Retired. And ready to work.
Selling slow-built wisdom in a churn-it-out world, senior workers get ahandle on the hot job market.
After more than three decades as an information-systems manager, Ronald Thomson decided it was high time to retire.Skip to next paragraph
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March 1997 marked his gold-watch moment.
But after seven months of doing "grandpa stuff" and delving into his hobbies building cabinetry and model ships, life was getting a little dull.
So when the Tulsa, Okla., resident spotted a newspaper ad for a local job fair, he decided to check it out.
"I talked to several companies ... and they didn't seem to care how old you were," Mr. Thomson says. "The main thing is they wanted experience."
The result was a one-year assignment with IBM on a Y2K project.
In the not-so-distant past, older workers were considered over the hill - technological dinosaurs - the first fired and the last hired. But times are changing, albeit slowly. The word "senior" now often signals "experience."
And more and more firms are working harder to attract and retain older professionals - many of them reactivated retirees like Thomson. "We're looking to recruit additional senior workers," says Lynn Taylor, director of research at staffing firm Robert Half International based in Menlo Park, Calif. "They have a vast amount of experience that is invaluable and irreplaceable - and our clients are thrilled to tap that expertise."
Some just want more out of their days than a good golf game. Others have taken early retirement but have no intention of closing up shop yet. They tend to sign on as project-based consultants and contractors.
Still others are jumping in as temporary CEOs or eschewing retirement altogether to mentor young up-and-comers.
No doubt the biggest factor pushing the trend is the tight labor market. With the low 4.2 percent unemployment rate, virtually every company has been forced to broaden its candidate pool. As a result, older professionals, shunned in the past by many companies, are getting a warmer reception.
David Kerstine of Raleigh, N.C., who retired from IBM in June after a 30-year career at the computer giant, has been pleasantly surprised.
When he hit his mid-50s, the former senior marketing manager had no intention of hanging it up. Yet he didn't think he had a chance at landing a job in today's high-tech marketplace, where directors in their 20s dominate.
"I was going to start my own company," Mr. Kerstine says. "I thought I was too old to get another job. But I'm not sure that's true." In fact, he's already had a bite from an Internet start-up - a dream job for him.
Indeed, small and medium-size companies seem to have been first to shed the age barrier. These businesses are growing fast, and that has forced them to focus on skills and knowledge - rather than age.
Consider Sam Sanders, who landed a job earlier this year as vice president of sales for OpenOrders, a 27-person software company in Newton, Mass.
Mr. Sanders spent nearly 40 years in sales in the computer industry. The company had reviewed more than 100 rsums before it received his. But when it came in over the Internet, it took them only 45 minutes to respond.
Several other factors are slowly pushing companies to consider older workers. Downsizing has not only thinned the ranks but also depleted a depth of knowledge and experience.
"You can teach somebody technical skills any day of the week," says Ms. Taylor of Robert Half International. "But you can't amass [quickly] 20 to 30 years of business savvy and interpersonal skills that only time develops."
As a result, companies are working harder to hang on to the senior workers they do have. In a survey of 586 large employers, consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide found that 16 percent offer phased retirement, while 28 percent say they may set up such programs in the next three years.