Is a baby boomer’s age an asset or a liability when looking for a new job? You can hear it both ways, but a positive spin comes from Bert Sadtler, president of an executive search firm in Washington DC and Tampa, Florida. He says, your age isn’t the relevant issue any more.
While it might not be appropriate, this is a relevant question in today’s workplace: Upon further consideration, is “OLD” as relevant in today’s marketplace as it has been in the past?
None of us is getting any younger. With growing older comes the internal voices naturally asking, “Can I still do my job well? Am I valuable to the marketplace?”
Today’s marketplace continues to change and it requires that professionals practice agility and nimbleness. One of the obvious changes involves length of employment. In past years, it was normal for employees to retire after 25-30 years with the same employer. Today, the average is approximately 3-5 years.
The shift in length of employment has several impacts on “OLD”:
- If the average length of employment is approximately 3-5 years, then employers are no longer hiring for lifelong employment.
- Therefore, potential employees could be any age as long as they are qualified.
- Essentially, today’s professionals are interviewing for their current and next role while they are performing in today’s job.
- Agility and nimbleness are required for today’s professionals to position themselves to solve the current business problem, while having less concern about 20-30 years of experience in the same role.
In today’s changing marketplace, a promising candidate is someone who can solve the organization’s business problems. This usually involves having passion, energy, desire, ability, and being a good fit with the organization’s culture. Interestingly, none of the qualifications above is tied directly to age. In fact, someone who can add demonstrated experience to these qualifications would be more valuable.
To examine the question about age from another angle, who is NOT asking the age question?
The folks who are NOT asking, “Am I Old?”, are the men and women who run their business or lead their companies. They are head down, problem-solving, and delivering value. They don’t have the time to ask, “Are you old?”; it is not relevant to them.
To further highlight the shift in the hiring paradigm, employers are under significant competitive forces to deliver measurable results, efficiently. This urgency has eliminated many of the employees who “filled a seat” only because their employer remembered the days when he or she once actually helped they company (back in the day).
Today’s business places a high value on employees who can solve problems.
Think of the answer to the “OLD” question in terms of a word used at the top of this discussion: “RELEVANT.”
“OLD” was relevant in previous years because if you were older, it meant you were closer to receiving the gold watch on your way to retirement. If you were unemployed and you were also “OLD,” that was usually a bad combination.
I maintain that most hiring managersdon’t care much about a candidate’s age today. They know the person they hire has a statistical 3-5 years with them before moving to another job. Hiring mangers want to hire the person who can solve their business problem. What is RELEVANT has moved from “Age” to “Agility,” “Nimbleness,” and “Problem Solving.”
“Are you old?” is becoming synonymous with “Are you nimble?” I recently heard a CEO say that “nimble” is the new “smart.” The mentioning of a shifting paradigm implies change and movement. With today’s business being all aboutchange, old is frequently replaced by new and newer. However, the ability to change in business has become a prerequisite to being in business. If business is about change, and being agile is about being smart, then old must be about lack of change and lack of agility and therefore the need to be smarter.
For people looking for a job, if you are asking “Am I old,” you should be asking a different question. Look at your peers (by age) who are business leaders. They are not asking. The job market that you wish to re-enter wants problem solvers. Someone with more experience might be a better choice than a “young” candidate. The question to ask is not “Am I Old?” The relevant questions today are:
- What do I need to do to express that I have passion?
- How can I be nimble and agile in solving a business problem today?
- Once I am in a new role, how do I remain relevant by “interviewing for my job everyday?”
Bert Sadtler’s company is Boxwood Strategy and Executive Search.