Remember when Obama was elected and he was the first president who was younger than you? Or the first time a younger-than-you doctor walked into the exam room and you made a Doogie Howser joke (like he had never heard that one before)?
According to Pew Research, Baby Boomers make up one-third of the nation’s work force and Gen X-ers and Millennials comprise the other two-thirds. So here’s what will inevitably happen, if it hasn’t already: Boomers are going to be working for bosses who are likely younger than their own children. And even more inevitable, as Millennials assume bigger roles in companies, it will become more commonplace for a Millennial to be sitting behind the hiring desk deciding whether the applicant who resembles his Mom would be the best fit for the job.
We spoke to a few experts about what Boomers should be mindful of when the person doing the hiring was probably watching “Sesame Street” at the time they entered the work force. Here are some tips they offered:
1. Get used to it — literally.
Like everything else, we improve with practice. How comfortable are you talking to younger people? Will you be able to work for one? While we may have been brought up to respect our elders, will respecting the wisdom of someone half your age be an issue for you?
Brad Karsh, president of JB Training Solutions and author of “Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management,” says it’s incumbent on the job applicant to “show a little respect.” He notes, “Younger interviewers are in that job because they earned it, and you want to show that you respect their experience and position and that you’re excited to be on their team.”
The bottom line, he says, is “The standard rules of interviews still stand regardless of age. Be excited about the role, exhaust all resources to learn about the company, and don’t be afraid to create a conversation. Everyone, especially Millennials, value personal connections at work. Make small talk, ask them questions, and always send a thank-you note.”
Does it feel strange to be addressing someone your daughter’s age as “Ms?” Best to get over that, Karsh said. What to call your interviewer is a question a lot of Boomers have. Karsh noted, “By the time you have the interview, you will probably have some email correspondence. Notice how they address you and see how they sign their emails. This will give you an idea for the appropriate greeting and tone. This may even give you clues around their company culture and what you should wear to the interview. If you’re unsure, it’s not a bad idea to err on the side of more formal.”
2. Rethink where and how you network.
Since networking remains one of the best job-hunting tools in your arsenal, expand your reach to younger people. This will also serve as good practice for when you are being interviewed by someone younger. Besides, by now you’ve probably figured out that calling up people your age — many of whom have left the workplace — hasn’t gotten you very far.
Jayne Mattson, senior vice president of Keystone Associates,
says incorporating Millennials into your network is essential. “Develop relationships with Millennial managers who could hire you. Find a common ground by understanding what they look for in Baby Boomer new hires,” she said.
Mattson suggests inviting over a group of your children’s friends and work colleagues to let them know you are in the job market. Tell them that you want to build a diverse network that includes young professionals. She says to update
your LinkedIn profile with recommendations from someone younger that either worked for you or with you.
Also, try going to a few professional meetups in your area, even if they are a little outside your comfort zone. It’s good practice connecting to people of a different generation. It’s also a good way to learn about the office culture of specific companies.
3. Drop the stale language.
Most companies will schedule a screening interview by phone before they invite you in. This is a great chance for you to impress them with how current your knowledge and thinking is. There is a high value placed on forward-thinking innovation rather than experience for experience’s sake. Present your ideas for how to achieve goals. Learn what other companies in the space have done that’s worked. Drop the “We tried that once and it didn’t really work,” and “This is how we always did it.” Kiss of death, those two.
Instead, said Karsh, accentuate your flexibility and willingness to learn new things. Stress how you continue to sharpen your skills and study up on technology and innovations in the industry. Older workers sometimes face the stigma of being stuck in their ways, so emphasize how your experience and flexibility are a great pair, he said.
4. Understand the company culture.
Culture fit is very important to Millennials, and they will seek out individuals who match up with their company, said Karsh. Read up on the company culture as much as you can. Outside resources might include glassdoor.com, LinkedIn, or any “Best Places to Work” lists. This will give you more ammo going into the interview on how to tweak your approach.
5. Save the war stories for when someone shows a genuine interest.
Somewhere, sometime, some interviewer will ask you what it was like to work in your chosen field “back in the day.” It’s fine to tell them and answer their questions. Just make it clear that you don’t live in that era anymore. There is little upside to being seen as a living relic of a bygone era. If it happens during a job interview, try and steer the question back around to something current.
6. Don’t read rudeness where none is intended.
You are being interviewed by someone who was born with a smartphone in his hand. It is fairly typical for workers today to bring their laptops and phones into meetings. While it may feel rude to you if someone checks his texts while you are answering his question, don’t take it personally and don’t assume you’ve lost his attention. If it helps, try and remember the guys who used to lean back and put their feet up on the desk, leaving you to stare at the soles of their shoes.
Remember, jerks come in all ages.