A Note to Lighting Industry Recruiters and HR Managers – Think Post-Management Professional

Posted: April 12, 2021 in General Commentary, Uncategorized

After discussing the topic of recruitment and HR manager behaviors with several contemporaries, I found a few interesting common themes.

  • When candidates reach the age of 55+, they are generally ghosted by the recruiters that once had them on the Rolodex (contacts list, etc.) as go-to calls whenever a position opens. In many cases, this includes radio silence from asking for referrals as well. There are numerous examples of concealed, but very real, 55 and out policies in large and small organizations that is frustrating this dynamic of ageism. Health Insurance costs are further causing this issue to become chronic.
  • When a professional moves into management roles, they are boxed permanently into management role considerations, that excludes them from all other positions.
  • There is an apparent belief that the pre-qualification of candidates based on “experience” (read age) is not ageism. Ignoring older candidates outright and never considering them is a hidden, but very real ageist activity.
  • Apparently there is a belief that older candidates are not seeing when you view their profile on LinkedIn, after submitting a request for consideration, but never call to follow up. When this happens numerous times, it becomes obvious the issue is not about skills and capabilities, but a matter of age profiling.
  • Older candidates are more exposed and visible, so find it harder to conceal experience. Removing experience from resumes or LinkedIn profiles is not as effective at latter career stages as it is earlier, which makes them ready victims of ageist pre-qualification.

While most of us that are at the latter stages of our careers understand that Recruiters are just businesses seeking the most expeditious path to filling positions and collecting fees – there is something they need to know. They are not only doing a disservice to your clients, but to thousands of highly qualified candidates that you have improperly stereotyped as being unsuitable to your needs. Further, HR managers who fail to see resistance to older professionals is often a sign of other issues, insecurities, and old policies, are not serving their organizations well in finding quality candidates to fill roles in their organizations. I also know that many owners and high level managers have informal ageist policies and unwritten directives of similar effect. Written or not, the effect is the same. At some point, everyone will hit a wall where their age stands in the way of gainful employment.

Introducing the Late Career Post-Management Professional

By Late Career Post-Management, I mean those who have have moved upward in their careers, often holding Director, VP and “Chief of” positions, that have made the decision to step away from the management roles they evolved into, to return to the work they love, that brought them to the industries they have been part of for years prior.

As an example, an Engineer that has moved upward through management into Director or V.P. roles, who has decided that what they really want from life is to enjoy engineering again, free of the management meetings, report writing, strategic planning committee tasks, etc… that absorb 90% of their time, leaving them either out of the work of Engineering or so far from it, that it no longer feels like they are Engineers any more. This applies to Design Professionals, Accounting Executives, Plant Engineers, Researchers, Medical Professionals, and Marketing Professionals alike.

Food for thought: Just because one pursues management positions during their most active career days, does not mean they did so out of a love for management. Many absorbed the work of management to gain the income, to feather the nest for the future, or to add value to an organization they saw in need – at the cost of sacrificing their true passions.

As we get older, we find ourselves in a positions that we are not particularly interested in, but evolved into, that put us a great distance from the work we actually love the most. Examples of this are many:

  • Graphic artists that evolve into a Director of VP of Marketing Roles – that miss doing art as part of a team.
  • Designers who find themselves in management positions, who no longer do any product design, the one passion of their life.
  • Engineers who find themselves managing staffs, or running plant floors, who no longer have the time, or have an opportunity to do the Engineering the fuels their passion.
  • Accounting executives who land positions as Financial Officers, who no longer actually do any of the data processing work that made them choose accounting in the first place.
  • A Researcher who finds themselves managing projects, and never researching or designing experiments.
  • Human Resources professionals, who find themselves in meetings, discussions with upper management, and other policy distractions, that keep them from interacting with people, which is what made them choose HR as a career in the first place.

