Corporate Eye

Going Gray

Bureau of Labor statistics

At the level of the national economy, employment news is bad across the board—but even worse for those over 55. The unemployment rate for “seniors” has doubled in the past year, from about 3% to about 6%. And although the hardest hit segment of this group is undereducated men, there is a definite effect for the entire age group. (Urban Institute Report)

Now add the fact that some retirees are returning to the job market, while many workers who might have retired soon can no longer afford to stop working–and you have the makings of a sad story.Or maybe . . . the makings of a happy ending for many companies and job-seekers. Older workers represent a treasure-trove of experience, knowledge and dedication, so having more of them available could be a boon to many companies.

For a crash course on the benefits of hiring and/or retaining older workers, check out this summary at Entrepreneur and an interesting study by Community Inclusion. In a nutshell: older workers bring value-adds of experience, knowledge, and maturity, yet often cost less in terms of total compensation that younger hires.

Once you’re convinced, consider some of the best practices suggested by the National Older Worker Career Center (NOWCC). For online recruiting, best practices come down to two key points:

  • First, avoid age-biased messaging. NOWCC gives a great example of the first point, suggesting that messages like “A great place to launch your career” can be replaced (or supplemented) with messages like “A great place to showcase your talents.”
  • Second, include all ages when depicting your employees.

To put this advice into context, let’s look at Hewlett-Packard–where the Careers site is delivering a subtly youth-oriented message:


The only picture on the page is of two very young people. And the highlighted message says: “When you join HP, you’ll be given every opportunity to stretch your talents, strive for new solutions and succeed beyond what you thought was possible. And when you do, you’ll be recognized and rewarded as you grow and win along with us.”

That’s not obviously ageist language—but put it together with the picture, and there’s a definite suggestion that youngsters are the ideal candidates to “grow and win” along with HP.

Intentional? Almost certainly not! But the suggestion is there nonetheless.

Now let’s look at this image from Securian’s Careers home page:


No gray beards in this group picture, but clearly at least a couple of fifty-somethings. And the text includes a historical dimension (“Securian has spent over 125 years keeping the long-term promises we make to our customers”) plus a “people” description that focuses on mature capabilities (“who bring their ingenuity, hard work, integrity and dedication, each and every day”).

Again, the effect is subtle. But there’s definitely a different tone and orientation.

It’s tempting to say “Yes, but one is a tech company and one is an insurance company—HP wants youth and innovation, Securian wants maturity and stability.” That’s not the whole story, though. The Hewlett-Packard Careers site is serving all parts of the company, not just the gee-whiz departments. So they need to reach candidates with mature capabilities as well as recent graduates.

More to come about “Going Gray” in my next post: A Tale of Two Stanleys.

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Cynthia Giles has followed a serpentine career path from academia to publishing to marketing and design to information technology and corporate communications. There’s plenty of detail about this journey at, but briefly--the common theme has been ideas, and how to present them effectively. Along the way, she became an accidental expert on data warehousing and business intelligence, and for the past ten years she has combined corporate contracting with an independent consulting practice that focuses on marketing strategy for smaller businesses and non-profits. Having spent quite a bit of time looking for work, and anywhere from two weeks to two years inside a wide variety of American companies—she has given much thought to what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to creating a great employment fit.

I totally agree. Sometimes companies discriminate older employees which are very knowledgeable and very skillful because of their experiences as employees. I think each and everyone of us should have a fair opportunity when it comes to finding a job.

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