Tech Companies: Here’s Why You Should Hire a 59-Year-Old

In today’s tight tech labor market, you can’t afford to knock any qualified candidate out of the running. And yet, age discrimination is more common than ever. By overlooking older workers, you might be losing real talent and experience that will help your organization.

The Older Tech Worker

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that older workers (age 55 and older) are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, especially those age 65 and older. They predict that, by 2024, over 30 percent of this group will be working in some capacity (in 1996, only 17.5 percent were in the workforce).

There are many reasons for this shift. True, the Baby Boomer generation is hitting retirement—but they don’t necessarily want to stop working. People are healthier and more active compared to 30 years ago, and have a longer life expectancy. They are more educated and have valuable skills. They may need the additional income to supplement their retirement savings. Or they just may like working.

Many older workers want to get back to the work that first drew them to tech, explained Patty Coffey, partner at tech-recruiting firm Winter Wyman: “I had a candidate who said to me, the worst thing I ever did was to become a CIO. That’s when all the fun stuff went away.” These workers want to get back to what they really love, such as being a project manager, business analyst or developer.

The bottom line, Coffey added: “If you need a product to get out the door, you shouldn’t be concerned at all with the age or number of years of experience of your developer. You want a good coder.”

This workforce tends to be more flexible, too. More experienced candidates, Coffey observed, tend to be more agile. They are typically not burdened by mortgages, school loans or family obligations: “You see a lot more flexibility because of where they are in their life.” Salary may not be the determining factor. Instead, it’s the whole package: the work, the company, benefits, the people they will work with, and the compensation.

As with any other candidate, discover their passion and discuss goals. The classic interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” applies to the older worker as much as the 25-year-old. However, some interviewers may shy away, fearing accusations of age discrimination. “When interviewing an older person, be honest,” advised Bryan Zawikowski, vice president at the Lucas Group. “Ask ‘What is it that you want? What do your next 10 years look like?’ It could be a great symbiotic relationship.”

What Experience Brings to the Table

Too often, hiring managers glance at the résumé of a more experienced, older candidate and think: “Overqualified. This isn’t going to work.” The underlying assumption, explained Sara Ferraioli, managing director of the Human Resources Division at Winter Wyman, is that the person won’t be satisfied or engaged, or will want more money. “All too often, we just assume that these individuals want those things and so we turn toward the person that has less experience. We’ve already assessed the person and their interest by seeing a piece of paper.”

But with that older candidate comes a whole host of valuable “soft skills,” such as problem-solving, change management, and managing others. And jettison the stereotype of the older worker who can’t adapt to new technology: These individuals have seen a lot of technological change in the past 20 years, they have adapted, and they continue to learn.

They are well connected too, Coffey pointed out: “Institutional knowledge, professional networks, these are things that you simply cannot get with five to seven years’ worth of experience. These come only with time and experience.”

The Value of Diversity

“As we think about increasing diversity in the workplace,” said career coach Rita Friedman, “bringing different approaches to problem solving and creative solutions, we should also embrace age diversity.”

Take the time to develop a cultural mission statement that will guide your hiring process, said Ryan Sutton, district president at Robert Half International. Ask: What is the culture we want? Most leaders and hiring managers say they want different ideas and opinions, a progressive culture, and people who are going to add insight and challenge us the right way. “The problem,” Sutton continued, “is that if you then only hire a certain segment of society, a certain segment of experience, you’ve contradicted your cultural mission statement.”

Diversity is not just about ethnic origin or gender, Coffey said. When building a team, you have to consider all aspects of diversity, including age and experience: “Say it’s a team to implement an application. You don’t want everybody to be really functionally strong. You want a functionally strong person, a technically strong person, an organized project driver, and somebody who’s really good with change management. You want diversity in the skillsets.”

But Will You Respect Me?

A quiet, hidden fear of many hiring managers is that the older worker will not like reporting to a younger manager.

Coffey doesn’t see it that way. “In my experience, I don’t hear people saying, ‘I could not work for that person because they’re younger than me.’ They don’t care. They’re like, ‘What’s the job? Let me do it. That’s all I want to do.’”

