Have you ever noticed that professional athletes are getting bigger contracts at younger and younger ages? Look at what is happening in free agency in major sports leagues. It used to be that players in the later stages of their careers were able to get a massive payday for their talent based on their history of past successes when they became free agents.
Not anymore, though.
Historically, many of those late-stage stars, who were expensive free agent signings, turned out to be huge mistakes, costing teams hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts that produced little in the way of tangible results. Nowadays, it’s clear that the role of the experienced veteran athlete is becoming rarer and rarer in professional sports.
As more teams are opting for newer players, they’re putting young athletes in critically important roles earlier in their careers. While this strategy can lead to some mistakes, it also has the potential to rapidly accelerate a young star’s development while they’re at the peak of their athletic abilities. It also means that experienced athletes are finding it harder to get a well-paying job, with careers ending earlier, or former starts being forced to take short-term contracts so they can prove themselves.
Why am I spending all this time talking about sports, you might ask?
Well, ironically, I notice a lot of negativity towards people earlier in their career. In fact, one of the most common complaints that I have heard from experienced professionals is that younger employees just don’t have the experience necessary to be successful in their jobs. I hear these statements over and over again, even though younger staff are becoming increasingly more likely to take on leadership positions, often ahead of their older colleagues.
At the same time, it seems like companies are becoming less willing to hire an older candidate to fill a high-level role. While this is surely influenced by cost, perhaps the business world is becoming like professional sports, and experience just isn’t as valuable as it used to be. Companies, like sports franchises, are paying for raw talent and how productive a team member is now, not what somebody did 5 or 10 years ago.
If this is the case, then how can a senior employee stand out in a crowd of young talent?
Changing Hiring Trends
These days, companies seem to be more interested in hiring younger staff with strong technical skill sets to fill their senior roles and executive positions. Just like in the sports world, there’s rapidly a shifting mindset that tends to value talent and demonstrable skills over years of experience.
In some cases, having lots of experience is actually seen as a negative in the hiring process. This can easily take people by surprise since we’ve traditionally viewed someone’s professional background as integral to their ability to succeed.
But, it turns out that in a rapidly changing world, it really doesn’t matter whether a person solved a problem 15 years ago, because new technology makes that old solution totally obsolete. In so many industries, the way things used to be done has little or no impact on the decisions we make today.
Why is this happening? It’s simple: Technology has fundamentally changed how we approach our work. If you can’t make the most of the high-tech tools available to you, it’s going to be hard to succeed in an increasingly virtual world.
To put it plainly, having a strong background in technology makes you more productive. This gives younger candidates that have been connected to the internet for most of their lives a bigger advantage in the hiring process.
Technology Is The Way Forward
The argument I’ve presented so far is bound to make some people upset, but it’s quite hard to argue that technology isn’t the driving force behind these changing trends.
Don’t believe me? Consider these two basic examples:
- Imagine a recent university graduate that can type 90 words a minute compared to an experienced employee that can’t touch type and can only eke out 15 words in the same time frame. In this example, the young applicant can answer emails 6 times faster than their older colleague. Sure, emails aren’t the end-all-be-all of our jobs, but we do have to write quite a few of them!
- These days, pretty much all new university grads are well-versed in tools like Excel. Without any specialized training, they’re crunching data using pivot tables, functions and VBA that their managers might not even know exist. If you had a hire onto your team, would you want a young, technology-literate professional or the person that struggles to create graphs in Excel?
How To Make your Experience Matter
Okay, at this point, if you’re a senior employee with decades of experience but little to offer in the way of lightning-fast technological skills, you might be feeling a bit deflated. I have personally seen many highly-qualified professionals give up or just sit back and complain about these changing hiring trends.
However, giving up is almost never the solution. There are many steps you can take to stay relevant in a rapidly shifting and dynamic business environment. Here are seven things you can do to keep up in a business world that is getting younger every day:
1. Keep Being Great!
You might feel like your younger colleagues are outperforming you, but don’t forget that you can still shine in your job. Keep working on yourself and make your role in your organization indispensable.
Be a top-performer and be a joy to work with. Make sure that your team loves having you around and ensure that you’re contributing positively to your organization.
At the end of the day, people may not remember precisely all the great things you did at your job, but they’ll certainly remember how you treated them and how hard you worked. So, make every interaction you have a good one and keep up your excellent work ethic.
