Becky was telling me about a recent job interview at a local technology firm that left her frustrated and confused. She described her interviewer as a “girl” half her age who dressed casually, asked unexpected questions and spoke in shorthand. As an older worker, Becky is not alone in her reaction to the traits and behavior observed in “the younger generation”. But understanding new ways of communicating and working can really help older workers in their job search.
Here are some broad generalizations (some would even say stereotypes) that may help older workers relate better and interact more positively with younger workers.
They aren’t impressed by age, seniority or years on the job
Forget about respecting elders. Don’t bother with expounding on how many years you’ve done something. Today’s work place is all about results. Instead of asking what you did in your last job, you are likely to be asked what you achieved. Prepare to quantify the value you brought to a past employer and show how you will bring value in the future.
They embrace technology you may find useless
Today’s young leaders grew up with computers in their cribs. Technology is not an add-on. It’s a fundamental part of who they are. Older people may find texting intrusive, the iPad a waste of money and sleeping with a cell phone in your hand over the top. But sounding off about such things only makes you look old and out of it. Demonstrate how you embrace and adapt to new technology wherever it makes sense, supports communication and productivity and helps build success. You don’t need to buy a waterproof laptop for the shower, but you need to show that you understand technology is a vital part of how work gets done these days.
They network and connect effortlessly
GenY-ers are known to have 500 or 1000 Facebook friends. An older person might say “That’s impossible. You can’t possibly be friends with that many people.” But the younger generation tends to view anyone they have ever met as a connection. Young workers at a bar after work are likely to friend and/or network others. They may never cross paths again, or they may end up working together. Either way, they know how to find one another. Although some of us may find this “friending” puzzling, it holds valuable lessons about the power of networking and encourages us to be more open to connections wherever we find them.
They don’t view career as a ladder
It’s more like a jungle gym. There are lots of ways to get to the top and occasional falls are expected. The good news is they don’t consider a layoff or career change unusual or problematic. In fact, they expect to change jobs often and are not shamed by being let go by a company. The bad news is a linear path of increased responsibility is no guarantee you will be offered a job at that level in the future.
They are casual
They wear jeans to work, type in shorthand (LOL) and send text messages in middle of conversations. Get over it. This casual convention may seem like bad manners, or disrespectful to you. To them, it is normal. No one is saying you have to wear jeans to work (although dressing to match the environment sometimes helps you fit in) and you certainly don’t need to start typing in abbreviated form. But stop bristling every time they do.
They’re big on information flow
For them, communication is not a formal affair. They tend to value transparency and immediacy in communication. Feedback, even negative feedback, may be given publically and bluntly. Everyone is expected to learn and grow through such feedback, and not take it personally. While it may take some time to get used to that style of communication, you may find it beats never knowing what others really think. The bad news is a job seeker may be told right on the spot they do not seem right for the job. The good news is you are free to ask why, creating the opportunity for you to answer to their concerns.
They’re not hierarchical
Gone are the days of a boss at the top and a pyramid organization below. These days, organizations tend to be flat with most members considered equals. Decision making is often by consensus. This is why group or panel interviews are often part of the hiring process.
They don’t mind working with Grandpa . . . if Grandpa is great
Boomers coined the phrase “Never trust anyone over 30”. Now that we are 50+, we fear this will come back to bite us. But the younger generation isn’t hung up on age. They are hung up on value. If an older worker can fit in and bring great results, age is irrelevant. Never assume your age is an issue.Instead, work on showing how you generate success and demonstrate you are a good fit for the work environment.
Don’t judge them. Get to know them
Like generations before them, younger workers don’t want to be judged. They want to be understood and respected for what they bring to the workplace. If they feel your criticism and judgment, they are unlike to hire you. If they sense you are open minded, respectful about differences and always willing to learn and grow, they are likely to want to work with you.