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7 Tips for Successfully Recruiting Experienced Workers

Advice for finding the employees you need

Do you know what attracts experienced, talented people to your organization? And do you know what their impression is of your organization after the interview?

To attract older workers, it’s important to know which recruiting practices are effective and which may impede your efforts. Consider the perspectives of experienced workers as you target recruitment efforts to this pool of talent.

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1. Pay attention to words used in job postings

At age 55, Trudy W. Schuett began hunting for a part-time job. One sentence in an ad caught her attention: “Great opportunity for working moms and retirees.”

“I knew I wanted it,” recalls Schuett, explaining that she knew her age would not be an issue. She says the interviewer told her the job would never evolve into a full-time position, which is exactly what she wanted to hear. Schuett accepted the position.

Words matter. Note that you’re an equal opportunity employer if you’re looking to attract older workers who are still making strategic career moves. Stating “great opportunities for retirees,” “flexible schedule” or “work from home” makes sense if you’re looking for mature workers seeking part-time or flexible options. There’s no second-guessing. Experienced workers will know they're wanted and will apply.

2. Explain why interviewees didn't get the job

Carol Ethridge was excited about her job interview to be a certified medical coder at an insurance company. But she was surprised that the company never contacted her afterward to explain why she wasn’t hired, especially since it paid for her travel expenses to the out-of-state interview.

“It may have been my age,” suspects Ethridge, who was 64 at the time. People at the company hadn’t seen her prior to the interview. Plus, the job posting wasn’t removed from the website, so she knew they hadn’t hired anyone.

Follow-up is essential. Contact all interviewees to explain why they were not chosen for the job. Otherwise, qualified candidates may jump to the wrong conclusion and quickly alert others to their view of your practices through social media. This could damage your reputation and open the door to possible age bias claims. Communicating with applicants up front minimizes the need to undertake damage-control efforts on the back end.

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3. Train interviewers on assessing skills

In 2005, Richard Gray was hired to develop a doctoral program for Columbia Southern University in Orange Beach, Ala. At the time, he was 70 years old. “Age, education and experience are...very desirable for white-collar positions,” says Gray. “Make sure the people doing the interviewing have some maturity about this…. [Not everyone] will have the experience or knowledge of how to assess an older person’s contributions.”

Train interviewers on how to determine if someone’s skills and experiences can be applied to the job or other open positions, regardless of age. Recruiters who understand the benefits of experience, particularly soft skills, will likely have more success finding strong candidates.

4. Avoid making assumptions

At age 53, William Wages interviewed for a computer technical position at a college. Although the position paid almost 20 percent less than his previous computer job, he wanted it for its advancement potential. But by the time he returned home, an email was waiting for him. The college had hired someone else.

“They hired two more guys who were in their 20s,” says Wages. “Because of my age, I guess they didn’t think I would drop down to the lower salary. They made [wrong] assumptions.”

Many mature candidates like Wages are interested in opportunity, not just income. In the long run, he says the college shortchanged him and itself. He says older workers are there for the long haul and typically don’t job-hop for better wages, as younger workers are more inclined to do.

5. Appeal to a broad customer base

At age 68, pharmacist Jerry Welenc worked full time at a supermarket chain and one day a week at a national warehouse chain.

He recalls how recruiters began “circling [pharmacists] like buzzards in the desert” when the supermarket began closing its stores. But Welenc was hoping to land a full-time pharmacy job at the warehouse. Little by little, his hopes faded. Pharmacy jobs were going to younger people. Even the warehouse’s print ads reflected its preference for youth — “Come to our pharmacy and visit our fresh, young faces.”

Fortunately, one drugstore actively recruited Welenc, at age 71, for one of its Chicago stores. The main reason he accepted the job was because of the recruiter’s attitude toward mature workers. The pharmacy valued Welenc’s experience, which was reinforced by a benefits package that appealed to him as an experienced worker. They recognized what employers often say they value in experienced workers —good communication skills, a strong work ethic and lower attrition.

Organizations benefit when recruiters cast a wide net to attract workers of all ages. Not only can employees learn from each other, but they can also attract a broader customer base. For example, mature individuals filling prescriptions may be more comfortable with a pharmacist closer to their own age.

Employers that advertise for “fresh, young faces” risk running afoul of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces. It’s illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of age (40 or older), among other things.

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