Memo to Google: Hire Life Experience

Google called me up the other day. Having sent many emails and job applications into that black hole, I was surprised. They were inviting me to participate as a handyman vendor in their upcoming roll-out of Helpouts, a call-for-advise service. The pitch would be followed by lunch and a tour of the Emerald City. Who could refuse?

Secretly, I hoped to meet someone on the inside. Carpentry and construction, the interim gig that started after my last layoff, had extended from short term into way-too-long. Getting back into the business mainstream continued to be a challenge. “Don’t even bother applying to Google or Facebook,” counseled a recruiter. “They can pick from the cream of the crop with exact experience to fit the job.” So who were these wunderkids?

In Mountain View, things did not go as expected. Arriving 15 minutes early after an unpredictable 1 ¾ hour commute, I found no one at the appointed spot. At the visitor lobby two buildings down, nobody knew anything. The email name was a pseudonym.

Employees eventually appeared and showed us to a room. The presenter began but couldn’t get the audio to work for the stock video about Helpouts. Eventually, he held up his laptop for us to listen. Questions from the audience – craftspeople in their fifties and sixties – earned the same response: “That’s a really good point. We appreciate your feedback.” I saw a big value in video chat with customers to prep for a job – knowing what we were getting into before arriving on site with the right materials. “Really good point.” Bringing our discussion to a close, our host ushered us into a break room where a phalanx of waiting employees were eager to sign us up. 

We did so with dispatch. Cycled to another room, we found employees to help us make a video describing our services. My guy couldn’t figure out how to match the video to my profile. Back in the break room, I eagerly addressed the commercial grade espresso machine. After steaming my latte and breathing the scent of roasted coffee, I felt the morning begin to brighten. “I have to learn how to use that sometime,” said one of our guides.

An older gent mingled among us. Someone said he was the originator of the Helpouts concept. I shared with him my suggestion about video chat and prepping a job. “That was on the first slide,” he said in agreement. Why then was this was such a surprise to the young presenter? I wondered whether there were more older gents in this youthful sea. If so, they were beyond the curvature of the horizon.

I’m certain there are brilliant people at Google and other young companies, but the percentage they represent in my mind is sliding fast. I suspect the level of intelligence and capability now in the workplace is simply the same as it was thirty years ago, while the technical environment has surely changed.

The quest to fill a job with “experienced candidates” – even if their tenure for that experience was only 18 months – is understandable: companies want to be up and running fast, especially when the technology changes rapidly and employees move every couple of years. But what are they missing?

The value of life experience. Older candidates have experienced the boom and bust cycles, the evolutions and revolutions of technology waves. We have faced unsolvable problems and found ways to resolve them. We have gone through the same process of business creation, project management, objectives and deadlines that any business must face, then or now.

We have more skills and experience than ever, having amassed this over a lifetime and often multiple careers. We know what to expect – and know to expect something completely out of the blue. More so, we have decades of experience with people. We understand the importance of making customers, partners, and co-workers feel valued. We can lead by authority or example. We have learned to resolve conflicts – not just between individuals but in our own lives. After a personal or professional disappointment, we still show up on Monday morning.

Some have expressed concern that oldsters wouldn’t fit in to a younger team, that they wouldn’t have stamina or be fun to work with. Through our careers and through our lives, we have met and worked and played with people of all ages. We have dealt with the irascible and enjoyed the delightful. Granted, I don’t pull all-nighters in the office anymore; but I like to think that’s because I manage my time better. As for being fun, we came of age in the sixties and seventies. ‘Nuff said.

A diverse workforce is richer in capability. A project team with different viewpoints and histories is more likely to reach a successful outcome. We may have more health issues than those in their 20s and 30s, though backs, knees and ankles can be troublesome at any age. We also have fewer conflicts of younger families: no colicky children keeping us up at all hours; no “school nights” for which we must excuse ourselves. If divorce or personal trauma were in the picture, we’ve moved past most of that. By now, we know who we are.

We are the engineers who designed and built the infrastructure upon which the tech parade is marching. We are the teachers who know how to communicate and direct. We are the managers who have piloted people and projects through uncertainty – and isn’t that what business management is about?

So when you’re looking to fill your next position or add to your team, don’t just hire experience: hire life experience.

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