A couple of years ago, I had an opening in my department for a Project Manager. The HR team received hundreds of applications and the most appropriate ones were forwarded to me for review. It was amazing to see so many applicants from the same company, many of them who had been let go following the economic crisis in 2009. The candidates ranged from all age groups from those in the mid 20’s to the late 50’s. Since I was looking for someone experienced enough to take on the role within a short period of time, I decided to invite a couple of promising ‘old-timers’ in their 50’s for an interview.
The meetings with them were intellectually stimulating. All of them had worked in senior positions with advanced degrees in engineering and management, and the flow of the interview was indicative of the wealth of knowledge and experience the candidates brought with them. At the professional level, it was a tough decision to make so I had to evaluate the second most important factor – the energy levels of the applicants. As the role involved working in a global environment with a lot of international travel, the ability to keep up with the physical pace was a crucial factor in the recruitment process.
The candidate ultimately selected for the job was nearly 60 years old, but with the passion and energy of someone much younger. Even though over 15 years my senior, I never got the impression that he was out-of-sync with the work culture of the organization, even when the other team members were half his age. The advantages were absolutely clear. I spent much less time coaching and mentoring than I would have on younger candidates and he was raring to go within a month. Sending someone from my team to meet with customers abroad after such a short training period was definitely a first. Needless to say, the customers were extremely satisfied dealing with a thorough professional.
Based on the above anecdote, it is quite disappointing to read of the trials and tribulations faced by older workers in the Israeli hi-tech job market. We hear about candidates being found unsuitable for positions because of their years of experience, qualifications and achievements in careers spanning 20 years and more. I ask myself, since when have these attributes become a bane rather than a boon? What’s wrong with hiring an older person when he/she has the qualifications and energy to get the job done? None of those I met ever demanded extremely high salaries or quoted terms which were unacceptable and in return the workplace only remained to benefit from their maturity and loyalty.
In my opinion, the source of the problem is the structure of the technology space in Israel. There are just a handful of home grown companies, among them the likes of Amdocs, Checkpoint, Teva, while international giants such as Intel, Microsoft, HP and the rest are essentially start-ups. With very few of the start-ups reaching maturity or being in the game for the long run, opportunities especially for the older age group are extremely limited.
Second, the whole concept of viewing Israel as mainly an ‘R&D center’ with sales & marketing handled from abroad generally the US, has delegitimized anyone trying to pursue a career in management. Many of the older candidates well matched for executive level positions are forced to relocate to global locations, and those unwilling to do so for whatever reason face the challenge of long periods of unemployment. There is an excellent pool of skilled managers in Israel with rich international experience and there is no reason whatsoever why businesses cannot be managed directly from here.
Third, the organizational mindset, especially in start-ups, is such that sticking to the familiar is the norm. Unable or unwilling to leave their comfort zones, recruiting and hiring managers alike simply fail to objectively see the benefits experienced people can bring to the workplace and subjectively prefer to hire like-minded applicants of the same age group and background. With most start-ups having a relatively inexperienced management team, experienced older workers can add significant value to the success of the company something which most young enterprises have failed to exploit so far.
Refreshing the thought process and current stalemate will not only provide opportunities to those over 50, but also drive the economy. For Israel to be truly called a start-up nation, it has to be representative of the entire population and spread the generation of knowledge and wealth to all sections of society. Just as the IDF serves as a melting pot for those from every socioeconomic background, similarly the hi-tech sector needs to continue that challenge in civilian life as well. Ultimately change can be driven only through policy which industry leaders need to pursue with vigor. Not for altruistic motives, but for the benefit it can bring to their business.