Career Watch: A new perspective on older workers


The managing director of the Dallas office of executive search firm Stanton Chase International discusses changes in prospects for older workers.

As the U.S. looks to address its fiscal challenges, how likely is it that we will see an increase in the retirement age? I personally believe it will be increased for various entitlement programs, with grandfather clauses for those close to retirement age.

Many say . If the retirement age is pushed back to 70 or more, will these people just spend more years underemployed? I am seeing an openness on the part of employers to look at more experienced people (those in their late 50s and early 60s) who demonstrate energy and a willingness to travel and do what it takes to get the job done. I think more experienced people have better opportunities today than they did 10 or 15 years ago, thanks to the . One client recently told me he had interviewed a candidate who was in his early 70s.

What accounts for this change? Companies tend to hire younger to get a return on investment. A younger person might be able to contribute for 10 to 15 years, be part of succession planning and add bench strength. Nonetheless, companies today are recognizing that if they can get five to 10 years of good performance, then the investment is good. This is different thinking than 15 or more years ago, when companies were really looking for more long-term commitment. But they accept the reality that people today move on more quickly than they did in the past, especially the younger generation.

Among employers, there's a new emphasis on developing better retention vehicles and a culture that offers work/life balance and a more purposeful life through things like giving back, pursuing green initiatives and conservation, and promoting community service. But sometimes a company has a pressing need that can best be addressed by hiring a more experienced person. The company may need someone who can quickly grow revenue, enter new markets, take a new product to market, expand globally, develop and lead a young team, implement a new system, integrate a new business, or leverage new technology, and may feel that only someone with a wealth of experience can deliver what is needed. The company may also want the experienced hire to mentor and develop a successor.