2. Don’t Stop Learning
More often than not, highly experienced personnel think that they have all the skills that they need to succeed. But, we all have things to learn, and, as more experienced professionals, you don’t want to let your skills atrophy.
If you find that there are aspects of your job that you struggle with, particularly when it comes to technology, find ways to get better at what you do. Search out online tutorials, enroll in some distance-learning classes, or seek out help from friends and family.
Free online classes on VBA from sites like Coursera can help you maximize your productivity at work. Or, if you work as a software developer, keep plugging away at passion projects in new languages to stay on top of new technological trends.
3. Stay Relevant
There can be a lot of experienced professionals looking for work, so it can be hard to stand out in the crowd. To make it more likely that head hunters will find you, demonstrate your skills, expertise, and knowledge in a way that’s relevant to your industry.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to keep working away at projects you’re truly passionate about, even if they’re not part of your day job. Experience alone isn’t generally enough to land you that promotion you’ve always wanted, so finding other ways to demonstrate how your abilities are relevant to your work is essential.
4. Expand Your Current Role
It’s easy to get comfortable in your job, particularly if you’ve been there for a long time and you’re good at it. But, if you’ve had the same role at one company for too long, recruiters will be wary of your ability to adapt to a new role, or a new organization.
The last thing you want is to feel like your career has plateaued. If you’re a strong performer, you should look to take on new challenges in your job with new roles or functions every few years. Doing so makes it easier to learn new skills, gain a diversity of experience, and continue to grow in a way that keeps you relevant.
5. Be Willing To Look For Greener Pastures
If you feel like you’re a top performer at your company, but you’re not getting the opportunities you think you deserve, then it might be time to look elsewhere. Even if you’re happy with the organization you work for, you don’t necessarily want to get locked into a specific role if you’re ready to take on new responsibilities.
There are a lot of benefits to looking for work at another organization, especially if you aren’t developing at your current role. At the very least, it doesn’t hurt to look around at your options. You might decide to stay where you are, but at least you know what’s available should you want to change things up. The days of working 40 to 50 years at one company and retiring with a gold watch at the end are long gone.
6. Networking Is Critical
Unless you’re a total extrovert, the idea of networking probably doesn’t make you giddy with excitement. But, networking is essential if you’re looking to branch out and take on a new role with added responsibility.
This is particularly important if you’re considering applying for work at other organizations. Getting to know other people in your industry can open up doors and help you find opportunities that you didn’t even know existed.
Start with going to trade shows and conferences. These events are good places to meet other people in your industry and talk with them face-to-face. They’re also a solid way to stay up to date with the latest advancements in your field.
But, keep in mind that networking isn’t just small talk. If you really want someone to remember you, chatting about the weather isn’t going to do the trick. When you attend events to grow your network, keep in mind that networking isn’t just talking to someone. It’s about listening, and getting to know that person. If you aren’t genuinely interested in learning about another person, then networking isn’t going to go well. And if there’s something you want from your networking, state it clearly in your conversation, but be sure that you have something to offer in return.
But, above all, have fun and engage with others in your industry. You never know where a simple conversation might lead!
7. Be Wise With Your Earnings
The business world, in many ways, is similar to professional sports. This is particularly true when it comes to how much you make over your career.
The harsh reality is that it looks like the business world is changing, and you may end up with your maximum earnings potential somewhere around your mid-career. This means that we’ll make less when we get older, unless we’ve managed to land a senior-level executive position at a thriving company. It might not be fun to hear, but it’s important to manage your money properly when you’re a mid-career professional. Save it and invest it so you can bow out of your industry gracefully when the time comes.
Seize All Opportunities That Come Your Way
The idea of being passed over for a younger colleague isn’t fun, to say the least. But, the fact of the matter is that we can still leverage our experience in our favor if we’re willing to put in a bit of extra work.
These days, experience alone isn’t necessarily enough to land you your dream job, even if you’ve been in your industry for decades. Taking some initiative to network and to learn new skills is exactly what you need to do to thrive in a rapidly changing business environment.
Getting promotions and new opportunities when you have lots of experience is about showing everyone that your skills are relevant and that you have a lot that you can bring to the table. Ultimately, don’t give up. Keep working, keep learning, and, above all, be a great person to work with. Just don’t lose sight of your goals along the way.