In today's competitive job market, where employers have their pick of candidates, managers have begun looking for workers with one of the world's most valued commodities: experience, an executive search firm reports.
"The wave of recent corporate restructurings has forced large numbers of discharged workers over 50 to seek new jobs," said Jim Challenger, president of Chicago-based executive search firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
"And, interestingly, many employers are giving preference to these seasoned workers," he said.
Challenger thinks 1988 might even be the year when the over-50 group pulls ahead of the younger set.
His company's latest quarterly research, conducted at the firm's 14 regional U.S. offices, indicates that since 1985 the difference between the median job search time of discharged managers 50 and over who found new jobs and those under 50 narrowed to about 15 days.
"Prior to 1985, there was often a one-to-two month difference between the job search time of the older worker compared to the younger worker," he said.
That year marked a surge in the nation's wave of corporate restructurings, a phenomenon that has forced thousands of U.S. workers of all ages and job classifications to seek new work.
Job candidates over 50 are most frequently snapped up by small-to-medium-sized companies, he said.
These firms place a premium on versatility, ingenuity and responsiveness to market conditions, attributes seasoned managers discharged by larger corporations generally possess, he said.
Additionally, smaller companies typically have less formal organization than larger firms and combine several jobs into one function, conditions that frequently allow well-developed executives to shine.
"This type of work environment is ready-made for the older worker with large company experience who has been discharged," he said. "From his or her standpoint, it is an ego boost to be wanted and needed."
Smaller companies gravitate to workers over 50 workers because these employees have a large fund of business experience and don't require a long and expensive trial-and-error period.
They also have a low rate of absenteeism, Challenger said.
Virgil Baldi, a vice president with the New York office of Korn/Ferry International Inc., the world's largest executive search firm, said the trend toward hiring older executives appears to cut across all U.S. industries involved in restructurings.
"However, it's hard to generalize about hiring trends because each case is different," he said.
"One of our customers, a specialty chemical company, is now pushing us to come up with older candidates for an executive position in marketing," he said.
"The job appears to have prospects for promotion into a general manager's position, and, though it may be a cosmetic consideration, the company officers think a person with a few gray hairs will be more readily accepted in a manager's role."
Baldi said the trend has been boosted by federal laws prohibiting companies from asking candidates their ages.
"That law has had a major effect," he said. "Employees are no longer sized up solely in terms of chronological age. Companies now also assess youthfulness in terms of behavior.
"After all, we all know of 60-year-olds who are more exuberant and will work harder than many 30-year-olds," Baldi said.