Finished at 50? Are you kidding me?

by Philippe Riboton, Managing Partner at HR Partners International Executive Search

Recent American statistics show that there is a hot job market in the US for workers over 50. Interesting illustration: Bloomberg recently reported that fast food restaurants across the US are starting to hire senior citizens instead of teenagers (recruiters working in those industries apparently say that older workers usually have a leg up on teenagers when it comes to softer skills). The fact is clear: people live longer and they will have to work longer. But what is the situation on the managerial market?

My experience dealing with senior managers (age 50 and over) looking for new jobs in Europe does not raise that much hope. It is not rare for me to witness cases of “seniors” who needed to search for a pretty long time in order to find a new proper managerial role. In many cases they felt they were forced to create their own entrepreneurial business to avoid endlessly waiting for what would probably turn out to be an inadequate job offer. The result is you see more and more of those former corporate managers with international careers opening a local wine shop or running a small advisory firm on their own.

So let me ask: isn’t there something very wrong in the fact that the capital of knowledge those seniors accumulated for 30 years will almost certainly not benefit anyone? Why is it our European societies are so reluctant to offer a proper managerial challenge to them?

Don’t tell me all those «Silver Fox» men and women are all so thrilled about running their local winery shop or their little consulting business – when previously they ran international projects with teams across continents? It can’t be. I rather tend to think that they make such choices because the market is not there for them. By the market I mean the recruitment market and the recruitment industry. How many recruitment companies properly process job applications from executives over 50? How many of those executives over 50 end up in the shortlist of candidates elaborated by inhouse recruiters or headhunters? Sona Schwarzova, Chief Human resources Officer at Dutch insurance group NN Czech Republic and Slovakia, acknowledges: “being quite often very young themselves, recruiters have no chance to mature enough to be able to deal with candidates´differences in terms of age and seniority and may tend to consider people over 50 as too old, overqualified with all the stereotypes associated.” Ctirad Nedbalek, VP Human Resources at Dutch retailer Albert Czech Republic, is more cautious but does not say anything different really: “it has been difficult for many companies to first figure out how and where to approach this specific target group”, he says. ”Second how to attract them for their jobs and third make sure they land and integrate well with existing teams of associates.”

So let me be brutally honest: most managerial job descriptions from companies – although not saying it in order to stay compliant and politically correct – don’t address the population of executives over 50. It is time to erase the prejudice (and kill the stupid assumption) that seniors are expensive, inflexible and not sufficiently IT friendly compared with others. In order to offer executives over 50 a better access to the managerial employment market, recruiters and HR professionals need to change the way they think and the way they work. Judging by global demographics, the clock is ticking for them too.