Battle of the Ages: Grads vs. Experience for Jobs

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Both Young and Old See Disadvantages in Their Age as Battle Heats Up

By TORY JOHNSON

There’s an unintentional battle brewing between the nation’s newest workers the graduating class of 2009 — and its most experienced, those American’s in their fifties and sixties. And as the competition heats up, it puts a strain on both groups in an already competitive job market.

I hear daily doom and gloom from both groups: The new grads say they’re out of luck because nobody will hire someone without experience. And the older workers are convinced that everyone wants to hire kids.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. While age bias exists, people of all ages are hired every day. There are more young adults out of work now, but older workers are represented in greater numbers among the long-term unemployed. Since you can’t change your demographic, there’s no use obsessing on it. Focus on what you can control and it’ll help you get hired faster.

Strengths for New Grads

Thousands of people will graduate with the same degree, so that alone isn’t enough. As a new grad, you’re not expected to know it all, so don’t worry that you lack experience. Instead, employers will judge you on communications skills, sound judgment, personality, enthusiasm, fresh perspective, commitment to launching your career. Those are your soft skills, and they’re extremely important when determining whether or not you’d be a good fit for a particular position or environment.

For better or worse, you’re also cheaper than your older counterpart; you’re expected to be content working for less than someone who is older, so hiring you may be a relative bargain.

Strengths for Older Workers

The best asset for older job seekers is experience. Your value to an employer is directly connected to the experience you bring. In many cases, you require less training, you have demonstrated leadership and mentoring skills, and you bring a sense of calm and steadiness that comes only from wisdom and life experience.

Don’t allow salary history to dictate your future compensation. If you’re willing to be flexible on pay, be up front about your desire to negotiate based on the needs of this position instead of on your previous earnings. (This isn’t always the case, so make the decision as you go.)

No matter what your age, don’t rely solely on your resume to sell yourself. Focus on face to face contact as often as possible. You are more than a piece of paper.

Form or join a job club. Getting together weekly with peers is a smart way to stay motivated and on track.

Host a Networking BBQ

No matter what your age, anyone out of work can use this upcoming holiday weekend to host their own networking event disguised as a day-long, open house BBQ. It doesn’t have to cost a lot; ask everyone to come with a pot luck dish and advice for the out-of-work host.

For the new grad, ask mom and dad to invite their friends; don’t make this a kids-only beer bash. And for the older worker, you know a lot of people, so tap into that vast network. Everyone can use this as a chance to reconnect with relatives, former colleagues, classmates, neighbors, church pals?you can even tell them that their friends are welcome. Cast a wide net because your best job leads will come from introductions from other people.

And once you get the job? A few things to keep in mind to ace those first days and weeks: meet the boss.

 Once You Get the Job

Establish From Day One Who’s Boss

Ask clearly about expectations and about immediate and long term responsibilities. Ask the boss what he or she would like you to master in week one, in month one, and in the first three months. Ask for direction in prioritizing.

Also ask for the protocol for training or to whom you should turn to with questions. Ask, “Is there anything specific I should know about the people on our team?or the way our team connects with other departments?” Intentionally make it an open-ended question. And find out how often and in what format he or she would like to be kept informed and up to date on your work.

Master the Basics

From the bathroom to your new phone number to the voice mail system, get settled on the essentials, which will likely require asking co-workers for help. That’s a good thing — take advantage of this “excuse” to introduce yourself and to get to know everyone you’ll be working with. Get all of your necessary paperwork from HR and ask if there’s any formal “on-ramping” training to get new hires acquainted with policies and protocols. Order ID and business cards — or whatever is applicable.

Follow the lunch lead

If new colleagues say, “Hey we’re going to the cafeteria, want to come?” Don’t look like a goody two shoes who stays behind to dig into the work. Get up and go with them. Ultimately you may choose to bring your own lunch, but in the early days, follow the crowd because the informal chatter is priceless to get a quick primer on the culture and the people, and to establish friendships.

Keep conversations professional

Everyone is curious about the new guy. Married, single, kids, no kids, fired from previous job, and so on. Give a little, the bare basics, only when asked, then do your best to keep conversations focused on the company, the department, your position. The key is to turn the tables: listen more than you talk. Ask more questions than you answer. Stay mysterious on some levels; they don’t need to know your zodiac sign on day one.

And finally, set up your own professional work place after having a chance to scope out the norm around the office. Befriend the assistants: these are usually the go-to people who know everyone and everything. Get to know them. And take advantage of opportunities to meet others: join a committee, attend meetings you’re invited to, and participates on teams if they exist.

Tory Johnson is the CEO of Women For Hire and the Contributor on ABC’s Good Morning America.

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Feigon Hamilton is a national private service staffing firm representing households, estates and family offices. We specialize in listening and understanding your specific household staffing needs, hand-picking potential candidates and focusing on employee retention! We do this by staying in close contact before, during and after placement; coaching through integration and continuing communication to assuage any challenges that might arise.