Should You Hire “Old” People?

I was interacting with a younger contractor about his search for an estimator.

Here is what the contractor wrote to me:

I wanted to get your opinion on a quick question. How much weight should I be placing on age when looking at potential candidates for the Estimator?

Ideally I would really like to have someone in their 30’s or early 40’s. As you know, most of our administrative staff are in the latter stages of their careers. I’d like to have someone on the team that is driven to help me make improvements and comfortable with the technology. I’m seeing a few candidates that have the skill sets for the position but I haven’t been pursuing phone interviews because they appear to be a bit older than I’d like.

Do you think I should be interviewing anyone who’s qualified, regardless of age? I know this is probably a touchy subject for legal reasons but communications to the candidate would all fall within legal guidelines.

What are your thoughts?”

My first question to the contractor was “What is ‘old’ in your mind? Just curious.” Being of an age myself that I have been educated to think of as “old” I was just wondering!

Here is what I think is important to look for when interviewing:

  • Attitude, because you can’t teach it. The right candidate will impress you with her or his drive, the grounded-ness and confidence that comes with knowing one’s self. You sort of “feel” this when interviewing a candidate. The absence of a good attitude in a new employee simply sets up all involved to be very frustrated, with the new employee being let go sooner than later.
  • Aptitude, or the ability to learn. You want to hire someone who will have some knowledge but not be hidebound by it. Asking a candidate about what he/she has learned in his/her life can give you good insights into how he will approach embracing your company’s systems and new ways of doing things, in general.
  • Drive, as that is another thing that cannot be taught. Working with an employee who projects a solid base of energy, a spark, is very inspiring compared to working with one who sucks the energy out of the room.
  • Familiarity with technology, because a good estimator needs to already be up-to-speed regarding this. The degree of familiarity that a position requires is something that you and your company need to determine. Just be sure to not engage in magical thinking, which can result in hiring a “really good candidate” except for the fact that the company will need to teach him computer skills, starting with how to type.
  • Prior experience, even though it will likely not be a fit for what you want from a candidate. There are simply not that many estimator candidates out there. Some companies take an “aging” lead carpenter who is very analytical and computer-savvy and teach her how to be an estimator. The lead carpenter’s experience managing her projects so they came in on time and on budget are a plus in an estimator.

Regarding age, I understand your perspective. My thinking these days is that if one hires an employee and the employee works for the company for 5-10 years that would be a very long time. Many young people are working a year or two or three at a given job, followed by several other similar stints, to build a resume.

So age is less relevant in mind than it would have been a while ago.

I am curious to learn how old the estimator is that my contractor friend hires. An older person can bring a different perspective to a company, one that balances that of the younger folks who work there. Just don’t let age get in the way of hiring someone who turns out to be a great employee!

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Please share in the comments below!