The Ponce de Leon Dilemma

judy-woodruffI love Judy Woodruff, co-anchor of the PBS Newshour. She’s my idol. Most nights I don’t get home in time to watch the news at six o’clock, but when I do, Judy’s my go-to girl. Not only is she smart and asks intelligent, challenging questions, but she also looks great! With her terrific coif, super threads (no fear of sleeveless shirts for Judy) and probing intellect, she’s the total package- stunning, sheik, smart – and, 67 years old. In an industry that idolizes youth and beauty (is there a local Fox anchor who is over 35?), Woodruff outperforms them all.

Choosing Experience or Youth

Most people would agree that the US has a very youth-oriented culture. This is contrary to Asian cultures, which place a greater value on age and longevity, equating both with wisdom. The creeping bias towards remaining youthful has propelled the growth of entire industries whose sole purpose is to keep us young (think plastic surgery, Botox injections, Zumba classes and why yes, Viagra!).

I see this bias towards youth every day in companies who are hiring. I believe many managers are cutting themselves off from a whole segment of the labor market and incredible talent while searching for the “fountain of youth” for their companies.

I think it’s ironic that these same managers, who are taking every opportunity to maintain their own “fountain of youth” by keeping themselves in great physical and mental shape, wouldn’t hire someone their own age!

So, if you’re eliminating candidates simply on the basis of age, you are not only missing out on some great talent but you’re probably letting your competition scoop them up instead. Don’t miss an opportunity to find the ideal candidate simply because you’ve got a bias that in reality has little merit.

Expand the Talent Pool

If you want to expand your potential pool of candidates while ensuring that an older person has what it takes, here are three indicators to watch for when interviewing:

Energy Level – Instead of trying to ascertain the candidate’s age based on previous employment dates, get a fix on his/her energy level. You can initially determine this by demeanor. Is he enthusiastic in voice and style? Does she have a brisk walk and a good, firm handshake? Does he reveal information that indicates a high energy level, such as lots of travel for work or pleasure, plenty of community or volunteer work, or a physically demanding hobby such as running, hiking or biking?

Coasting or Charging – Determining where candidates are in their careers is an important step, regardless of age. I’ve interviewed candidates in their late 30’s who I believed were just coasting in their careers. They were not energetic or enthusiastic; they were just putting in the hours until TGIF time.

On the other hand, I’ve interviewed people in their sixties who were still actively engaged in their careers, carrying a full workload, doing international travel, and pursuing hobbies and sports. They were still charging and looking forward to the next ten years. To determine the coasting/charging ratio, ask for very recent accomplishments. If a candidate focuses on accomplishments that are older than a few years back, you may have a “coaster” no matter what their age.

Technologically “With It” – There’s no doubt that technology has made a tremendous impact on all our lives, both personally and professionally. Employees are expected to be up to speed technologically (think BYOD) and, for better or worse, be available 24/7. Again, don’t make assumptions that older candidates won’t be current in their technologies and younger ones will. I’ve interviewed 30-year-olds who don’t have a LinkedIn profile (mistake!) and I’ve met older employees who are on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. And, they’re texting, as well! I like to ask candidates if I can text to their mobile phones to reach them. If it’s not on their resume, I ask what software programs they use in their work and personal life.

The other night I watched Judy Woodruff interview former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired from the Court at 91. At 94, he has just published a new book about changing the Constitution. I was truly inspired by both of them. It was so refreshing! They’re not getting any younger (are any of us?), yet they’re doing their thing – writing, researching, interviewing, thinking – PERFORMING! You really wouldn’t want to cut yourself off from all that, would you??

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