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No Boomers Left Behind

Date: 25 February 2015

"Old age and treachery will always outdo youth and skill.”

Recalling that sentence as it hung from a client’s desk made recruiter Andrew McNeilis burst into laughter. But behind the humour is a large morsel of truth.

“People want experience,” said McNeilis, Chief Operating Officer at Phaidon International. “People who have been to the school of hard knocks and have the scar tissue of experience and the moral character to do the right thing are absolutely in demand.”

With the shine on a burgeoning tech culture promoting youth, it’s easy to overlook the large percentage of older workers still in the labor force.

And while most talent managers are focused on adapting to new channels of recruiting to reach top talent of a millennial generation — a group predicted to make up half the workforce by 2020 — recruitment experts say they shouldn’t ignore the value more experienced workers bring to the table. 

The baby boomer generation currently accounts for 31 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to a 2013 Gallup poll, the most recent year for which figures were available at publication. Furthermore, according to a study by the AARP, half of baby boomers anticipate to work past age 70, with 36 percent expecting to remain in the workforce until they die.

Failing to recruit this demographic means ignoring a large population of the workforce. And in some instances, doing so might mean breaking the law.

In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission works to ensure that individuals over age 40 are not discriminated against at any point in their careers. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1976, which applies to employers with 20 or more employees, prevents employers from using age to disqualify a potential candidate or using it as a reason to terminate employment, among other protections.

What’s more, McNeilis said in the United Kingdom, employees are now not allowed to put their date of birth on their résumés, which used to be conventional, preventing even the remote possibility of candidate age discrimination when recruiters consider whom to bring in for an interview.

While these regulations appear to put the onus on the employer when it comes to cultivating more experienced talent, in reality both employer and candidate share the responsibility.

Myth of Inaccessibility

When targeting an older workforce for recruitment, a company’s strategy doesn’t have to change much, experts say.

Given the anticipated influx of the millennial generation into the workforce, many companies have adjusted their talent acquisition practices to include a stronger presence on social media. But one of the biggest misconceptions that McNeilis has come across is that the baby boomer generation is not accessible through the same channels.

At staffing firm Phaidon International, for example, older professional workers are targeted through job boards and social media platforms including Facebook and LinkedIn just like their millennial counterparts.

“They are completely savvy,” McNeilis said. “They’re with it. They’re looking to get that right job just like the graduate who has just graduated with an enormous amount of debt to pay off.”

Baby boomers shouldn’t rely completely on relationships with millennials to get the job information being shared via social media. They still need to make some effort to keep up with the latest technology.

Experience Isn’t Enough

Although older workers bring experience to the table, experts say talent managers should consider a host of other factors in their recruitment.

McNeilis said experience is the chief reason why companies should assign resources to recruiting older workers. There is value to having made and learned from mistakes made over the course of a career.

McNeilis cited the banking industry as an example of an industry that has done this effectively. According to McNeilis, prior to the banking crisis, youth and risk-taking behaviour were highly valued in the industry. Since the fallout, banks are targeting older, experienced professionals who are typically more conservative in their financial decision-making.

“Banking is about the management of capital and risk,” McNeilis said. “The industry defines wisdom as knowledge with hindsight and mistakes made and learned from. Our clients in the banking industry want considerable experience. They want someone who has been through the cycle before.”


Older workers also need to fit into an organizational culture to succeed.

“If I was going to give some advice to the older generation, it would be to do some research and think about times in their career when they’ve successfully adapted to culture,” McNeilis said. “Where I see older people failing to get jobs is not because they can’t do the job. They have buckets of experience and all the qualifications they’ll ever need. It’s about demonstrating that they really are still lean and hungry and they want to work and earn and learn.”

On the candidate end, that means putting in the effort to research a company’s culture before going into an interview — something every candidate, regardless of age, should be expected to do.

McNeilis recalled a visit he made to a Silicon Valley startup called in 1999. He wore a suit and tie to the company’s offices and incidentally caused a panic around the office. He said everyone thought he was an auditor.

“Everyone was in jeans and T-shirts,” McNeilis said. “I’m not suggesting older generations should have their jeans hanging off their butts, but before they go in for an interview, they need to ask questions about the company’s culture. If they turn up in a three-piece suit and the interviewer is in jeans and a shirt, it can set the wrong tone.”

While candidates need to commit to reconnaissance, employers should avoid snap judgments.

Show Them the Money … Or Don’t

If experience is hard to define, it’s even harder to appraise. 

Compensation is a pain point that many employers encounter when interviewing older workers. Older candidates often assume that lengthy job histories equate to hefty salaries, but that is not necessarily the case.

A great deal depends on the candidate’s employment status at the time of the interview. “The advice I give everybody is that you’re a lot more employable employed than you are unemployed,” McNeilis said. “If someone is out of work, they are not in a negotiating position that is strong and they tend to have to compromise on their idealistic salary and benefits expectations compared to someone who already has gainful employment and doesn’t have to leave it.”

The reality is that candidates at the top of their field will likely expect to be paid top dollar for shifting into a new position, so consider budget before committing to a candidate.

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