There are literally thousands of these individuals in the market today seeking a post-management position, where they can put to work what they have learned, and enjoy what they are most passionate about, with none of the management responsibilities, demands, and time distractions that management demands. While younger mid-career professionals in the hiring food chain have a hard time understanding this, it is a very real phenomena today that can bring to any organization a level of expertise and experience, and reduced supervisory demands… if allowed into the consideration process.

The Excuses for Ignoring Post-Management Professionals

There are numerous excuses heard by Post-Management Professionals as to why they are not viable candidates.

  • They would want too much money. This is founded on the assumption that post-management minded individuals are so ignorant as to expect management salaries for pre-management positions. This is an incorrect assumption. In fact, they know better than anyone what positions are worth, and as professionals age, they also accumulate wealth toward retirement, and have spending under control. Many also have reduced need for expensive toys and extravagance that places demands on income. Further, depending on their age, may not need benefits like Health Care any longer. That said, being paid a fair wage for the position is all they ask. Hint: You can’t discover this unless you actually talk with them.
  • Older Professionals Need to step aside and let younger professionals step in. This might make sense if businesses were in the education industry, where cycling students into and through their hallowed halls is in their charter. The fact is, companies are in the business of making money, which takes a skilled, knowledgeable labor force at all levels. While hiring newbies might save money, by exploiting early career appetites to be employed, post-management professionals can be hired for a similar amount. Everyone should be afforded an opportunity to contribute, regardless of age or career progression, denying this based on age is ageism, no matter how it is stated or excused.
  • Older Professionals Won’t Stay Very Long. This assumes that younger employees will, which is simply incorrect. In fact, the opposite is true, given a chance to participate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates retention of those in the recruitment sweet spot of 30-50 exhibit the lowest retention percentages, while those 55+ have the highest, assuming they are not discharged to make room for younger staff. If you eliminate ageism, and focus on skills and value contribution, there is a great deal of potential available to employers who ore open to considering post-management professionals. The reality is, not matter what age, retaining employees at all levels requires solid management skills, or retention suffers. There is no data to support that older professionals leave with greater frequency or of less time in service than others. In fact, a younger, upwardly mobile employee is far more likely to depart for a better position, or higher pay, than a post-management professional with fewer aspirations for upward movement.
  • Older Professionals are Out of Date. First of all, not every job demands a high level of skill in technologies that evolve rapidly. Using this excuses as a blanket condemnation is ridiculous. Second, it assumes that younger employees are coming to the table with a high degree of current-state knowledge, which is just as erroneous as the previous stereotype. Most older professionals, who have managed staff, invest in continuous improvement, education, seminars, and other activities to stay current, in order to make viable management decisions. Older individuals are more likely to read regularly, follow current events, investigate when something new comes into view, and are pursuing some level of personal improvement activity than younger folks. Further older post-management professionals bring to the table better writing and communications skills, deeper knowledge of software uses, fuller understanding and respect for the need of process and controls, and deeper understanding of the need for cooperation, as well as mentoring and sharing of information – that younger members have yet to develop. Where it comes to technology itself, post-management professionals are certainly as capable of learning as any other age group, regardless of jokes and stereotypical opinions to the contrary.
