Myth-busting Age in the Recruitment Process
There are several myths about the benefits of hiring younger employees over older employees that simply aren’t true. We’d like to debunk several of these myths, so you can make the besthire for the job, not simply the youngest hire.
Myth: There’s an Enthusiasm Gap Between the Young and Old
Of course, you want someone excited about your position. Who doesn’t? In outward appearances, twenty-somethings are generally more bubbly, demonstrative and excitable. This much is true. But how much does this really relate to enthusiasm for doing a job well – or the commitment to see projects through to the end?
Realistically, enthusiasm for a job depends on the person, not on a person’s age. Why would a twenty-eight-year-old be more enthusiastic than a fifty-eight-year-old? We’ve all met disinterested twenty-somethings and engaged fifty-somethings. It really just depends on the person – not the person’s age.
Myth: Decades of Experience Are No Longer Relevant
Digital natives have an advantage when it comes to intuitively understanding technology – there’s no question about this. But this advantage is within a very narrow scope – yes, young employees are more likely to be conversant with social media and smart phones. But what else do they bring to the table? Do they have experience managing difficult personalities in the workplace? Can they draw upon their past business success for inspiration and ideas? Do they have an intricate knowledge of your industry? Have they developed a wide and varied network of contacts with industry insiders? Most young employees have few if any of these qualities.
Moreover, just because someone isn’t a digital native doesn’t mean they’re digitally incompetent – plenty of inquisitive, intelligent older potential hires are tech savvy and continue to increase their tech knowledge year after year. The question isn’t whether a potential hire is a digital native – it’s whether he or she keeps up: which all employees should do, in all facets of their work.
Myth: Young Employees Can Be Molded, While Older Employees Are Stubborn
This is a stereotype that can easily be turned on its head: everyone knows the willfulness of youth, after all. Realistically, though, this myth stems from the idea that the young are eager to please. And yes, there are a few fresh-out-of-business-school types who will heed your every beck and call. But this malleability is the result of nerves, naiveté, and a fear of failure, rather than real business acumen.
While older employees may question a process or ask for a fuller explanation, this stems from their greater experience and knowledge. They’re wise enough to know that they need to know as much as possible to do a job right – and that every process can be improved. Whether an older employee is actually stubborn is another matter: much like with enthusiasm, this simply depends on the person – there’s no reason a forty-two-year-old would be more stubborn than a thirty-year-old.
Myth: Older Employees Will Look For Better Opportunities; the Young Will Stay
There’s a pervasive fear that a candidate who has an impressive and long resume will leave for greener pastures as soon as the chance arises. This could always happen. But let’s not pretend that younger employees wouldn’t hop up the career ladder the first chance they got – they certainly would and will. Anytime anyone accepts a position, they’re thinking strategically – no one wants the same title for forty years, after all.
So let’s not pretend this has anything to do with the age of a potential hire. If you’re interested in retaining employees, the best way to do that is to have a healthy work culture, reasonable avenues for advancement, good benefits and fair compensation. If you provide these things, you’re more likely to retain your best employees. If not, anyone who can leave, will leave – and as soon as possible.d
Okay, we admit it: the old saying that age is just a number isn’t entirely true. The young generally have more digital experience, while the old (almost by definition) have far more work experience. Each has advantages and disadvantages. But what is most important isn’t a series of broad generalizations – it’s which individual person is the best fit for your company, regardless of age.