In my last article I mentioned that the job search is often more challenging for people in their 50s. The truth is this bias towards younger (and often cheaper) employees is not exclusive to the architecture and design industry. You’ll find it in most other industries across Australia, and worldwide.

While this trend is likely being influenced by a few misconceptions on the part of hiring managers and their firms, I believe that a lot of it really has to do with the attitude of the candidates themselves. Most decision makers in the architecture and design sector are not just looking for talent and know-how. They want enthusiasm, passion, and flexibility, as well as the desire and ability to learn new things. While younger candidates are more likely to possess these qualities, at the same time these qualities are much more powerful when they are combined with the kind of maturity and experiential knowledge that comes with age.

The truth is that hiring decisions are often not based on how many grey hairs a candidate is sporting. Rather, the decision whether or not to hire someone can be influenced by the presence of a vigour and dynamism that is hard to define yet impossible to miss.

It reminds me of a quote I stumbled upon a while back:

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

~Satchel Paige

This quote is deeper than appears on the surface. The older people who feel young are still physically and experientially older; it’s their enthusiastic approach to life that sets them apart.

Many older candidates go in to the interview process overly focused on their qualifications, yet they fail to properly convey the value of their experience and expertise. Along the way, they cover up any natural enthusiasm they may have and inadvertently position themselves as out of touch, rigid and unable to adapt (even where this is not the case). Without realising it, they feed right into the very misconceptions they are trying to avoid, and end up presenting themselves as risky investment.

Why Older Candidates Don’t Get Hired

When the older workers of today joined the workforce of yesterday, it was a time when resumes alone spoke for themselves. But today things have changed. We are now living in a noisy world where countless parties are constantly vying for our attention. A list of qualifications is no longer good enough. If you want to win in the hiring game, you need to learn how to tell a story, connect to the decision makers, and make an impact where it counts. The candidates who recognise and acknowledge this shift in attitude, are the very ones who are in tune with what’s happening around them. They are the ones who are able and open to learning, and they are the ones who will get hired.

Establishing a position of genuine value

But, practically speaking, how can older candidates position their value especially when they are competing against those who are much younger than they are? Here are three of the most important points to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t interview for a role you know you are significantly over-qualified for, nor agree to work for significantly less money than you know you are worth. Recognise and define the value you can bring to the table, and be able to present it in a meaningful and confident way. If the hiring team doesn’t appreciate what you have to offer, then look for another firm that does.
  1. Do your research. Don’t just trumpet your accomplishments, nor talk more than you listen. The goal in any interview process is to pick out the qualities and experiences that will make the biggest difference to a potential employer and highlight them. But to do this properly, you need to be knowledgeable about the firm and its culture as well as the position you are interviewing for and how it fits in to the company’s structure. This is a process that requires a significant amount of time and effort, but often pays off handsomely.
  1. Find their need and solve it in a way that demonstrates your value. Just like a salesperson, you need to go into the interview with a good understanding of the firm as well as the needs, challenges, and desires of the people sitting at the other end of the table. What problems can you solve? What goals can you help them reach?

But, that is just the first step. The second step is addressing those issues within the interview in a way that clearly illustrates you are the person who can help them. If you go into an interview and just answer the questions you are asked, you will have a harder time standing out among the field of other candidates. In such as situation, qualities like age can hurt you.

In short, older candidates, especially those who are enthusiastic and adaptable, do not have to be impaired by their age. Very often they can use it to their advantage and position themselves well above the other, younger candidates in their field.