When older workers are looking for jobs that match the skills they've built during their careers but also offer flexible schedules and the freedom to work from home, one place they can turn is Work At Home Vintage Experts (WAHVE). WAHVE is one of more than 1,000 employers that have signed AARP's pledge to promote equal opportunity for all workers, regardless of age.
Since 2010, WAHVE has specialized in helping both employers and job seekers find the match that best fits their needs. The company currently has 530 older adults working in various assignments nationwide and employs a staff of 45 people — some of whom are in their 70s or 80s — to make sure that these assignments run smoothly for both the workers and their employers.
AARP recently spoke with Sharon Emek, WAHVE's founder and CEO, to get her insights about what employers can do to make sure that older adults have a fair chance to get hired and that age-diverse teams work together successfully. The following excerpts from that conversation have been edited for clarity and length.
WAHVE specializes in matching skilled, older workers with companies that are looking to hire. Based on this expertise, what advice would you give other employers about the best ways to evaluate older job applicants?
Emek: First, I would tell them you need to take the bias out of your hiring process. You really need to first find all the people who have the right experience and skill set that match what you need, and not interview them until you do that. The problem that some companies have is that they put a job ad without really knowing what's the right skills match. A job ad does not usually have a lot of detail about the daily job functions. Without that detail, the companies don't really have a good handle on which are the best candidates to interview.
It is very hard to know if someone is qualified. You can give them some skills tests. You can give them some personality tests, but usually you're not doing that until after you've met them in person, so by then you've probably already rejected someone really great. My suggestion is that companies should first — before they interview anybody— give them some skills assessments, give them some behavioral assessments, maybe a cognitive assessment. Because you can teach someone the skill, but you can't teach someone the behavior.
They need to be careful to make sure they look at the experience, the skills and the behavioral assessments before they ever physically see [the applicants].
How does WAHVE use hiring and placement software to develop age diversity both internally and with your clients who are hiring?
Emek: That's, first of all, part of our mission; that's part of our culture. Whoever we hire, we put them through our own software. They have to apply using what we built, what you could call a blind auditioning software.
Through that software, no one's allowed to see [an applicant] at all until after they've shown they're qualified and get hired. We don't even want their résumé. We have them to apply online to our system, which creates the résumé.
Even if someone we have comes to work internally for WAHVE, and he's younger than 50, we don't care. We put them through the exact same process to make sure that they really fit with what we do. That's why we're actually bringing a lot of diversity to our clients the same way.
We don't want anyone looking at anybody because that can influence your judgment. That's why we're truly a blind hiring process that really goes by your talent, knowledge and skills. If it's the right match both ways, everybody wins.
How does WAHVE encourage multigenerational teamwork internally?
Emek: You have to frame it with each team when you build your teams and you have to reinforce it. Twice a year, we have strategic planning meetings, and I always start with the understanding that we're all a team. We all bring different viewpoints and different knowledge, young and old, different perspectives. The more we work together to come up with solutions, the more powerful the company will be and the more profitable it will be.
One of the things I always do is remind everybody, you each bring a different set of skills and knowledge that you can share with each other and learn from each other. And so I say to some of my older workers, don't be ashamed, call younger team members over and say, “Gee, I don't know how to do this. Teach me how to do this.” And vice versa. We all work together. Each of you knows a lot, but you all don't know the same things. You may overlap in certain areas, but you're each different human beings with different experiences, different ideas, different decision-making [skills]. But all together, when you work, you bring all of that to solving the problem.