Do Startups Care About Their Employees’ Age?

Startup Team

Tech startups have a reputation for ageism—the company’s founders want their hires to look like they do, dress like they do, drink like they do, play hoops like they do, or whatever.

The truth may be a little more complicated than that. To be sure, a startup is often apt to hire someone whom the owner knows but when it comes right down to it, acquaintanceship isn’t the same thing as skill, and smart founders know that.

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So is age really so important to employers when they’re weighing a candidate’s value? Not necessarily, says Rick Gillis, an author and career expert. “It’s about being able to demonstrate your accomplishments,” he told CIO’s Sharon Florentine. “Most IT firms want to know one of two things: Can you make them money or can you save them money? Then they’ll want to hire you, regardless of your age.”

Indeed, that’s something of a consensus among tech recruiters and hiring managers: They want candidates to show them how their work will benefit the bottom line. Consequently, it’s important for candidates of any age to know the business impact of their work.

For example, Gillis spoke of a former client who’d written nearly 10,000 lines of code for a bank, but couldn’t quantify the results of his work. Spurred to dig, he discovered the code fixed some major security flaws with the bank’s ATMs, eliminating the need for expensive service calls. As a result, the firm saved more than $500,000 per year. That’s the kind of result that gets employers’ attention.

Keeping up to date is also critical. Many experienced tech professionals deride new technologies as “flavors of the month,” but taking that attitude risks tripping yourself up. Companies want their employees to be adaptable and willing to learn new things. That’s especially true at startups, where adaptability is virtually assumed. “If you’ve been looking for a job for six months, you have to realize how much has happened in that time—learn about emerging technology. Know the terminology,” Gillis said. “Be able to show that you’ve added to your knowledge and your skills.”

Mike Capone, CIO at ADP, agreed. “Age, in and of itself, doesn’t matter, but adaptability does,” he told Florentine. “That’s not always a skill you’re born with, but it can be learned.”

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