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My Sunday out

February 15, 2009

After dropping off my car at the Toyota service center for routine service and knowing it’ll take half a day judging from the no. of cars in queue, I took a cab to town. I hadn’t gone to Kinokuniya KLCC for months. What better day than a Sunday to do it, I thought.

The cab I flagged down was driven by an Indian uncle, I think in his 50’s. He’s a friendly guy, spoke fluent English. As we drove into the city, we struck up a conversation that meandered from the Australian bush fire to the global recession. Frankly I was taken aback by his depth of knowledge. I’ve taken lots of cabs in different countries and I can tell you, macroeconomic theory isn’t something your normal cab driver would talk about.

I asked him if he had been a cab driver all this while. After a long hesitation, he said no, he’d been driving for about 6 months. He was attached to a bank at one time. He was doing pretty well until heart illness forced him into early retirement. After he recovered, he went into a business partnership that went bad and whatever he had left went into supporting his wife and 2 children in college.

Something about his demeanor told me he wasn’t bullshitting. I asked him if he’d thought about going back to corporate life since he’s still in fighting form. He said he’d like to but most of his job applications went unanswered. A couple of companies he called said they preferred someone younger. Even the headhunters couldn’t find him anything, citing his age as a problem. So with money running out, he felt he had no choice but to grab the only thing available – drive a cab.

So there he is, a corporate man, once an inspiration to a score of executives, now driving a humble taxi. And I have a feeling he’s not the only one.

I’ve confronted this question before – why do companies tell you yarns about the importance of experience and yet turn it away when it comes knocking.

OK, youth has its advantages, like:

  • They have less habits to “unlearn” hence are more easily molded
  • Management finds it easier to exercise authority over juniors
  • You can tell them to sacrifice their personal lives for the job
  • They have fewer health issues, hence are cheaper to maintain.

What about elder, more experienced people? Here are some common perceptions:

  • That if you’re a senior, you’re assumed to be accomplished. If you’re applying for anything less than an accomplished position (VP, CEO, board member?), you’re immediately suspected of being a non-performer or someone with serious issues.
  • People don’t know how to deal with age-based diversity. When a 30-year old manager must handle a 50-year old team member with years more experience, would structure break down?
  • The perception that people lose mental sharpness and energy with age.

The strange thing is, the bias may be more cultural than based on fact.

In the US, its normal to see the elderly among flight attendants, customer service staff and mid-level executives, jobs customarily reserved for the young and sexy in Asia.

Perhaps Americans benefited from the equal opportunity clause in employment where it can actually be illegal to deny an opportunity based on age, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Different places handle diversity differently I guess.

But what about you? If you were a hiring manager, would you disqualify a candidate purely on the basis of age? If yes, why?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 20, 2009 10:59 am

    Asians have this mentality that the youngsters will never step over the seniors…or become their bosses. That’s why most young executives find it hard to climb to the top of the corporate ladder unless

    1. all the ‘old’ people left…leaving him as the senior.
    2. he starts his own company.
    3. he is exceptionally good
    4. he plays politics and kills every other people in the team.

    Else, he might have to wait forever before he can step up to a more important role.

    And maybe that’s how this kind of mentality is formed. If you hire someone older and more experienced….doesn’t that mean you’re allowing someone who might take over your place from u? Why ruin your rice bowl? It’s easier to find someone younger and more ‘innocent’.

    Mmm maybe the next time i start a business, i can go find such senior people and hire them at a cheap price. ohohooho.

    Sometimes I wonder if a counterbalancing force is at work. The seniors treat the juniors a certain way and when the time comes, the treatment flips the other way. And both ways are unfortunate.

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