A less experienced manager can also learn a lot from the older worker. If you’ve been around for a while, especially if you’ve had management experience, you’ve learned a thing or two about managing others, building teams and navigating organizational politics. More experienced hires can help develop others on the team too, which is a big help to younger managers in their first leadership role.

In the end, it comes down to the realities of the market, Ferraioli said. The candidate shortage is severe. “There are definitely opportunities that some employers miss because they’re looking at someone’s background just based on tenure or age.”

15 Responses to “Tech Companies: Here’s Why You Should Hire a 59-Year-Old”

  1. Kudos to the author of this article for making some good points. However, it’s all a pipe dream. Managers will hire “just good enough for now” at a low wage rather than “solid and experienced” at a high wage. And even if the older worker is willing to take a lower salary, as soon as the manager sees all of their experience on the resume it gets filed in the trash bin. Managers automatically assume that the older candidate wants a lot of money.

    • wageSlave

      Luke, it is very easy to mis-define the cause of a problem and if you do not get it right, your solutions will not generate the results you are seeking. Profit maximizing behavior has been a consistent factor in the labor markets from the beginning. Profit maximizing behavior doesn’t explain the explosion of ramped systemic ageism we are currently experiencing.

      When the so called great recession kicked in 20 to 30 million people became instantly unemployed. I think the 30 million number is the more accurate number. But just for the sake of argument I’ll use 20 million. Adjusted for new entrants into the labor market using actual nonfarm payroll numbers it would take almost 4 decades to reabsorb them back into the labor market. So, where did they go? Some replaced retiring baby boomers. Some were forced into early retirement. Some became part of the homeless epidemic dropping out of sight. To this day in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco you can find unemployed software engineers living in there cars.

      Almost all of them are over the age of 40. Even so, the great recession was not the cause. The ageism trend had been under way decades before the great recession and it had to do with health care costs rising unabated.

      Having health care tied to the employers in the New World Order (Herbert Walker Bush’s global economy) is a competitive disadvantage. As long as health care delivery is based on the average age of a company’s work force this trend is going to continue. Insurance rates are after all calculated by actuaries and older workers cost more. So called Aboma Care (the republican health care plan) in some ways made things worse by eliminating preexisting conditions. Preexisting conditions have had a multiplication effect on health care cost for older workers who almost all have preexisting conditions now covered. It is all kind of hidden in the heavy subsidies. We have the most expensive health care systems of all the industrialized nations. Employers pay three times more. The trend of this completive disadvantage in the New World Order makes it only a matter of time before we have a nationalize system like our competitors. In the meantime, ageism in the labor market is going to be a symptom of the real problem.

      • Ageism started in late 1980s/early 1990s first major mortgage bust when accountants selected what group was to be targeted. (Axed the most expensive salaried, and later discovered they’d axed the bulk of their knowledge base. Doh!) That never stopped. And was further accelerated when more industries discovered the ultra-cheap and indentured H1Bs. It’s not unusual they get a pink slip with their green card.
        I’ve never seen any proof the age discrimination is based on actual health care costs, but that wouldn’t surprise me.

    • The biggest hurdles of any kind of change in any organization are the midlevel managers. Afraid of hiring peoples with higher quality and more experience because they are afraid of them.

  2. Trivial and incorrect assessment by Luke: write a shorter resume, include only those items that are related to the job. I don’t blame a manager tossing your resume if he has to figure out how you can contribute to his project.

    • It’s a wild card, what should be on your resume.
      One manager who hired me and said he was impressed I had 2 to 3 jobs at a time, none of which had anything to do with his work.
      One HR said take off anything not directly related to the position, and when I came in for an interview, her boss said no, put everything on it.

  3. Frank Bucalo

    I am a 63 year old who has been in the tech industry for over 30 years. I got into the industry by teaching myself C. I have taught myself many additional languages and technologies, as required, ever since. For decades I solved hard problems, produced superior results, entertained (I have laughed and accumulated great tech stories for 30 years.) effortlessly and mentored customers and colleagues alike. I got paid to travel the world. I am currently working for a startup – they are much less bureaucratic and appreciate talent. I have more money than I ever imagined or even need and am now trying to determine if and when to retire. Honestly, I can’t picture retirement being as much fun as my career over the last 30 years. It would be interesting if the industry were to embrace older talent like me.

