When you are older do you have experience or expertise?

Reprinted from adageblog, June 23, 2014

Some say to throw caution to the wind. Live the dream. I lived in Melbourne for a year at the time of the Sydney Olympics Games. It was a marvelous time to be in Australia. I decided to return to Australia from Canada to live my dream a couple of years ago. After looking for a job for a year, I was given some advice; I am too old to be taken seriously. I am in my early fifties. The dream turned sour.
I have an MBA, written several books, worked with government departments, companies across various countries and presented at many conferences. When I started to explore the issues of being over 50 and unemployed, I started to notice a theme emerge whereby older people just seemed to offer “experience”. There seems to be no recognition of the expertise older workers also offer. Worse, I kept hearing experts say older people need more training. Perhaps for those who left high school and spent their career in one role, training is useful, if for no other reason, to give people confidence.
I do not need retraining.
I am part of the knowledge economy; highly educated with much industry and international experience. I am a strong innovator. I built my knowledge throughout my career. Each job I undertook provided me with additional insights and ideas. I invested in an MBA and then invested more to study specialist areas in my field. I have more training and expertise than most people in Australia. What I need are more sophisticated managers who can recognise and harness my expertise.
Where’s the innovation in recruiting?
I am appalled by the lack of innovation in how we recruit people today. They think they are clever using technology to search resumes. This is not innovation. This is intellectual laziness. I had not applied for a job in a long time. I was shocked to discover that today’s resumes are so primitive. I wanted to show my expertise with case studies and examples. I discovered there is no room to demonstrate innovation in the application process. The basic resume has not changed in 50 years but how we work has changed. Listing experience based on a chronological listing of past jobs seems so unsophisticated and old fashioned. I had online application systems tell me that my files were too big. I wanted to provide copies of my books to demonstrate my commitment to my expertise. This was not possible. I also found that having international expertise was not valued as it should be by recruiters, with many struggling to see the relevance.
I managed to get some interviews only to discover I was being interviewed by managers who had little knowledge of the field. If I applied for a job as a Chief Financial Officer the interviewer was only capable of asking questions more relevant to a book keeping position.
Five years ago I spoke at a conference for talent acquisition specialists in the USA. Many participants led departments hiring hundreds of people each year. The problem we talked about was finding the best employees, as opposed to the easy hire. This experience highlighted that the current recruitment system fails to recognise people who are innovators with enthusiasm and passion. The recruitment process is often driven by getting an outcome in the shortest possible time. Assessing each individual application based on their ability to innovate and understanding their motive for wanting the job appears to be to time intensive – even though it may produce a better outcome.
I have read much about hiring older workers. The tone is often we are old, feeble and lacking in cleverness. I think we (those over 50) need to step up to prompt a more sophisticated conversation. You have experience. You also have much problem-solving expertise. We should be hired for our expertise based on a foundation of experience.
Perhaps the real story is that those youthful recruitment agents and HR managers need more training in hiring older workers and understanding how best to deploy this expertise. I would be happy to provide training, that is, if I am not too old.
Written by Ed Bernacki – Adage Thinker in Residence
Ed Bernacki helps people develop a greater capacity to innovate. Whether he works as a part of team or an outside advisor, he is a source of ideas and inspires others to develop their skills and capacity to innovate.

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