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Monday, September 28, 2009

Older workers, younger workers

Chase, delegated the challenging task of recruiting and screening potential sales employees for our business, has observed that many older candidates are reluctant to answer our questionnaires or complete the full pre-employment evaluation process.

Conversely, younger candidates, in their early to mid-20s, may complete the evaluations, score well, start out great, and then have a tendency to flame out much more rapidly than older employees.

Does this mean that either younger or older people should not work for us? No -- in fact they can be ideal employees, with enthusiasm, skill, and talent.

But what can we do to minimize hiring stress/waste and keep the younger or older employees engaged? This is a question all businesses must answer, of course.

Chase notes in his blog posting:

The process which I can not divulge in complete details is set up to allow people to demonstrate their true knowledge of what we do and produce measurable results.

The purpose is to weed out the candidates that are great fictional writers with resumes and find a truly great sales person.

I am finding that candidates under the age of 40 are happy to take up the challenge and demonstrate their skills. The other side of the coin is I am finding sales professionals over 40 take offence to our process and have heard the term "Jumping through hoops!" used several times.

How do I encourage these potentially great employees to play the game and take a leap of faith and do what they may think is below them? Most could probably pull out a Rolodex of business cards and demonstrate their ability to sell rather quickly, however like a fine wine they expect to be appreciated based on the vintage of their grapes or really in this case their experience.

The publisher and the owner of the company always ask the same question when these great candidates come along, "Why are they no longer there?" I am guessing in most cases performance slipped either based on the changes to environment or industry where they came from or more likely you can remove a higher ranking individual and with the savings in salary hire two people to replace them.
I posted the question to my publisher about how we could handle these candidates differently. I proposed he take them on and coax them to demonstrate their skills. I think there may be an opportunity for establishing rapport better based on the amount of grey hairs on their heads as well as overall career experience.
I answered Chase in my own publisher's viewpoint with these observations about older workers:
I don't have an easy answer to this question. I think the person who likely would be a great sales representative in our organization has extremely strong self-reliance and entrepreneurial characteristics. Most of the time, by the time people have reached middle age or older and have these traits, they have started their own business. If they are responding to an employment advertisement offering a salary, they either haven't succeeded, or perhaps crave much more security than a good salesperson should ever need.

This doesn't mean that we cannot modify our approaches but know of no better way to evaluate potential than to ask the potential sales representative to do some useful work before we offer permanent employment. Our lead/sales cycle isn't that long and someone who is motivated and understand the basics should be able to find results reasonably quickly. Since we pay for this work, we are not unfair to the potential employee. If they insist on job security before they truly prove their ability, I think they are putting the cart way before the horse.
For younger employees, I think the key is to make the connection between their real circumstances and passions, and allow for more intrinsic instability and self-discovery.

In one case, a young employee started out really well, then flamed out in a "firing" offence. After re-establishing communication with him, I confirmed that his problems at work had much to do with emotional confusion relating to his personal relationships. He has matured and discovered more clearly his entrepreneurial character.

So we discussed putting together a new working arrangement that will serve the business's interests, while allowing him to grow independently. (I'm a firm believer in allowing second chances for employees unless their failure relates to fundamental integrity weaknesses. Of course we don't go beyond this, to a third chance because if the problems repeat twice, you can virtually be certain they will not go away anytime soon.

So, hire young, hire old. You can respect the age differences without giving up your core standards.

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