Mind the generation gap

Ann-Maree Moodie seeks advice on what to do when the interviewer is half your age.

Imagine you are aged 52, with a lifetime of experience and a well-written CV that sells you as a specialist with management experience.

You apply for a job you think you’ll be a shoo-in for and the recruitment agency invites you to an interview.
But then you find the interviewer is a young woman or man who is clearly in their first years of full-time employment after graduating from university.

The interviewer is 30 years younger than you, with no points of reference for the sort of life you lead.

They are yet to be married, become a parent, buy a house, lead a team of 100 people, manage a multimillion-dollar budget, or uproot a young family to set up a company’s new office in a foreign-speaking country.

And yet this person will determine whether you will be shortlisted, meet the company’s decision-makers and get the job.

During the interview you’re told you’re “overqualified”. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a rather concise letter thanking you for your interest.

“It may be a generalisation but [recruitment] agencies seem to have a cult of youth,” says Mal Walker, the chief executive of GreyHair Alchemy, a Brisbane-based recruitment firm that specialises in placing older workers.

“A consultant is typically a late-20s female with a HR degree and an expectation of being retired before they are 40. They don’t relate to the baby boomers and vice versa.

“I am often told that candidates feel their CV is discarded as soon as they leave the agency.”

Walker, whose firm places experienced managers in interim roles that must be filled quickly, says building rapport and developing a relationship is a two-way street.

Older workers – defined as those over 45 – applying for positions are equally responsible for making the experience positive. This means acknowledging that both people have different life experiences and may use different language.

“As the recruiter will be interviewing for a senior role, I would think it his responsibility to make the adjustment so the attitudes and language are not an impediment,” he says.

“I don’t believe the difficulty [happens when] they are interviewing for a particular senior role, say for a CFO. The difficulty is encountered when no particular role is on the table and the baby boomer is doing the rounds of the agencies to register and be known. It is then that they encounter the consultant [who is young and doesn’t understand them].”

Shane Higgins of recruitment agency Older Workers, which specialises in placing workers 45 years and older, advises job candidates to use a variety of methods to seek work, including networking.

“Job seekers need to do whatever suits them best but that should include various methods of job search,” Higgins says.

“If they rely only on networks, it may not work; if they rely only on print or online job boards, it may not work.

“They need to be energetic and proactive in their job search and ensure they are keeping up to date with contemporary job-search techniques.”

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

Ann-Maree Moodie is the managing director of The Boardroom Consulting Group.

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