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Ageism in Executive Hiring - The 3 Biggest Challenges Facing Executives Over 40

  1. Being perceived as less productive… (can’t keep up with the pace; less energy; less motivation – just coasting until they can retire, etc.) and less healthy (more absences) than younger workers.

    Example: A client who was an accountant for his entire career was laid off and spent a year looking for other positions. Even though he might get to the level of top 2-3 candidates in the interviewing process, he didn’t get the offer. He thought it might be because he is overweight and walked with a slow gait, a bit hunched over from many years sitting at a desk. He decided to change careers and pursued his passion of cooking with a friend who owned a high-end restaurant. There he works as a chef and on the accounting!
  2. Command a higher salary because of experience…Being too expensive (salary, training/professional development and benefits costs) in comparison to younger counterparts. 

    Example: A client of mine who was a vascular surgeon worked for a PPO that dissolved. After all the years of emergencies and long working hours, he wanted to spend more time with his family. New opportunities for him with another medical facility meant somewhat starting over with seniority and lower salary, and as a man in his 50’s he wasn’t willing to do that. So he left the medical field and chose to work for an insurance company as a medical expert. His salary was still lower than previously earned, however, he had regular office hours and could spend more time with his family.   
  3. Lacking knowledge of how to conduct an effective job search, write a strong focused resume that does not date them, and answer interview questions to their advantage… that is, they do not know how to use job search 2.0 tools or conduct an integrated search strategy; also not paying attention to their appearance (clothes, hairstyle, etc.).

    Example: I had a client who was 50ish, had turned completely gray and wore a beard. I mentioned that this look aged his appearance by at least 10 years and recommended he shave off the beard and color his hair while in job search. His wife thanked me.  

What are the strongest assets job seekers over 40 have to offer a company?
According to studies conducted by AARP, US govt and other organizations on mature workers, they offer:
  • Expertise that can only be gained through experience, knowledge transfer, wisdom they have to share with younger workers (leaving a legacy)
  • Strong work ethic, dedication and reliability
  • They show greater motivation and engagement
  • Studies show they are more productive and have fewer absences

Why are employers sometimes reluctant to hire older workers?
There is the image of the older executive job seeker as:
  • being overqualified (have more experience that may be needed in a particular position and, therefore, will get bored)
  • not as healthy based on age (therefore will cost the employer money and productivity)
  • expensive (they command a higher salary than less experienced employees)
  • not as energetic or productive (they can’t keep up with younger workers in fast-paced work environments and will therefore be less productive)
These are all myths!

The Bureau of Labor Statistics data (BLS Work Hours Report) about length of the work week shows no significant difference between the hours worked by younger and older employees. In fact, the length of the average work week has hovered near 40 to 45 hours for decades. Fast-paced work environments are also nothing new.

The widespread belief that older executives "are a little slow to catch on" is likely rooted in the decline in cognition speed experienced as we grow older. However, evidence indicates they have greater retention, higher learning achievement and are far more likely to complete their field of study. (California State University Student Grade Comparison study)  

Older executives typically earn higher salaries and wages; their health benefits cost more; their pension costs accelerate with age and service length; they receive far more paid time off for vacations - they are more expensive and laying them off, or not hiring older employees in the first place, is a legitimate financial decision. It's not because of their age - it's simply because they are more expensive.  The flaw in this traditional analysis is that it considers only the out-of-pocket, or visible cash costs of employment, not the value accumulated from years of work experience.

All things considered, various reports indicate that older executives are 1% to 10% more costly than younger counterparts when accounting costs alone are considered. In "Business Case for Workers Age 50+" prepared by Towers Perrin for AARP, the authors conclude that "The benefits of a stable workforce and avoiding turnover costs can exceed the incremental compensation and benefit costs for a 50+ employee."

Final Comments:
Stop telling yourself that no one hires older executives. It’s not true. Not every employer is bent on shutting out all executives over 35 or 40.
Louise Garver
This article was written by Louise Garver,
Certified Job Search Strategist and Career Transition Coach with BlueSteps Executive Career Services (BECS). Louise has guided executives across industries and disciplines to land their ideal position in less time while maximizing their compensation. She would be happy to share this vital information with you! Energize your search and learn how to navigate easily the complex job market with her step-by-step online and offline job search system.

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About the author

Louise Garver's picture

Louise Garver, certified executive resume writer, branding and job search strategist/coach with BlueSteps Executive Career Services, has guided executives across industries and disciplines to land their ideal position in less time while maximizing their compensation. She would be happy to share this vital information with you! Energize your search and learn how to navigate easily the complex job market with her step-by-step job search system.

Join BlueSteps today to connect with Louise and the other executive career coaches and resume writers of BlueSteps Executive Career Services.

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