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Why The Grey-Haired Brigade Is Making A Strong Comeback

by Alf Nucifora

While it may not be of much relief to the unemployed professional facing crisis of psyche and pocketbook, a hovering 5% unemployment rate does provide an unintended opportunity. The New York Times, in an article entitled The Sink or Swim Economy referenced what economists termed "idiosyncratic volatility…that affects individual firms (and individuals), but doesn't show up in the big picture statistics…and it is the signature of our economic age." The net result is that the marketplace today still remains awash with experienced job candidates, many of whom are victims of that volatility and don't show up on the radar screen. The resumes continue to pour in.

Re-Discovering the Old World

The old adage "the more things change, the more they stay the same," has particular applicability to today's irascible business environment. The ill-effects of continuing economic volatility, coupled with the still-lingering hangover from the dot.com profligacy, have created a world where business "values" are now back in vogue. The return-to-basics mentality is on the upswing. Tried and proven business commandments that speak to developing relationships, providing value, deriving gain from hard work, and focusing on driving the sales needle are now receiving the attention that they deserve. One also feels a growing appreciation for the value of experience and more respect for the age that accompanies that respect. Or, perhaps it's just all those Boomers getting old.

Hence the Opportunity

This is all good news for the marketing employer. What we're experiencing is a buyer's marketplace as rarely seen before, with an inventory of proven professionals clamoring for the opportunity to put their skills and talents to good use. And, they can be added permanently to the payroll or acquired on an outsourced (freelance) basis.

As one who has had the opportunity to interview a large number of these experienced job seekers, I can attest to the benefit that they bring to the employer, particularly in a marketing environment where ROI performance and results are now the dictate. Specifically:

  • They possess a sense of accountability and responsibility that is alien to most of the graduating MBA class. They're results-oriented because they've been on the firing line too many times.
  • They carry a sense of maturity that shows up in the decisions they make and the risks that they avoid. And, with that maturity comes experience and scar tissue, the benefits of which have been gained at a previous employer's expense. That same sense of maturity also brings with it an understanding and perspective which can be the important determinants of a marketing program's failure or success.
  • Contrary to expectation, they're neither lazy nor burnt-out. They've experienced the 80-hour weeks and have learned that productivity is a product of disciplined habits and a smart approach, rather than long hours.
  • Generally speaking, they're loyal and reliable. Experiencing responsibility will do that to a person.
  • Although often perceived as inflexible and out-of-touch, the reverse is most often the case. Ironically, flexibility and adaptability often grow with age, as idiosyncrasy and ego-demands diminish.
  • The good ones relish the opportunity to mentor younger staff, and bring with them a black book laden with contacts and connections, valuable commodities when developing a sales and marketing network.
  • And, they're not expensive when one considers the value equation - results versus cost (in the form of payroll and benefits). These experienced marketing practitioners deliver an exceptional ROI because, in the majority of cases, they know how to deliver the results.

Buyer Advice

Admittedly there are risks and difficulties involved in hiring that 50+ marketing maven. They have to have a sustained a sense of excitement about the profession and the practice. Ultimately, that's what makes the great marketer great. If the fire is out and the passion gone, don't make the hire.

Finding the good ones is also easier said than done. They live in the network, but often off the grid, and, as a potential employer, your job is to tap into the network, which rarely intersects with the traditional headhunter channel. A perusal of the online job banks may unearth a good candidate or two, but that's ponderous, hit-or-miss affair . Plugging in to the local chapter of the American Marketing Association always helps. And, don't forget the mainline consulting firms who have seen their business drop in recent years, and who have been forced to downsize their consultant ranks accordingly. Obviously, the national outplacement firms like Drake Beam & Morin and Lee Hecht Harrison, provide a constant conveyor belt of experienced candidates who have suffered at the alter of corporate restructuring.

The closing lesson is clear. American business has traditionally idolized youth. And while youth provides a distinct benefit (cheaper payroll, for example), in the bottom of the 9th with two out and runners on base, the smart manager always gives the nod to the proven pro sitting on the bench.

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