Older IT Workers Becoming Hot Commodity

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During the dot com craze, the pony tail and black T-shirt crowd ruled the office. Nerf hoops hung from the walls, lattes were the drink of choice, and foosball tables replaced boardroom tables. Young, work-all-night, wear-what-you-want was in.

And the suit-wearing, boardroom types were out. Anyone over 30 who owned a suit wasn't getting a foot in the door. Experience connoted unimaginative and boring. It was hard to be 35 and get a job. It was well near impossible if you were over 50.

But many, if not most, of those businesses went under. And they went under because no one was on board who had any business experience. It was all about cool technology and no one had any idea how to make a buck or how to manufacture the cool tool that was in some kid's head.

Well, the dot com bubble burst. The kids have had their BMWs repossessed and the suits are taking over.

Today, if you're over 50 with years of business experience, you're once again a hot commodity.

''A few years ago, it was a young person's game,'' says John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an international outplacement company based in Chicago. ''Certainly, in the dot coms the stereotypes of age discrimination were in full force. The environment was kind of like living in a college dorm. If you were over 40, you weren't going to get in. You just weren't going to be there.''

But a new report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas says that is no longer the case.

The median job search time for unemployed managers and executives 50 and older has dropped 10 times faster than that of younger job seekers over the last three quarters, the new report shows.

The report also notes that job search time has fallen for all age groups since the fourth quarter of 2002. But the drop in over-50 search times was much steeper, dropping 19 percent from 4.9 months in the fourth quarter last year to 4.0 months at the end of the third quarter this year. During the same time period, job seekers under 50 saw their search times drop by just 1.8 percent.

With the dramatic over-50 decline, that puts older workers in a virtual dead heat with those under 50, whose median search time is now 3.8 months. Challenger says he wouldn't be surprised to see older job seekers soon finding jobs faster than their younger counterparts.

''Now the companies that are making it have become much broader based,'' says Challenger, noting that it's now a much better time to be 50. ''Companies have recognized that experience is an essential piece of the puzzle. To bring that business experience on is crucial''

And Challenger says it wasn't just the dot coms keeping older workers at bay.

Big business wasn't quick to hire older workers, instead opting for younger people who might not have family requirements, would be more agreeable to working late and would accept a much smaller paycheck. ''If you lost your job in a big company, there was no way back in,'' adds Challenger. ''Today, big companies understand that if you bring somebody in who is 25, you're not going to be getting 20 years of experience. With an older worker, you may get more loyalty, more committmen and sometimes more of a work ethic. That means you'll be getting better employees.''

Gordon Haff, an analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata, agrees that the dot coms weren't the only companies who avoided hiring older workers.

''They thought if you worked for a big company, you must be a fogy and you don't have the kind of ideas and imagination we need,'' says Haff. ''There was that kind of attitude and not just during the dot com boom.''

And Haff points out that the bigger, the more established a company is on an older worker's resume, the tougher it may be to get another job. If the company is perceived to be old and slow, so may be the worker.

''It's particularly true if it's a company that was viewed as some old-line, inflexible, old-age type of company,'' says Haff. ''Those perceptions are carried over to the person. If they were a go-getter, they would have left. If the company is perceived as unimaginative and slow and boring, those characteristics get carried over to workers.''

Both analysts agree that as companies begin to think of hiring again, they're more apt to be looking for experience over youth. That means for the over-50 set, the tables may be turning.

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