If Silicon Valley companies are supposed to shy away from hiring people with gray hair, no one told Maggie Leung.
The senior director of content at NerdWallet, a San Francisco-based financial information website, has made a point of seeking out experienced hires since she joined the company in 2013. She was "immediately at least 15 years older than most people" at the roughly 50-person firm, which has since grown to more than 300 people.
"When considering applicants, we look for candidates with experience at outlets with high standards. This tends to include older people, because they often spent years working to reach that level," she says. Since her arrival, Leung has added about a dozen people over age 55 to her team.
While the unemployment rate for people age 55-plus was just 3.9% in March 2016, there are also some harsher realities for mature workers.
Labor force participation in this age group was just north of 40% in March 2016, versus 81.5% of people aged 25 to 54, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve.
Forty-five percent of job seekers 55-plus were out of work for 27 weeks or more in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A 2015 report by AARP found that almost half (48%) of the re-employed respondents said that they were earning less in their current jobs than their most recent job before unemployment.
And while those numbers paint a pretty dismal picture, there are two contradictory trends going on, says Ruth Finkelstein, associate director of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University. People are staying in the workforce longer for a variety of reasons, which includes enjoying their jobs, wanting to delay retirement, being healthy and physically able to do so, or economic reasons.
But if you lose your job after age 55, it can be much harder to find another one, she says. Finkelstein says that research indicates employers worry about older workers’ ability to perform job functions or their health care costs. But overlooking the benefits of hiring older workers is being shortsighted, she adds.
Mature workers offer some important advantages, including staying in their jobs longer, Finkelstein says. BLS data backs this up. The 2014 Employee Tenure Report found that 58% of older workers had 10 or more years of tenure compared to an average of 37.3% of people in their 40s. That loyalty can mean lower turnover costs.
Lisa Sterling, executive vice president and chief people officer in the Minneapolis office of Ceridian, a global human capital management technology company, says that while many companies are focused on Gen Y or "Gen 2020" employees, there is vast opportunity in the 55-plus market to find skilled, experienced employees. "They understand how businesses work, have important people and office skills, and often require less training to get up to speed," she says.
Mature workers also come to the table with a wealth of contacts and a track record that illustrates their strengths, says Lauren Griffin, senior vice president at staffing firm Adecco Staffing USA. While some employers worry that older workers aren’t adept in tech tools or platforms, that’s more related to the individual than the age, Griffin says. She recently told a millennial job candidate to update his LinkedIn profile.
"They also communicate well. Years of navigating the workplace environment often give them the diplomatic skills to navigate the workplace," she says.
At SYNERGY Home Care of South Jersey, it’s not unusual for owner Dennis Crippen to hire workers who are in their 60s and 70s. Concerns about their physical ability are unfounded, and he finds they are able to connect with the clients who need the company’s home care services. Crippen says it’s important to get beyond stereotypes, whether it’s "assuming that older workers can’t fulfill certain tasks, or that younger workers are always on their phones." When you think of people that way, you miss out on good hires, he says.
As companies become more aware of the benefits of hiring older workers, there are also entities and programs ready to help.
- iRelaunch is an organization that helps people re-enter the workforce after they’ve taken a break.
- Workforce50.com helps mature workers connect with jobs.
- Senior Job Bank lists jobs for people 50 and over.
Of course, good, old-fashioned outreach works, too. Leung recently hired an automotive writer she found on LinkedIn who was near retirement. She says he hesitated because he thought he’d finish his career with his previous employer, but she won him over with "a compelling offer" because she thought he’d be a good fit for the company.
"It’s important to think of it as a mind-set rather than an age-related thing. It’s about really being able to grow and adapt and have the humility to learn rather than to say, ‘Only people of a certain age can do that,’" she says.
Update: A previous version of this article mistaken located Ceridian's office in Milwaukee, not Minneapolis.