  • Older Professionals are Harder to Manage. Sure, a post-management professional that has succeeded as management for many years, is going to have a serious problem working for bad managers over them. But those bad managers are hurting the company anyway, and are just as likely to be exhibiting poor performance behaviors of all those managed. Older professionals are simply less likely to tolerate these managers, and more likely to make their opinions known, so are definitely a threat to bad managers everywhere. However, skilled managers will not cause such a reaction, nor are they likely to experience issues with professionals that once held their position. In fact, the enlightened managers will take advantage of the experience being brought to the company, to see themselves succeed, rather than see it as a threat to their existence and sovereignty. I contend that managers who are afraid of hiring a post-management professional to work for or with them, are afraid of being exposed for what they are.
  • Post Management Professionals Won’t Move Up to Fill Management Roles if Needed. There is a myth in business management thinking circles that organizations promote from within to fill management positions, like movement up a ladder for success. While this might have been true decades ago, it is hardly true today. The reality is, the entire recruitment profession is founded on seeking and securing management professionals for clients, who desire higher skills and greater experiences that are offered by promoting from within. So, the point of whether an older post-management professional will step up the corporate ladder, is moot, if not ridiculous. That said, the skill level of mid-management is decreased when those being managed can do their work well, with minimal direction. New employees of all ages demand a great deal of time and development to bring up to speed. Post-management professionals will often present a far shorter indoctrination and training period, as they have already been there, done that, and know what is being asked of them, to a far higher degree than someone who has never managed or who has minimal experience. Additionally, while these professionals are not interested in Management rolls, some supervision, training, or mentoring assignments are often readily accepted as they do not detract from their passion, and allows them to add value – which is what they seek.
  • Older Professionals are Too Set in their Ways. This is a pretty standard ageistic argument. As we get older, we find what works and what doesn’t, and grow to have a style or approach that suits our capabilities and capacities best. Whether that suits an employer’s needs or not is a matter of discovery, that happens in interview processes, not through ageist pre-qualification. In the real world, if there is a match between how an experienced professional approaches his or her work, and the company’s approach, there is not only no conflict, the value realization can be far higher than hiring younger candidates and forcing policies and processes on them that eventually lead to them leaving. The approach is simple – proper interview techniques, which starts with actually considering experienced candidates along side all other potentials. There is no commitment to hire based on inclusion in the interview process.
  • They Should Just Go Into Business for Themselves. This is a common theme to support casual dismissal of an entire population of displaced older professionals. The reality is that there are not enough opportunities or market needs in the world to provide opportunities for the population of displaced late-career professionals growing exponentially today. For the Post-Management Professional, going into business is an extension of the management roles they are attempting to leave behind, where more effort is put into sales, marketing, managing, etc… than the work they are passionate about. Further, there are numerous careers that do not translate into consulting or contract businesses, so going into business for themselves means abandoning what they care most about, to work a business that is at best a survival tactic. Meanwhile the contribution in experience, skill and passion for there lifelong industry is lost.

