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DALE DAUTEN | THE CORPORATE CURMUDGEON

When it comes to hiring, 50 is the new 25

Email|Print| Text size + By Dale Dauten
February 17, 2008

"I'm 63 years old . . . but that's just 17 Celsius." - George Carlin (now 70)

There are certain cliches that you never get tired of, ones you want to keep hearing till you believe them.

For those of us in middle age, there's that one about "50 is the new 40" and "60 is the new 50" and so on. How long can we keep this up? I don't suppose that "110 is the new 100" is going to have the same hopeful zip, but you can bet that as long as we baby boomers are the largest population group, we're going to keep trying to redefine the culture our way.

That brings us to a recent survey by the folks at Atlantic Associates, a staffing company based in Boston, which asked a sample of executives in Massachusetts which of these generation groups was the "most difficult to manage." Here's the results:

Millennials/Generation Y (ages 18-31) - 53 percent

Generation X (ages 32-42) - 17 percent

Baby boomers (ages 43-61) - 14 percent

Not sure - 16 percent

As not just a boomer, but a former hippie, I could make a case for being called "difficult to manage" a compliment. However, I think the survey results are merely the logic of time.

Ask coaches who's the hardest group to coach, most would say rookies. Or if you asked generals who in the army needs the most supervision, it's going to be the privates.

Partly it's a matter of "learning the ropes," but it's also a matter of walking away from those ropes.

The people who don't really want to be part of a given type of organization figure it out and move along (or get moved along).

So that brings us to a cliche in the making, and I want to start it right here: When it comes to hiring, 50 is the new 25.

What got me thinking about all this was talking with the charming Marilyn McDannel, who heads Southwest Search, a recruiting firm outside Phoenix (azjobs.com).

She told me of one company who came to her out of frustration with its own attempts at hiring, including this: "They had just hired a new person for their accounting department. This guy signed an offer letter - $90,000, full benefits, starting in two weeks. The Monday came for him to begin, and he didn't come in - he just didn't show up. Finally, an HR person called, and he said, 'Oh, my current employer made me a counteroffer, and I took it.' Just like that. It never occurred to him to call or e-mail - he just didn't show up."

McDannel draws this conclusion: "That's what happens if employees don't have business maturity."

I asked McDannel if "business maturity" meant that hiring managers are now looking for older workers.

She said: "I'd say that age isn't the issue. Let me put it this way: Being older is not a disadvantage. I see who gets called back for follow-up interviews, and it is just as likely to be an older candidate as a younger one. Unless you're to a point where you've lost energy or interest, those years of experience are an asset. Employers want someone who has been around, who doesn't get rattled, who has fewer distractions in life, and who is open-minded."

That last one, about being open-minded, gave me pause, because the knock on older workers has been that they are inflexible and "set in their ways."

But not so, insists McDannel: "Think of all they've lived through. They've been part of change after change in business - it's a given for them."

Twenty years ago, one big advantage a 25-year-old job applicant had over a 50-year-old one was that the former was likely to be grateful for the job opportunity, while the latter was likely to feel entitled to a great job.

Today, it's likely to be the other way around. So, when it comes to hiring, 50 is the new 25.

Pass that around, will you? Because I know lots of talented people in their 40s to 60s and beyond who are afraid to look for a job, believing that no one wants them.

It's a phenomenon that's a cousin of "the glass ceiling" and "the golden handcuff"; let's call it "the gray blanket." It's a myth about an assumption about a lie.

The lie is that talent erodes. No, it matures and ripens. Unless you're a professional athlete, 50 is the new 25.

Dale Dauten is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at dale@dauten.com.

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