When I was a young developer, my employers were hungry for talent. They hired women, as well as men. Of course, my first employer wanted to know what birth control I used, which was an illegal question at the time. I told them so.
Fast forward to the 80’s, when I became a hiring manager. I could not understand why I only received resumes of people younger than I was. (I was a young manager, in my 30’s.) I told the recruiter, I was open to engineers of all ages.
“Good, I have some really interesting people in their 50’s, who need a job,” he explained.
“Send them over!” I was excited. I hired several of them. They were great. I didn’t care that they were older than I was.
A few years ago, I was consulting in Europe, and one of the managers there said, “No one over 40 can know anything about agile.”
I replied, “I realize this is like asking, ‘How do I look in this dress,’ but how old do you think I am?”
The manager looked at me, and said, “Uh, 45?”
“No, I’m over 50. I’m teaching you agile and how to improve your agile approach. Are you sure you can’t hire anyone over 40 to join an agile team?”
He was surprised. He changed his mind.
I don’t know if you saw this post, STEM Shortage Claims and Facebook’s $19 Billion Acquisition of WhatsApp. The author claims we have rampant ageism in technical hiring. He’s right.
Too many hiring managers look at surface issues: where you went to school, how old you are, how many years of some kind of tool or language experience you have, or heaven forbid, what personality type you are, as if all of that predicts your destiny. As if you can’t learn and grow. Nothing about your behavior on the job. Nothing about the essential qualities, skills, and preferences that make you what you are, and how you fit with a team. No auditions. No work with a team. Nothing that would be useful. Nope, just surface nonsense.
Hiring managers and teams, and yes, even HR, think that because they have a job, they are experts in how to hire. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you have not learned how to hire, you need to. Otherwise, you are making mistakes.
Just because you have a job, does not mean you know how to hire.
You can hire people who are older than you are. They do know something. You have to check for how quickly they learn and adaptability. Do you know how?
You can hire people who don’t look just like you. If you are creating products or solving problems, consider hiring people who have some differences, so you get idea diversity. Do you know how?
Are you worried about people sticking around for a while? Calculate the mean and the median duration of people’s length of employment. Are your managers good enough to keep people around?
Now, look at the duration of the longest length of employment (not the most recent, the longest), on a candidate’s resume. That is a better indication of how long someone will stay, if you are a good employer. Are you good enough?
People want jobs, regardless of their ages. Don’t fall for the trap that “I can’t hire anyone over a certain age” or “older than I am.” Hogwash! Do you think there is a shortage of qualified candidates? There is less of a shortage than you think there is.
There are great people out there. Some might be older than you can imagine. Some might look different than you imagine (women, black, Asian, and many more combinations).
If you’re having trouble imagining the candidates you need, do yourself a favor, and buy a copy of Hiring Geeks That Fit. You don’t have to do this alone.