The work environment and how companies do business has changed a great deal in the last several decades. Yet, many of the stereotypes listed here are from times that no longer actually exist. Recruitment and HR decision making has not evolved quickly enough to see past these ageist stereotypes, leaving far too much value dormant from lack of consideration.

This all said, here are some basic approach ideas I have created that provide some insight into how one might approach a Post-Management Professional for consideration for non-management positions.

Giving the Post-Management Professional Objective Consideration

  • Ask First, assume nothing. As the question directly. “Why are you looking for a non-0management position, your CV indicates you have a lot of experience there?” If the answer is “I can’t find a management position, so need work until I can.” The decision to exclude them is valid. If they answer “I am looking to return to my passions, allow others to manage, so I can be part of the team, to contribute what I truly enjoy doing”, you have found a Post-Management Professional. Discuss salary expectations, motivations, and advise when they are not in line with the position being offered. Be honest, direct, and clear.
  • Discuss Approaches and Goals like you Would Any other Candidate. This is where you find out whether the candidate’s style and approach is a good match to the organization and its culture. How do they solve problems, what level of investment are they making to stay current in their field? How do they view their role under management vs. as management? Do they have any recent experience where they were not a decision maker? And any other questions you might think of that lead to you understanding how they would function, what they are interested in and what they are seeking – just like any other candidate. The secret here is, that most Post-Management Professionals know what they are looking for, and what that means, to a far greater degree than a younger professional seeking a step up a career ladder.
  • Consider Testing. There are many tests available to reveal a persons motivations, interests, passions and personality traits. If these are used for all candidates, comparisons between candidates of various experiences, regardless of past positions held, can be made.
  • Be Prepared for Candid Responses. Post-Management candidates are far more likely to be wide open in communicating, in both sharing and asking questions, that those with ulterior career motivations. This might appear crass, or even confrontational in comparison to those soft peddling to be considered. Early upwardly mobile individuals are motivated to get the job that elevates their career, so are unlikely to do anything considered negative or derogatory. Post-Management Professionals are not similarly motivated, and are aware of the conflicts and assumptions being made about them, so are going to work toward ferreting out opportunities that are likely to end badly, so are less likely to pull punches or ask important questions.
  • Recognize when you are allowing natural approach difference based on age interfere with consideration. It is literally impossible to be 100% objective when interacting with people. Older folks tend to think of younger folks in ways that get in the way of dialog. This applies any time there is a significant age difference between two individuals. Yet, we are all living longer, so interacting with people that are often twice ones age is not uncommon. Their are going to be differences in approach and outlook, and ideology, that’s unavoidable. Letting these differences interfere with placing a Post-Management Professional requires careful consideration and cognizance when the age difference is interfering with the objective process of evaluation.
  • Be aware of objections from middle managers feeling threatened. There are going to be instances where a manager, presented with a more experienced candidate, will fee threatened by the candidate. This may be a sign of weakness, or it may be a very real issue. HR and Recruitment professionals should know the difference and include that understanding in the process, rather than allow that manager to stop a potentially valuable candidate from being considered.

Closing Thoughts

I have written this on behalf of many friends and contemporaries with whom I share the desire to focus on the passions and interests that brought me to the businesses I have engaged in my 40 years long career. Many of us ended up in management positions through osmosis and happenstance, more than aspiration. For those most passionate, the resulting CV has now become a prison they cannot escape due to the pre-qualification that happens in recruitment and HR management. This leads to some being embarrassed by their experience and accomplishments.

It all seems a waste to see so many highly qualified, high performing, passionate individuals set aside as “too old” or worse still “over-qualified”. The idea that someone can be too good at what they do to be considered seems absurd, but is a common theme, and for some a codeword and clandestine path to exercise ageism.

For younger professionals, consider that you will live longer than you expect, Most will survive well into their 70’s and beyond. If your career is truncated at the age of 55 or 60, based on pre-conceived notions of age related performance, or management fear of being challenged, how are you going to provide yourself a living for those 15 to 25 remaining years? This is not a “today” issue, it is a long term national issue that needs to be addressed, lest we institutionalize ageism, dooming everyone to a post-career period of investment draining or poverty from lack of income.

For me personally, I have taken the path of self-employment. As many will. I’ve run my own businesses for roughly half of my career, so it’s in my experience tool box. I evolve my businesses to suit my interests and passions over time. I now focus on art, a lifelong passion that has been set aside for any number of practical reasons. I also do design work, as well as technical work for customers, and some side work in another industry to supplement income. This does not mean that I will never work for anyone ever again, that would be reckless. However, I now understand better what I am now looking for and where I am most passionate about adding value. Whether I do this exclusively for myself, or within a compatible organization is irrelevant.

I do recognize that my approach is not the path others are ready to take. Nor is it available or an opportunity for millions of others who have a great deal of value to add, and no interest in self employment. Many careers simply do not translate to self employment. Further, there are not enough opportunities for self employed consultants or contractors to keep those at risk actively making a living income.

For these reasons, I offer this article for consideration of those who are involved in seeking qualified individuals to fill openings. I can say, without equivocation, that there is a large number of Post-Management Professionals ready to be considered, to be seen again, to be put into positions where they can once again pursue their true passions, and contribute unique value to whomever gives them at least an opportunity to be considered. You will benefit from their experience and maturity, and they will benefit from being included in an every more difficult employment market.

Comments
  1. Donald Brandt says:

    Kevin, very well thought out observation of the current issue at hand. Many positions go unfilled based on ageism but those of us living it do have a lot to offer. I myself am at that point in my career. Thanks for putting your observations to ink and sharing.

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