqualified. This perception can be valid. Older workers often find themselves interviewing for positions with someone they could easily have managed themselves at some point in their careers. It can be intimidating to a younger manager.
Perception #10: They’re likely to be dissatisfied. The longer a career, the more likely a person may have gone the entrepreneurial route at some point, leading to the perception that they won’t be happy in a corporate environment working for someone else.
Perception #11: They don’t portray the right image for the company or fit with the culture. Appearance is a factor, especially in sales positions or any position where you’re meeting with the public. Older people sometimes face discrimination based on the ‘image factor’. Whether fair or not, it is reality.
Perception #12: They’re outdated. Their skills may be outdated, especially in technical areas like computers. Older workers may not be able to keep up with the Gen Y’er’s in terms of computer social networking abilities. This is changing as the mature worker becomes more Internet-aware but it is still a reservation on the part of some younger managers.
Perception #13: They’re rigid. The “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” mentality is a factor. There are concerns that mature employees won’t be able to adapt to new ways of doing things or that they are set in their ways and have preconceived views of how things are and should be.
Perception #14: They’re not moldable. Employers very often like to ‘grow their own’. A younger worker is perceived as more trainable and moldable. Many companies like to train people themselves and older workers are sometimes perceived as coming with ‘baggage’ from their previous employers.
A long list, isn’t it? It can be daunting and also a bit unsettling if you’re getting older. It would seem with all these possible roadblocks, a seasoned job hunter would never get hired. Let’s dispel that myth. It happens every day, but to bust that myth in your own personal situation, being forewarned is forearmed. If you understand the mindset of some employers and interviewers and the possible perceptions you’ll face, you can be ready to deal with and overcome them to your advantage.
What do older workers bring to the table that can overcome these objections? A number of things:
1. Life experience. This can not be bought or learned in a college. Traveling the road of life, you learn to deal with a myriad of situations and gain the ability to overcome obstacles. Common sense can’t be taught or easily gained without experience.
2. Skills to overcome adversity. Mature candidates generally are more adept at problem solving and have a track record of doing so. Again, it comes with experience.
3. Stability. An older person is actually NOT as likely to ‘job hop’ within a year or two. The younger candidate is far more likely to move from one company to another for a slight increase in salary, title, or opportunity.
4. Commitment. Loyalty is usually highly valued by older workers. Their parents worked for decades at companies and had the “gold watch at retirement mentality”. That attitude is ingrained in the Baby Boomer generation as well to some degree. They tend to be very committed to the company they are employed with and have a strong loyalty to their manager. I have seen this many times in my recruiting career. The more mature a candidate is, the harder he is to woo and recruit.
5. The ability to take on a mentoring role. There is research now that indicates that the Gen Yer’s who have a reputation for doing things in an ‘out of the box’ fashion are embracing the traditional as a ‘new way’. They value the input from Baby Boomers in the workplace. They often want to learn from them and use them as mentors in furthering their career objectives.
6. Less conflicts. Older workers are not as likely to have family issues that interfere with their jobs. Their children are grown, gone, and established.
7. High motivation on a practical level. Often the older employee is the sole or primary bread winner. The younger worker is often part of a dual income family.
8. Connections. They likely have business relationships that have deep roots based on longevity. Younger workers have a web of contacts as well, but the nature of that network is different. An older worker’s network of contacts, friends and business associates is often deep, rich, and based on lifelong relationships.
How can you, as a mature candidate compete in this marathon to the job offer?
1. Bearing all of the above advantages in mind, don’t underestimate your value. Incorporate some of these concepts into your interview presentation, especially if you run into objections.
2. Stay abreast of changes in the industry you have experience in. All industries evolve, change and adapt to the fluctuations of the market. Stay on top of the industry trends.
3. Learn to be a social networking whiz. Okay, I never believed personally that I’d be a social networking devotee, but I am. It’s becoming essential in this world. Know that and decide to be aware and active.
4. Take classes to enhance skills you lack. These might include computer skills, technical skills that are industry specific, or enhancing your public speaking if that’s a benefit. Keep learning!
5. Learn to package your skills in accordance with the employer specifications. Past duties and functions are of value if packaged correctly and portrayed in the right way.
6. Stay active in order to demonstrate the ‘fire in the belly’ attitude. Drive and determination are still highly desired in employees, and older workers who can show that they continue to meet and exceed their life goals have a better chance of finding gainful employment.
Above all, keep a positive attitude and remember: you still have a lot to give.
~~Mark Ste. Marie
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