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Older Workers – a reflection on personal accountability as a mature candidate

an_owl__s_wisdom_by_saviourmachine I was interested to listen to a great article on the ABC recently about older workers in Australia and the economic benefit to Australia if we increased the number of older Australians in work. Jeremy Thorpe, economics and policy partner with PwC, said that “we estimate that is if we could get Australia’s employability or employment by people aged 55 and older up (from 60% to75% in work) then we would see a 4.7 per cent increase in GDP. That’s worth up to $78 billion to the Australian economy”. (Source: The World Today | 25 July, 2016) However, we don’t seem to be seeing much of an appetite for this in reality if you look at the recruitment and HR landscape. Many of my clients say to me that if they hire younger workers, they will work harder and longer hours and will cost them less money. At the same time many of my clients who are older candidates have a mindset of “I’m too old and nobody respects me”. So there are certain perceptions of both younger and older workers that need to change, if this goal of retaining older workers in Australian business is to be achieved. Here are some perspectives to consider. 1)      Older workers, before you start pointing the finger at younger employees about discrimination, consider for a moment how many times you complained about “millennials” and “Gen Y” last month. There are generalisations on both sides that are unhelpful, and perhaps a useful place to start is by considering the positive qualities of younger workers and having a sense of appreciation about that. We need to remember to “seek to understand before being understood”. 2)      Perception is reality. Older workers have a reputation (rightly or wrongly) for not taking instruction from younger mangers, having a sense of entitlement about deserving respect because of our age, being fixed and set in their ways, and generally being a bit “difficult” to manage and influence. It’s our job to correct that reputation by behaving in different ways to that – and the ideal place to demonstrate that is at interview. 3)      The perception of the more attractive qualities of older workers (rightly or wrongly) seem to be less reactivity, more calm and resilience when times are tough, some worldly experience, a “legacy” mindset (that means we are keen and excited about passing on our wisdom to others so that they might benefit from our experience) and gratitude for the opportunity to contribute. Again, the best place to demonstrate these qualities is at interview. 4)      Mental and physical fitness and agility is our personal responsibility. No excuses. The perception of older workers being more feeble and confused or forgetful needs to be altered, based on the hard evidence of us looking after our bodies and our minds, and demonstrating this on the job. That is just a given – as we are competing for a place alongside other younger, able bodied and bright employees. We need to be able to compete on a level playing field. The choice of a role commensurate with our physical and mental capability is just common sense. 5)      Like any candidate applying for a job, our role has changed. We are now the sales person, and the product. It is our responsibility to understand and be able to articulate our unique value proposition, in a way that best meets the client’s (prospective employer’s) needs. It is not about us. We as candidates, older or younger, must reconcile ourselves to the fact that we are entitled to nothing. Our activity will yield us the result. But we need to determine the correct mix, quality and quantity of job seeking activity that will yield us the result we want. 6)      So many of my older clients state with a smile on their face that they don’t have a CV. Or that it is really old an outdated. Well I’m sorry, but your CV is a reflection of you. Do you want to be old and outdated? I thought not. Your CV is a proudly put together and well written document that contains an interesting list of qualities and achievements, that demonstrate that you are worthy of sitting at the table to discuss a business opportunity. It is your tender document. For most of us wanting to earn an income for the next 10 years that could be a deal worth over a million dollars. Think about that next time you can’t be bothered writing a CV. 7)      Finally a note about the “front gate” being closed to older workers. A good sales person anticipates and calculates rejection. They also research the right kind of client who will most likely benefit from using their product or service. So if a company has a culture of only engaging younger workers, then they probably aren’t the right company for us. If your research shows that a good list of companies are keen to engage older workers, then that is the list you follow. And if you ring first to qualify your suitability for a role before sending your CV, and make a nice connection with the recruiter or hiring manager, you more than double your chance of being called into interview. That’s right. And I don’t mean asking 20 questions about the role. That’s just annoying. I mean something like this: “Hi (recruiter X) this is (candidate Y). I was really excited to read your job advertisement and wanted to check with you if I might be suitable before I submitted my application. Is that OK? (proceed) Well I’m a mechanical engineer with a Masters in Metallurgy and I have 20+ years’ experience running teams in a range of industries, does that sound like the right background for this role? Yes? That sounds OK? Great. Oh and by the way I’m in my mid 50’s, is that likely to be an issue for you guys? I keep pretty fit, and ran the half marathon in under 2 hours last month”. Yes I get it – not all of us have huge qualifications and the ability to run 21kms. However my point is we all have positive qualities and attributes to discuss, as well as the ability to communicate in an engaging and inspiring way. With grace and humility. And the understanding that we may not always get the job.

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As a result of changing their mindsets, many of my clients have reported that their conversion from applications to interviews, shortlists and job offers has significantly improved. It is a mindset we need to work on. Once we get the mindset right we can relax and be ourselves in the job seeking process.

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