Here’s why companies don’t want to hire people over the age of 40

By: Ingar Grev

“Beware of a leader who doesn’t have scars or walk with a limp.”

One of the characteristics of a great leader is wisdom, and the best way to get wisdom is through experience. Normally that experience includes a few failures — that’s where battle scars and limps come from.

Any competent business owner or executive should want managers who have gained wisdom through the crucible of fiery trials. There’s an almost limitless supply of that kind of talent in unemployed or underemployed people over 40.

When some colleagues and I started a group a few years ago to help people in our community find work, I was not prepared for the crisis of underemployed or unemployed men and women over 40 — particularly white-collar managers.

The mantra of “overqualified and over 40” is well known among that group. Anecdotally, there seems to be a bias against them, and here are some of the reasons I’ve heard from those in a position to hire:

If we hire an overqualified older person at a salary that is clearly below what she should earn, we’ll lose her as soon as something better comes along

Maybe, but that’s also applicable for younger managers, and younger managers are the ones who are actually being recruited. A 50-year-old manager who just blew through all of her savings, maxed all her debt, and is borrowing from friends, will jump at a job that pays her enough to cover her bills. Sure, she may jump at something else that pays more — but that’s less likely for her than it is for someone under 40.

If we hire an overqualified older person at a lower salary than he should be earning, there’s probably something wrong with him

Yes, there is something “wrong” with him — he’s over 40. If he’s unemployed or underemployed, he’s not getting called and he’s not finding work. His applications for jobs are not being answered. He’ll jump at anything that covers his bills, so consider taking advantage of the bargain.

If she’s over 40, we interview her, and we don’t give her the job, she may sue for age discrimination

If you’re hearing this kind of unethical garbage from your advisers or peer groups, get new advisers. That’s an awful lot of talent to leave untapped on the outside chance of a lawsuit.

We want someone to hang around for a long time, and if he’s over 40, he might retire sooner than we want

If he’s underemployed or unemployed, and has been so for quite some time, he’ll probably be working until he’s in his 70s or older. If he takes care of himself, he’ll have a high energy level for that entire time. And since he learned how much being unemployed or underemployed sucks, he’s more likely to be thankful for it than someone who hasn’t had that experience.

They’re set in their ways

Maybe, but that’s a pretty big assumption. Moreover, having the voice of caution on your team can only hurt if you don’t like debate.

Thanks to the economic situation we still find ourselves in, you can snap up all kinds of seriously awesome experience for a bargain. I’ll give you some tips on how to find and onboard them in my next column.

Here’s why companies don’t want to hire people over the age of 40