Some employers don't shy away from hiring older workers
By Anita Bruzze
Bob Brandon says he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong occupation when the economy went sour. To add to this perfect storm of bad luck, Brandon is 59, an age group that often experiences longer layoffs and a greater percentage drop in earning power than younger workers.
"I just got hit over and over. I've since relocated from Arizona to Missouri," says the 32-year veteran landscape architect. "My daughter has opened her home to me because I need to cut my expenses."
Brandon says he has sent out at least 30 applications since he was laid off in early March from his Phoenix-based company, but so far has only gotten two responses and no job offers. "I'm just not finding anything. It's really hard. My feeling is that I won't get hired again. My gut instinct is that no one is interested in hiring an older worker."
But that's not what some employers say. At Stearns Lending, 218 employees have been hired in the past six months, and 113 of them were over 40.
"The grayer the better," says Glenn Stearns, chairman of the California-based Stearns Corp., which has more than 25 companies, including Stearns Lending. "What we want are employees with experience. We could easily pick up people with less experience who are cheaper, but we have a company that survived — and thrived — because of our more experienced people."
That's saying something at a time when many of those in the mortgage business have sunk out of sight. But Stearns says that's just another plus for his company.
That's a sentiment echoed by Debra Freligh, president of DMF Media Service LLC in Sparta, N.J.
"Age has never been a consideration for me. It's never an issue," Freligh says. "I recently hired a 50-year-old accountant because of experience and reliability. It has proven to be a great decision."
While some may balk when they see a job seeker with the lined visage of experience and more than a few gray hairs, Freligh says that employers shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the hard work ethic many older employees bring.
"I had a college intern who I set up to meet with a CEO of a cola company that was being launched. I told him what a great opportunity it was, to give him a feel for marketing. The day of this meeting, this student called me and said he was going to New York City with his friends. I had been waiting to meet him and he said he 'forgot.' I was floored," Freligh says.
While Freligh is quick to add that she doesn't want to malign younger workers, she says she finds older workers "so conscientious" and "at a different place in their lives — they're so happy to get a job."
Stearns says it's because his more experienced employees knew how to "size up" borrowers that his company is in such great shape. "Some of the young, inexperienced people for other companies just got caught up in all of these bad loans. They're now realizing the ramifications of helping people get homes they couldn't afford. Our older employees were seasoned and knew better. If there is a poster boy for experience paying off, it's us."
Still, not all older workers can find jobs in a field that has supported them for decades. In April, the unemployment rate for employees over 45 was 6.4 percent, the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking monthly unemployment in 1948.
Unemployed workers like Brandon say that they believe employers are more attracted to hiring younger, cheaper talent at a time when companies are trying to cut costs.
For Brandon, who says he "just puts his head down and works" and who always took "the most difficult and complex" jobs because he had the experience to do them, this layoff has been one more blow after a costly divorce that has left him in debt, his assets gone.