  4. Being older, I’ve run into many situations where the hiring personnel is way younger. When you have
    More experience than the one in charge your resume is put at the bottom or in the trash, believing that you will put their job in jeopardy…if I wanted their job I’d be applying for it!

    • A former coworker passed in my resume. Her boss interviewing me, due to experience, tilting “overqualified”, said he was concerned if I’d still be there in a year. To which I responded, that’s the case for everyone, how do I know he’d be there in a year? He was taken aback by that, didn’t hire me, and former coworker said he’d moved on within the year. I find most remarkably presumptuous.

  5. “They are typically not burdened by mortgages, school loans or family obligations: “You see a lot more flexibility because of where they are in their life.” In other words these 60 somethings will work like an h1B, don’t need money, no kids and certainly no kid’s sports/plays etc., will be on call 24/7 and work nights and weekends. No thanks as I go to play 60+ basketball, tennis, golf take my social security and small pensions and substitute teach 2-3 days a week 9-3 at $22/hour which seems to be the rate for many IT jobs anyway. Plus I can take a week to visit our kids who are working without worrying about time off, fires to fight etc

  6. A quiet, hidden fear of many hiring managers is that the older worker will not like reporting to a younger manager.
    Simple solution. Ask the candidate a straight forward question and evaluate the answer.
    I’m in the age range identified in the article and so are many of my colleagues. We work because we want too, few do so for the money.

    • If you really want the job done, you do not need to go outside the country. There are plenty of people in the country, if you overlook the age bracket. I know people getting three months of training (in somebody’s basement) and come to work. House wives are getting training in colleges. The fact is that most jobs are not publicly advertised and are in the hands of consulting companies from other countries (India). If there are software engineers sleeping in their cars, why do you need new people from outside?

  7. Semi-retired

    I took my last job a few weeks shy of turning 59. My younger manager was not very competent and often felt threatened by my experience, liking it when it helped him in the organization and not liking it when it did not. Sometimes I was told to keep quiet instead of bringing my knowledge to the table. After one too many closed-door meetings with my manager when he felt threatened, I decided that retirement sounded better.

    I have not looked backed. I still get contacted by lots of recruiters (usually clueless and worthless offshore ones) and when good short-term contract gigs comes along, I look into them, but after tasting freedom, it is hard to want to work again unless the job is really something special, and most jobs are not that special.

  8. I have just received an offer to be a developer using a language that I first learned in 1965. Since I have been collecting SS for 11 years and have been on Medicare for 12, I do not need any benefits so I will be consulting for an hourly rate, which is higher than my last salary with a large company. I am 78 years old and have done many things in my career, however the most enjoyable was Systems Design and Development. Bottom line is that I need the money, but will also enjoy this position. My job with the large company ended in 2014 when my job went to India. I was not surprised. It took me almost 3 years to find another position, which was also development related. In between at 75 years of age, I took a pole climbing class and would have done that for awhile, since I passed all of the requirements, however there was a problem, you had to use spikes to climb these poles and it was very painful and very dangerous, in my opinion. So my wife and I decided that it would be better if I went back to what I know. I actually really enjoyed climbing poles and the related technical aspects, but spikes were not for me. I have not run into an issue with managers being concerned that I had more experience than they did and they definitely knew that I did. I think part of that is the individual and how you approach any future managers. On the other hand I believe that there is a certain type of manager that will never really accept an older worker. If I live that long I plan to work at least, another 3 years and maybe more if necessary. At this age we may not have young children, but we have a lot of others that may in some way depend on us. As an example I have 4 grown children, 7 grandchildren some of whom are grown and 3 great grandchildren the oldest of which is 9. All you have to do in this case is live forever…:}

  9. I agree completely with the author’s rational in this report. One thing that I like to point out is the hire like the Joneses effect. Even if the hiring manager is in his/her 50’s or 60’s, the fear of being singled out for hiring experienced older candidates, prevents the hiring!