Do you or don’t you, hire ‘the old guy’!
Perhaps I am just getting a bit older, but the IT industry seems to be more of a game for younger people these days. Although, to be fair, Police Officers are looking younger all the time too.
“As time goes by attending the various IT related annual corporate events, all the people sitting on the stalls marketing their company values to everyone and anyone that dares to glance their way for too long, are definitely much younger and seem to even dress less formally than when I did for many years.” states Craig Ashmole, founding partner at London based Interim Consulting CCServe Ltd.
I came across a piece of material by Nick Hughes, who is a Senior Programme, Project and PMO manager and all the same thoughts and views came rushing back to me and I quote him below.
Within IT especially there does seem to be more focus on younger, fresher talent. This was brought into sharp focus recently when I met with a manager at a consulting company. They were thinking of putting me into a bank, but the manager was concerned that my extensive and long experience might be a little intimidating for that client manager.
The manager also seemed a little nervous and said that I had a lot more experience than he did himself and that he hoped he did not ask any unproductive questions. This got me to thinking. Is there a perception for younger managers that hiring an older/more experienced contractor might jeopardise their own position? Or could older contractors probably be seen as ‘not as innovative as their younger counterparts’?
Is this ageist? Possibly, but for the hiring manager it could be a very real concern. From their perspective, they are possibly new to the position and want to prove their worth. Many managers want to be seen as the go-to person, that they are irreplaceable and key to the organisations success. Hiring in someone who may not only know more than you, but also may have experience doing your exact job, could lead to the manager being seen as superfluous. The deeper concern would be “Is he going to try and take my job?”
For contractors who have experience in roles more senior than the role being looked at, there can also be concerns for the manager around the contractor jumping ship as soon as the next best, or higher paying, opportunity comes along.
This presents a dilemma for the hiring manager and an issue for the contractor.
To be clear, I am not saying this happens all the time, or even a majority of times, but it does happen. When we are honest with ourselves, we all have those feelings of doubt, so it is perfectly understandable to have these thoughts, we would not be human if we did not.
So what is the answer? Does the manager “not hire the old guy”? Does he or she only hire people younger or less experienced than themselves?
If they do, then yes, they could avoid an embarrassing situation where the person reporting to them knows more than they do. But that will only be a temporary protection for your career and, to be honest, if you are so worried about your position that you feel the need to protect yourself, you will probably find it difficult to progress anyway.
But why hire the guy (I use the term ‘guy’, but it applies to both men and women) with more experience than you and who has potentially had a more senior position?
From my perspective, and with the experience I have gained I don’t actually want that manager’s job and I don’t want to settle down into a perm role. If I am applying for a contractor position, I don’t want the politics, the employee assessments, the HR hoops that I would have to jump through when you manage a team and also having to deal with any personnel issues. I am at a point in my life where I have realised I work to live, not live to work.
What I do want is to make the manager I am hired to engage with look good. I want to use my experience and knowledge to make a success of this project. I want to pass on my knowledge of short cuts that bring the project to a successful conclusion, or the ability to see through vendor marketing hype to accept only what is really needed in the business. Or to ensure we hit budgets & deliver on time.
From a interim consulting perspective it is simple. First, we get the satisfaction of a job well done. Second, we get the opportunity to pass on well-earned knowledge and subject matter experience to those younger people. But most importantly, we leave with the hope that the manager will recognise the contribution made and engage on the next project.
After all, as a contractor, one is always looking for the next contract. I have seen some contractors make themselves indispensable to an organisation, to the point where the perception is that they can’t be let go.
Experience on projects are usually quite simple. Define the scope and lock it down, establish a change control process to manage the inevitable scope creep, establish a governance process for decision making, plan the critical path and dependencies, identify the risks, establish a RAID log to manage them, set up reporting, then execute and monitor.
Once that is done the tough bit, the really tough bit, is managing the people. Getting the sponsor to truly understand their role. Ensuring other teams, who you have a dependency on, deliver in time for your critical path. Providing clarity around the impact to the stakeholders requesting a change. All the while you are doing this, trying to be as diplomatic as you can be but understanding why you were hired in the first place.
Us old guys (men and women) have seen this before and have dealt with it successfully. So, my suggestion to those managers who worry about “hiring the old guy” is to not worry so much but be happy to benefit from paying to get a programme delivered with SME skills that can be transferred to the perm staff. Don’t get me wrong, there are younger people who may well have the ability to be able to navigate the shark infested waters of the project world, but the old guy may well have been bitten before and survived, so has the practical knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.
So, it is up to you, hiring managers. Do you want to benefit from 30+ years of experience and dodging bullets? Do you want to have that edge to making your project successful? Having that experience that you can call on when it does go wrong – and some really do go wrong! If you do then you really should be hiring the Old Guy.
Thanks to Nick for sharing his thoughts
Having spent a majority of my career working with and supporting the Corporate CIO Function, I now seek to provide a forum whereby CIOs or IT Directors can learn from the experience of others to address burning Change or Transformation challenges.