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HR Landscape Article Series: Fast Vs. Slow – Harnessing The Wisdom And Experience Of Older Professionals

One of the greatest misconceptions that employers have is that there will be more longevity with younger professionals than older professionals.

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For 28 years, Howard Kesten has been the Owner/President of APA Search, an executive search firm specializing in the automotive industry. Between 1988 to 2016, APA Search interviewed more than 50,000 automotive industry executives and placed more than 2,500 of them in companies ranging in size from $2 million to $60 billion. Howard provides counseling to his corporate clients in organizational development. He also provides coaching to executives to help accelerate their careers. Prior to APA Search, he spent several years with Dana Corp., and earlier owned and operated a chain of automotive two-step warehouses in and around New York City. He is also a noted industry guest speaker and a board member of numerous aftermarket companies.

There is no more of a slippery slope than initiating a conversation about age and aging in the workplace. But here it is.  

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It was just two days ago when I stumbled upon today’s topic. I was riding a 100-mile charity bike ride for multiple sclerosis (MS). At the 20-mile mark, I looked across from me and noticed a 25 year old who was somewhat new to the sport that seemed to be struggling to keep up. His cadence was too high and his young legs were spinning out of control. One mile later, he totally shut down and had to be transported by van to the end of the ride.

In comparison, I looked over to some of my friends who were well into their 60s, pushing a bigger gear, cycling with a steady rhythm, looking as fresh as the moment they began their ride. They knew they had to pace themselves and had the stamina that had been built up over many years.

So where am I going with this?

How many times have we all heard and read about the “aging aftermarket workforce?” The common interpretation of the phrase is that the cognitive and overall ability to contribute is declining among those who are 60 and over. In most instances, that is simply not the case.

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As you must realize by now, the young bike rider was a metaphor for our younger executives who, by comparison, clearly have father time on their side, yet lack the wisdom and maturity that is usually found in older aftermarket professionals.  

Unlike the older riders, the younger bike rider simply didn’t understand that “fast” can very often mean “slow.” Had the younger rider not assumed that his youth was synonymous with physical stamina, he might have trained harder, smarter and explored best cycling techniques before doing the ride.

Younger Employees vs. Older Employees, or Fast vs. Slow      

As an aftermarket recruiter who has interviewed many thousands of professional at every age, I have found that, in general, older professionals (who are in good health) are wiser and can very often outperform their younger peers. Certainly, there are exceptions to every rule.

Let me share with you some of the advantages of hiring and maintaining an older workforce.  

Wisdom is the No. 1 advantage of our older professionals. Older professionals have simply had more time to learn from their mistakes and as such they work more efficiently. Working “smarter” always outperforms working “faster!”

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We have found that older professionals are less egotistical and are more about listening than talking. During our interviews, younger executives and managers tend to try and impress, whereas the older professionals tend to worry less about impressing us and immediately focus in on the critical deliverables of the position.

Older professionals usually understand that having a real conversation is going to be more effective than sending an email or text message. They understand that modern business is complex and that the “black and white” of the written word often does not suffice when it comes to coloring or qualifying a certain position. Older professionals often have the advantage in developing tactics and strategy, because they have made most of their mistakes already.  

Older professionals tend to be more effective problem solvers. Having mastered the ability to accomplish tasks over the years, older professionals are better equipped to develop strategies and create solutions to address complex business challenges.

Older professionals have an established and robust network of professional contacts, cultivated through time and exposure to different companies and people.   

Older professionals bring extra value in their ability to mentor younger professionals.

Longevity

One of the greatest misconceptions employers have is that there will be more longevity with younger professionals than older professionals. It’s simply not true.

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Older professionals value job satisfaction differently in the latter portions of their career. The opportunity to make an impact, enjoying an employer’s company culture and people, geographic job location and more are typically valued higher than in earlier career phases. In relation to their younger counterparts, older employees are less likely to be looking for “the next best thing.”

Younger professionals are always reaching higher. A large percentage of the younger candidates we place don’t stay in those companies for longer than two or three years. As a practice, younger employees are always looking for that next opportunity. Older professionals focus more on getting their current job done.

Older professionals are less reactive to threats related to corporate change and M&A activity because they have weathered similar storms in the past.

There is an enormous opportunity for forward-thinking employers to harness the wisdom and maturity of older professionals. Eight years ago I introduced a 63-year-old general manager to an international organization that wanted to establish a presence in the United States. Under the direction of this general manager, who is now president, the company is now the largest supplier to the aftermarket in their category.     

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Certainly, we need to develop our bench strength for tomorrow, but let’s be open and respectful to the enormous contribution that older professionals have to offer.

Editor’s Note: Have questions about job searches, interviews or finding (and keeping) great employees? Send them our way and Howard may answer them in an upcoming feature! Send your questions to AMN Editor Amy Antenora at [email protected].

For nearly three decades, APA Search has helped numerous aftermarket companies find great talent. The firm has worked with clients to help fine-tune their organizational structure as well as develop successful succession strategies. In the coming weeks, Howard Kesten and APA Search will continue share with AMN readers practices that will help keep your company staffed with the most qualified executives, rather than the most available. If you’re a career-seeker, we’ll provide you with the secret sauce for effective and successful interviewing. Stay tuned!

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