How to attract mature talent to your firm

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With their years of experience, power skills and willingness to learn, older applicants have plenty to offer workplaces. Here’s how to find them.

Businesses are hiring over-50s to new roles because they complement the firm in many ways, from mentoring younger generations to taking less time off (according to research from insurance firm Ria, over-50s take half as many sick days as their twentysomething counterparts). Moreover, since the pandemic, many employers have noted a lack of soft skills in their Gen Z hires. It seems mature candidates could be the answer.

Besides recruitment, apprenticeships are providing a route to a new career for mature talent. Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show nearly half (47.4%) of all apprentices who started in 2021-22 were over the age of 25. In fact, out of the 349,190 recruits taken on during that year, one in 10 (30,510) were over 45. There are no upper age limits on apprenticeships in the UK, meaning any employer wishing to hire new recruits with experience of the workplace can readily dip into this talent pool.

How to recruit mature talent

Where to find them

Liv Thompson, Senior HR Adviser, Haines Watts: “We use Indeed, LinkedIn and a LinkedIn-style platform called Workvivo. One of the biggest challenges we’ve found when hiring mature talent is that candidates over a certain age won’t necessarily apply for jobs: they’ll use agencies instead. So it’s worth getting on the radar of agencies.”

Ensure your imagery and language in adverts and other recruitment content is age-inclusive

Thompson, Haines Watts: “We ensure photos of starters on our website and on LinkedIn show people of all ages, to demonstrate they’ve all had different journeys. Also, instead of using terms such as ‘graduates’ or ‘school-leavers’ – which might scare off older candidates – we refer to new people as ‘trainees’ instead.”

Finding career-changers within your own organisation

Thompson, Haines Watts: “It’s also about encouraging employees to speak up more. Line managers aren’t necessarily going to know whether they’ve got somebody who wants to pursue a career in the audit department. Sometimes we don’t find this info out until they fill their exit questionnaire when leaving!”

How to ensure more mature candidates make interview stage

Joe White, Associate Director in talent acquisition, RSM UK: “We tailor our adverts to highlight no previous experience is required and that we are searching for transferable skills. The assessment stages are typically small groups followed by individual face-to-face interviews focused on specific skills, motivation and attention to detail.”

Kevin Basmadji, Head of talent acquisition, KMPG UK: “When applying to KPMG, age is not important. To help eliminate bias (and promote diversity and inclusion), we operate a blind recruitment process and don’t accept CVs as part of our student application approach”.

Why businesses are recruiting mature talent

Their experience can be invaluable

Liz Wright, Partner, RSM UK: “Over the last couple of years, we’ve recruited a modest number of career-changers (around 50) into our business… They bring with them a wealth of transferable skills and experiences. For example, their knowledge of other sectors might align with our clients who work in those industries. More broadly, they also bring maturity, strong communication and time management skills, plus a genuine desire to learn and improve.”

Thompson, Haines Watts: “We don’t rule anybody out because they haven’t got the right qualifications. Instead, we look at the whole picture: the broader professional perspective of over-25s can be a real asset… Working at our offices often involves lots of ‘hands-on’ work. Because mature candidates have more experience under their belt, they’re often better equipped at dealing with this.”

Mature candidates are great at handling clients (and may even bring in new ones)

Thompson, Haines Watts: “We often find mature employees have a real ability to speak with clients at all levels, whether it’s a top pharma firm or a business owner who wants to pop into the office for a cup of tea. Mature candidates also seem unafraid to pick up the phone or invite somebody in for a chat. Any business wants to be relatable to their clients, so these are great skills.”

Wright, RSM UK: “Often mature employees are much more confident in dealing with clients because they use skills from prior roles such as retail or hospitality. Because they understand what good customer relations look like, they can spot areas where we can improve our delivery to clients.”

Career-changers can make excellent ready-to-go managers – they’re often quicker to be promoted too

Wright, RSM UK: “Once they’ve grasped the technical skills, mature employees are often faster to take on management tasks such as supervising junior staff, taking a lead in team activities and generally being a ‘go-to’ member of the team. In one business area of RSM, its 2022 intake of career-changers were promoted last year.”

Career-changers can help with difficult-to-fill areas

Thompson, Haines Watts: “Like many other accountancy firms, we sometimes struggle to fill roles in audit. When that happens, we immediately look at what we can do to promote others within the business, such as somebody in another department looking for their next career move.”

The ‘quit factor’ isn’t as high among older workers

Thompson, Haines Watts: “One of the difficulties we have with graduates, is that they sometimes want to change jobs three months down the line. However, one of the pros of experienced employees and career-changers is that they will look at staying within the role”.

Because a more diverse workforce always works better for business

Basmadji, KPMG: “As a firm, we harness diverse thinking and strive to attract people from all backgrounds and at every stage of their career. We have a broad range of entry routes into our firm, whether graduates, apprentices or experienced professionals. This inclusive environment is fundamental to our success as a business, as we believe greater diversity brings with it fresh thinking, different perspectives and ultimately better outcomes for clients.”

Challenges of working with mature talent

Dealing with mature candidates with no prior experience of accountancy

Wright, RSM UK: “It can be daunting to start over, especially for people who are used to knowing what they’re doing. However, RSM has a defined training programme for the first few months which allows mature candidates to build their knowledge and skillset, including soft and technical skills. After six months, they can decide to study for a professional qualification, but only after they feel comfortable. The pace and timing of study is flexible and driven by the individual to accommodate other responsibilities.”

Basmadji, KPMG: “We run various returners programmes which help experienced professionals from all genders return to work after an extended career break. We also run a Military Leavers’ programme which assists former service personnel with their transition into a civilian life with a career in the professional services industry.”

Dealing with requests for flexible working

Thompson, Haines Watts: “I’ve interviewed a few candidates who’ll start the conversation with, ‘I didn’t think you’d call me because I’ve been bringing up my children for the past few years’. It’s awful they might think this. Some returning parents also need flexible working. Try to find out what these candidates need and see if you can offer them something. For many businesses, this is a missed opportunity: they lose out on talent because of their unwillingness to be more flexible.”

Christian Koch is an award-winning journalist/editor who has written for the Evening Standard, Sunday Times, Guardian, Telegraph, The Independent, Q, The Face and Metro. He's also written about business for Accounting Technician, 20 and Director, where he is contributing editor.

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