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The Discrimination Of Age

Date - 20 April 2016/ Category - Facts Of Life
Facts of life

People view age as an indicator of experience and yet as discussed previously in this blog, experience means nothing if you don’t learn from it.

I was once replaced as the sales director of a company that I loved by someone of more “suitable” experience because the shareholders felt that I was too young for the role. The previous director had left and I had filled the vacancy in order to keep the business going.

After just three months of my leadership the company recorded its best ever sales results, yet this created a problem. The owner (who never visited the business or interacted with me for that period) effectively felt that these great results needed to be maintained and instead of rewarding me appointed a new sales director who had more experience than I did.

They had been a director of several big companies and had 25 years on me in terms of work experience so on paper were more qualified and yet this person had no further skill set than I did other than the opportunity that age gives someone to furnish their CV.

You see the owner of the business had wanted to recruit the best person in the market place to be their sales director and having collected a few CVs pick the one that shouted “best” at them.

He ticked all the boxes. Director of our main competitor with years of successful projects behind him, they employed him to do my role on the spot.

But what they didn’t realise was this. He had been at the party but not necessarily in the conversation. He’d been carried along by a great idea, not necessarily his own skill set.

While I can forgive the fact that they read his CV and thought he had the necessary skills, but what I can’t get past is the fact that they never picked up his lack of credentials in an interview.

Interviews are hugely important, they are your chance to prod and test every inch of a CV. I like to ask questions that quiz a person’s claim. For example a statement like “exceeded targets” would prompt a question from me such as “how were your targets calculated” because the fact is, how good is someone really if their target was too low in the first place?

My personal favourite is asking a sales person “where did your leads come from” because more often than not the champion sales person is actually more of an admin for a pre-sold client. I don’t think that the admin guy at Amazon processing an order calls themselves a sales champion when the website did all the work and yet in a sales industry sales people are very quick to forget to distinguish between a pre-done sale and a cold lead when making bold claims in a CV.

The proof is as they say on TV, in the pudding and a good interview will weed out the potential liars most of the time.

Yet this didn’t happen when looking for my replacement, because as they sat in the interview room and totted up his directorships the fact that the man that stood before them wore a nice suit, drove a fancy car and in general had an air of elderly wisdom about them they valued the face value of a piece of paper over the realities of organisational life.

It’s a statement that I have made in the past but will reiterate for the purposes of this chapter. Experience is simply the chance to succeed or fail; wisdom is the cumulative effect of the lessons you learn from either and it is wisdom that we can recruit for.

In my bitter experience, it doesn’t matter how old someone is, they can go their entire lives without gaining much wisdom and as such you can meet someone very early on in their career that given the right opportunity to learn can accumulate wisdom well beyond their years.

Yet 99% of businesses don’t recruit on wisdom, they recruit on age or at least the perceived experience that comes with age and they suffer as a result.

As a business owner though this presents you with an opportunity; there are people out there, comparatively cheap for their net output who although young can do great things for your business. The trick is to give them a chance to show you how.

As for that business, I resigned within two weeks of his appointment (having never officially been replaced) and the business went on to post its worst quarterly results in history; to this day I fell sadness over that more than pride. Yes my impact was irrefutably proved, but as any business leader will tell you, a business can be more like having a child than a job.

Chapter Summary:

• Age is not an indicator of wisdom
• Experience that comes with age is just an opportunity to gain wisdom
• Some people take advantage of the opportunity to gain wisdom from experience and others don’t

Read our next blog post “Even experienced people don’t know what they’re doing”.