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Posted: July 02, 2009

Don’t discount younger-generation interviewers

Check your anger at the door — you may be older, but that doesn't mean you're being discriminated against

John Heckers

A couple weeks ago, I offered my clientele a class on "Interviewing Across the Generations," as most of my clients -- being top executives -- are between the ages of 40 and 70. I was left mildly surprised.

These execs frequently interview -- and, increasingly, are being interviewed by -- people in their 20s and 30s. During our interview training sessions, I picked up on anger and resentment directed toward the younger people who interview them.  The depth of both the anger and the assumptions that went with being interviewed by younger executives was not what I expected.

Some of the anger stemmed from assumptions that younger-generation employers and interviewers were discriminating against them because they were older. Much of the anger came from the belief that younger-generation workers were not as qualified as they were, or that they should be sitting in the chair occupied by some “young whippersnapper.” 

There was a great deal of anger about the technology used and multitasking, such as checking email or Twittering, during interviews. More anger came in because younger-generation workers are generally seen as being “slackers” and undereducated. And some of the anger revolved around the assumption that younger-generation workers were threatened by these older executives.

Let’s take a look at some realities behind the anger and assumptions.

Discrimination
Yes, some younger-generation employers do discriminate against those of us who are a little “over the hill” -- but not usually. If a younger person is either running a company or in a position of responsibility, they did not get there by discriminating against talent. They got there by utilizing every available resource to maximize cash flow for their company. My colleague Kristin Smith, 27, assures me that neither she nor her friends and younger colleagues see the older-generation worker as pre-Alzheimer's, heading to the hospital bed or set in their ways. She sees older-generation workers as having valuable expertise, wisdom and assets that would surely benefit companies and help them reach goals.

Qualifications
Again, if they weren’t qualified, they probably wouldn’t be there. If a 20-something is successfully running a company and keeping up cash flow in this economy, they certainly deserve to be right where they are. If they’re in a position of authority in a company, it is because they have produced for that company, not because they still have most of their hearing and hair.  Things in the business world are tough right now. A foolish entrepreneur is one who is out of business, and an unqualified “whippersnapper” has a special name — unemployed.

Multitasking and technology
Kristin says that dealing with her generation is like visiting another country. You have your culture, and they have theirs. Younger people grew up both multitasking and utilizing technology for everything. Rather than seeing that as a disadvantage, understand that it is a huge advantage.  Younger people learn things quickly in the tech world. And the fact that they can multitask means that they can get more done. Remember, multitasking is not only helpful for the younger generation, it is the way they were raised and operate. 

Slackers

Some are, but most aren’t. This is true of every generation, not just the Gen Xers and Millennials. Both Kristin and I have observed that many younger people are highly educated and motivated. Take people as individuals, not as a group ... just like older-generation workers would like to be treated.

Threatened
Most younger generation workers are not threatened by older generation workers. My experience, especially with Millennials (early 20s to early 30s), is that they most crave instruction, mentoring and help, even from those who are their employees. Remember, the Millennials were raised in a “team” environment, which is a pretty flat playing field. Older workers are often operating from their obsolete hierarchical paradigm. Because many younger-generation individuals were very friendly with their parents and parents' friends, they usually see someone older in a positive and friendly light. Some of the perception of being threatened comes from generation-gap issues, particularly if you're in your 40s and older. But most younger people see things in a different light.

The solution is to take each person as an individual and to assume competence, friendliness and a positive reaction on the part of older-generation workers. If the interviewer -- of any age -- senses anger or hostility, you won’t be hired … and not because of discrimination. No company wants hostility on its staff. Take people where they are. Assume that they are wonderful people, and you’ll be surprised at how often you are right.

Kristin Smith, my 27-year-old colleague, contributed to this article.

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John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC was an Executive, Relationships, Life and Spiritual Coach in Denver with 30 years of experience  helping people with their lives, relationships and careers.

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