12 October 2022

“Oldie” but Goldie: How Age Should Really be an Irrelevance in the Workplace

Steve Halsall

Red Tiger Consulting


It is with sincere regret that ageism is still alive and well in the workplace. This blog will hopefully go some way to address some of the subconscious and conscious bias that seems to cloud some hiring managers’ views in their search for talent. I will argue the case for why that ‘oldie’ could be that goldie hire that you have been searching for.

I am fast approaching the big 5-0 and whilst my joints may be a little creakier in the morning, there is still the hard reality that I have got at least 20 years to go in my career. I remember back to a 21 year old me at my first ever meeting with a Financial Advisor, where he asked when I would like to retire. I naively said 55 – so I only have 6 years left to go then! That is never going to happen.

I think that once I turn 50 it is one of those significant milestones that will mean I am heading towards that golden generation of workers. I am looking towards the end of my career rather than the start or middle, but I still have a passion and energy to keep me going for the foreseeable future.

It is also the realisation that as we advance in our years, our motivations and drive changes. What got me out of bed in 1995 is most certainly different to what gets me out of bed now. In 1995 it was all about furthering my own learning and development; front and centre to me now is playing a role in helping others learn and develop, whilst keeping what I do fresh and exciting.

I invite you to watch this brief video which I think really captures the mood of this generation:

Dance Like Everyone’s Watching

In my recruitment conversations I often speak to candidates who are a similar age or slightly older (certainly pre-60) who are sometimes at a career crossroads, looking for their next challenge. They are certainly not ‘over the hill’ or fit with a stereotypical Saga type persona, they have plenty of energy, dynamism, resilience and adaptability. In short, they have so much to give. The section below tried to summarise the sorts of conversations I am having.

An Imaginary Scenario…

I am 55 years old and after working in Insight & Analytics for the same business for the last 15 years and due to significant organisational restructure, I have been offered the chance of redundancy. I have had a successful career to date, well paid (and thanks to that now mortgage free), good pension, and I will now be due a reasonable redundancy settlement.

I have had a rang of Insight roles over the last 35 years of my career. My peak career moment was successfully building and managing an Insight team of 10 people, with a great internal (and external) reputation. In recent years I have become a little disenfranchised with the direction that my current business is taking and after thinking about leaving on numerous occasions this forced organisational change has pushed me into looking for a fresh challenge. I am actually quite excited about what the future holds.

I live with my partner at home and my two older children have been successfully through university, are working, are self-sufficient and no longer living at home. My partner also works full time and I feel like I have at least 10-15 years before I’d like to retire – we have plans to downsize and travel the world. In the early stages of my career I was very technical – I used to love learning new technology, writing code, messing with data, and pushing the boundaries of what I do, I have missed that. My more recent responsibilities have been dedicated to managing and developing a team, engaging with stakeholders, and evolving our capability to adapt to changing business requirements.

I feel like I have so much knowledge and experience to share; I really thrive off helping and developing people and am passionate about driving business decisions using insight. I am a bit rusty in terms of technical skills (so less hands-on than I’d like to be) but I really miss that side of the role and would like an opportunity to find a role that allows me to do that again.

I am realistic about my salary expectations – I no longer want the large salary that comes with the pressure of a senior role managing a large team. I would like a reasonable salary for what I do but I want to turn the pressure dial down a notch and perhaps get a bit more hands on again.

