A giant ship engine had failed. The ship’s owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure but how to fix the engine.

Then they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was a young. He carried a large bag of tools with him, and when he arrived, he immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom.

Two of the ship’s owners were there, nervously watching this man, hoping he would know what to do. After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. He carefully put his hammer away. The engine was fixed!

A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars. “What?!” the owners exclaimed. “He hardly did anything!” So they wrote the old man a note saying, “Please send us an itemized bill.”

The man sent a bill that read:
Tapping with a hammer…… …… ……… $ 2.00
Knowing where to tap……… …… ……… $ 9,998.00

MORAL: Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort makes all the difference!”

The moral of this age-old joke applies to top recruiters as well as business executives. How does one gain this expertise? Through trial and error. Learning from your mistakes. Learning what works. Experience makes a great deal of difference in getting projects done well, under budget, and on time.

Older, experienced workers provide significant value because they may have worked in a number of similar businesses and can share processes and ideas that worked in their previous companies, as well as warn against other processes or ideas that didn’t work and why, so you can avoid a similar outcome. They have a valuable work ethic, including punctuality, being detail-oriented, and focused. They come with organizational skills, maturity, and confidence. They take pride in a job well done, setting an example for younger workers. They typically have deep personal integrity and are appreciative for the work. They understand a job is not a right, but a partnership between the company and themselves. They understand how to justify their salary. It comes with being in the workforce 15, 20, 25+ years. Older workers typically are “empty nesters” so they have more flexibility to work late or come in early, and won’t need time off for family-related issues.

Another powerful aspect of older workers is that those who excel are natural autodidacts. Take into consideration that most of these individuals went to college in the 70s and 80s, some even earlier. They never saw a computer in a classroom. When they first joined the workforce, there may not have been computers there either. They have had to either embrace new technology or become irrelevant. Since then technology has changed at such a rapid pace that they either had to learn on their own or face losing their employability.

There are many reasons why older workers are less desirable to some employers. They demand higher salaries due to their experience. Some hiring managers don’t feel comfortable supervising someone older than themselves. Other don’t feel that an older worker can “fit in” with their younger employees and be accepted into the team as well. That might be true in some corporate settings.

The challenge is not to immediately dismiss someone just because of their age (which it a discriminatory practice anyway). When reviewing resumes, skip dates so that you are looking at a candidate’s body of work objectively. When interviewing, ask them directly about your concerns (but not age-related, more about corporate fit – for example, “Would you have any issues reporting to a manager that is much younger than you?”). Older workers may be looking to supplement their retirement income, so their costs may be similar to others with far less experience. They may be in a position to be looking for something that is “more 9 to 5? than their previous high pressure job so they can focus on family, hobbies, or projects outside of work.

Original article by Jeanne Heydecker

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