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Attracting Older Talent

August 8, 2019 • Paul Woolf

Chronic labor shortages are facing many employers across sectors. As the following chart from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows, while unemployment has seen a stead decline from the peaks of the 2008/9 recession, the level of nonfarm job openings has steadily increased as the economic recovery has strengthened. While there are still pockets of high unemployment, there are equally pockets of high “opportunity”– places where insufficient qualified candidates are available to fill the roles.

Pictured: a graph of the United States unemployment rate versus the available job openings from 2007 to 2019. The unemployment rate peaks in 2009-2010 and steadily declines, while the number of job openings steadily increases from 2010 onward.
Source: Numbernomics

While some of the pockets of high opportunity may be the result of government policies, it’s clear that finding and getting talent has become a major challenge for many employers. So, who can fill these roles?

One source: older workers. Defining older is, of course, highly relative – we’ve seen it defined as 40+, 50+, 55+, 60+. According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics, older workers defined as 55+ is projected to outpace the growth of other age cohorts and account for approximately 25% of all workers by next year. Despite this fact, there are still jobs available. The natural consequence for employers is a need to compete more intensely for talent. In many cases older talent is the best option.

McDonalds, currently promoting itself as ‘American’s best first job’ to target teenagers, is equally committed to hiring seniors as part of a seasonal drive in conjunction with the AARP to get a quarter of a million new seasonal employees. I suspect they won’t go with the slogan ‘America’s best last job’ in the effort, but the trend is clear: older workers offer benefits to employers, even for entry level positions. For many companies their task is to attract experienced staff for people who still want the social engagement and intrinsic rewards of working but may be a little less career focused and more ‘today focused’. I’d say this group epitomizes #YOLO (you only live once) but that’s a younger demographic’s motto.

Benefits of Hiring Older Talent

There are several benefits to hiring older talent, including:

  • Experience – older workers are more likely to have ‘been there, seen it, done it’ which means less likely to panic when facing new challenges, and more resilience to the vagaries of the organization
  • Knowledge – Oscar Wilde once wrote “With age comes wisdom,” although he went on to write “but sometimes age comes alone.” Hiring older talent will bring more knowledge, not necessarily of the specific job or task, but of how to overcome obstacles, negotiate challenging situations, navigate politically within complex organizations. Those skills are more often learned by years on the job vs. taught in a classroom setting.
  • Mentoring – getting older talent can help with younger talent, providing a useful sounding board or even a guide to nurture younger colleagues.
  • Career Ambition – depending on the circumstances, with some older hires, there is not the same level of expectation that “within x years I want to be President” but more of an acceptance and valuation of the role they’re doing, and being a part of an organization where they’re valued. For some managers, this easing of career ambition is quite an attractive facet of hiring an older worker versus a younger person who might be satisfied in the role for a relatively short period before looking to move up (or out).
  • Flexibility – depending on how old the talent is you’re hiring, there’s a greater likelihood that the demands of younger talent – e.g. time off for children and childcare issues – will not exist with older talent who may have older children at home or even are empty nesters.

Attracting Older Talent

So, the benefits of having older talent join the organization are many. But how can you attract them? This is where your authentic content – content derived from your company’s heritage – can be a powerful tool and work in your favor to gain the attention of more mature candidates.

There are various opportunities within the prospective employee’s journey and interactions with an employer where authentic content has a role in helping to attract older talent, including:

  • Recruitment Communications – Leveraging your authentic content through recruitment advertising and referencing your history in your communications with older candidates offers some clear benefits. Authentic content acts as a reminder of your brand, what you’ve stood for over the years. By leveraging this for older talent, you’re highlighting aspects of your heritage to those who are, in most cases, more likely to be familiar with it than with younger talent. It also acts as a strong reinforcement of your stability as an employer, something of value to any prospective employee. Stories of your history of hiring more mature workers will help older talent feel more positively toward the organization, in a fashion not dissimilar to how Lockheed Martin used stories from their past to get traction with young engineers.
  • Recruiter Briefing – If you are using outside recruiters, ensure those recruiters are well versed in the history of the company, it’s attitudes toward more mature talent acquisition, etc. Give recruiters enough information to help market your company effectively, beyond just the job description and skill requirements, and use your heritage intelligently to help them craft your story. The better they can illustrate what you stand for and how you’ve evolved, the better they can sell to candidates the key benefits of working with you.
  • Face to Face – There’s no denying that an impactful, engaging experience between a candidate and an employer can make a difference in a job offer being accepted vs. rejected. For many companies, this starts the moment the candidate enters the building – how they’re greeting, what impression is given in the first few minutes in the reception area. For many companies who’ve translated their heritage into some form of lobby exhibit or display, this offers not only a talking point with the candidate but a way to reinforce the progression of the company and some of the historic moments or results the company has achieved over this years. At a bare minimum, it should enhance the excitement and desire to join, even before the first interview has started. RJ Reynolds Tobacco for many years at their Winston-Salem HQ had a waiting area in their 1920s art deco building which consisted of multiple displays of its impressive heritage – packaging, advertisements, artifacts – that told the story of a brand-centric organization. Given the challenges of recruitment of any age into the tobacco industry, RJRT clearly used every tool at their disposal to convince recruits to join, including the lobby.

The bottom line is in a period of low unemployment, and increased competition for candidates, older talent might be the ideal solution for employers. So, while recruitment programs and materials are often skewed toward bringing in Millennial talent, don’t ignore the older talent option especially when considering the advantages they offer over younger workers. Because sometimes the best way to get to a better future is to hire someone who is better acquainted with your past.


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