Why You Want to Hire Older People

This morning, I read For Economy, Aging Population Poses Double Whammy (registration required). If you don’t read the WSJ, here are some interesting takeaways:

On average, every 10% increase in the share of state’s population over the age of 60 reduced per capita growth in gross domestic product by 5.5%.

The authors note: “An older worker’s experience increases not only his own productivity but also the productivity of those who work with him.” All else equal, experienced workers are more productive. One study found that productivity peaks at age 50, when productivity is 60% higher than for the average 20 year old.

Notice this: Productivity peaks at age 50. 50!! (I actually know I am more productive now than I was 10 years ago. I bet there are people just like me, out there.)

In high tech, we love the shiny new object (people with a couple of years of experience). They are less expensive. They appear to know the latest, greatest thing (tools and technology). And, unless they are extremely mature, they do not have the perspective and emotional maturity that older people do.

If you want to increase productivity (throughput in software), hire older people who have been successful in previous roles. Here’s why:

  • They know how to work, to finish their work.
  • They have seen your problem or something like your problem before. They have experience that can help.
  • They often know how to build connections between disparate people. (They build small-world networks.)
  • They understand how to persevere through the difficult times. (All projects have difficult times where people feel as if they are slogging through the project.)
  • They understand how to work with other people.
  • They are adaptable. (Have you thought about how software has changed since the 70s and 80s? Wowie zowie.)

Not everyone has all these qualities in the same amount. And, if you dare look for people over 50 (and over 60), you will find enough of these qualities that you will find a great employee.

Look for and hire someone older. If you need to, negotiate on salary. Remember, money is just one component of compensation. But, don’t think that the eager-beaver 20-something is the only person who will help you increase your throughput.

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6 Comments

  1. Gary K Evans

    This is very true, Johanna. As a member of that “older” population I, too, know that I am more productive and efficient now than I was in my 30s. I am encouraged that across many industries there are companies that actively seek out older workers. CVS is one of those in the retail area. The one factor that I believe truly favors younger technical people is the rapid rate of change in our languages and practices. The downside, of course, is that these people have the “hot” skills but still lack depth and breadth of both business and technical experience.

    Reply
    • johanna

      Gary, thanks for reinforcing my empirical evidence… I’m thrilled that there is at least one organization that recognizes the value of older workers.

      Reply
  2. Dave Gordon

    Additional thoughts from another sixty-something: some of us are very good at putting things in perspective, prioritizing, and getting to the point; others are very bad at it. Some of us are very good at dealing with twenty-somethings (we have a common enemy) and others are appalled by Millenialisms. We tend to be good story-tellers, good listeners, and sympathetic; but exceptions abound. Interview accordingly.

    Final thought: grandparents are intolerable – you may have to view hundreds of pictures of adorable children. Think of it as a break from cat and puppy pictures on Facebook.

    Reply
    • johanna

      Dave, I definitely have more perspective now than I did in my 20s (and maybe even 30s). I love the idea of adorable children taking over the cat and puppy pictures!

      Reply
  3. Jim Grey

    I couldn’t tell you whether I’m more productive now, at almost age 49, compared to 10 or 20 years ago. But I do have the maturity and unflappability that comes with a nearly 30-year career in this business.

    That said: I’m really glad my hair hasn’t gone gray yet. I pass for 40. I think this removed a barrier to getting my current job, where I’m the oldest guy in the room by a mile. Many of the developers here are younger than my oldest son.

    Reply
    • johanna

      Jim, that maturity (which I think of as what Dave called perspective) is so helpful in getting the work done.

      I agree with you re the gray hair. I am not sure that now I could get a job (if I had not published, etc.) unless I dyed my hair—which is just stupid, but there it is.

      Reply

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