Potential Misconceptions About that “Oldie” Candidate

In this imaginary scenario the potential hiring manager may see this candidate as a real opportunity, or there may be a number of misconceptions and biases that prevent their application from progressing. Some of these are covered below:

  • They will be out of budget for the role – There may well be a perception that because of the years of experience of the candidate, their salary expectation may be out of budget for the role. If the candidate seems to have the right skills and experience then it may be worth having a conversation about budget vs salary expectation. The candidate in the scenario above was certainly willing to take a drop in salary for a role that was more hands on and less responsibility. One to ask them prior to or at first stage interview?
  • They will not fit in culturally with the young team we have here – There may be an assumption that because they are advanced in years they may not feel at ease in the team. Concerns about the culture and how they will fit in could be valid but often you will find that the candidate will already be within a team of people more junior and have experience in how to relate to people who are earlier on in their career. Is this an issue with the candidate or the team? If you have concerns, why don;t you canvass opinion from both parties.
  • They have more experience and knowledge than me – There may be a fear about taking on people with more knowledge, who are smarter, or have more experience than the hiring manager. If the candidate doesn’t have a problem with it, why should the hiring manager? As a slight aside, only last week I had a recruitment call with a hiring manager and their brief to me was very clear: “I want someone who is more knowledgeable and brighter than me.” If you do that, they will make you as the hiring manager, look good!
  • They aren’t hands on enough – There could be a view that the candidate has been too busy managing and leading and is no longer very hands on. That could be true in terms of recent experience, but the candidate may be longing for a return to doing rather than managing the doing. The candidate will likely have been hands on at one point in their career and this could mean that they will need a period to adjust, but it is possible. It may be true that they may not be as familiar with the latest release of software or new technology that has been brought in but given time and support I am sure they could be. My new mantra is you can teach an old dog, old-new tricks!

Unlock the Gold in the “Old”

It is all very well looking at some of those limiting pre-conceptions, but it is also worth highlighting the other potential benefits to recruiting ‘golden oldies’ into your team:

  • A focus on the job, with less distractions – I recall the almost daily phone calls a colleague used to get from a frustrated partner at home when their kids were playing up. Or the challenges of having to leave to provide emergency childcare for a little one who has been sent home due to illness. These ‘golden oldies’ are more likely to be either empty nesters or with kids that are more self-sufficient, so likely have less distractions.
  • No desire to rise to the ‘top’ again – Hiring managers may fear that they could be after their job but in my experience these ‘golden oldies’ are happy to trade a ‘demotion’ for an easier, less stressful life. Many organisations perpetuate the idea that progression is always upwards, but this is not sustainable. Not everyone can keep being promoted and organisations need people who are happy with the level they are at. Hiring managers – work on the basis that the candidate has no desire to step into your shoes – at interview why don’t you ask them where they would like to be in 5-10 years time?!
  • More likely to be loyal – Those with 10-15 years to go until retirement will often want to see out their time at one place. They would rather dedicate their work energy to one employer than changing jobs multiple times in the latter stages of their career. If you don’t believe me – take a look at the evidence from people’s history on LinkedIn. This means that they are a loyal employee if you can give them what they need from a role.
  • They understand the challenges of managing teams – They have been in your (the hiring manager’s) shoes. They have probably encountered the challenges you face before. They will generally want to be someone who is easy to manage – and be someone who can support you in specific situations. They may have learnt that the hard way and tapping into their experience may make your learning and decisions easier.
  • They can be great mentors – Having someone with their experience doing the hands-on work, in among ‘the masses’ can really help with morale and development of more junior members of the team.
  • They are often indoctrinated in the old ways of working – this could be seen as both positive and negative. In my experience, these candidates often possess a strong work ethic and commitment to the cause, are savvier in terms of conduct in the workplace, are willing to put in extra hours in order to get the job done, have a heightened resilience level, and tend to be less resistant about regular visits into the office.

A Call for Age Diversity

In summary, I invite hiring managers to throw away any misconceptions or subconscious biases about aged candidates and be more open-minded about the benefits they can offer to your team and organisation.

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Published by Steve Halsall

Steve is the founder of Red Tiger Consulting. He has worked in Location Planning for over 20 years – both on the consultancy side and client side. His passion is building successful teams that evolve their capability (skills, software and data) to meet the ever changing requirements of analysis. In his spare time he is mainly kept busy with his two children, falling in and out of love with Liverpool FC and at some point he wants to re-start his golfing ‘career’.


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