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Age tells you nothing about how someone feels about and performs in their work. Still, over-50s are often written off as being ‘too old’. Petra Herman feels this is completely unjust. ‘Age tells you very little. A few times a year I talk to people between the ages of 30 and 40 and think: shall I turn on the motion sensor to find out whether there’s still any life in them?’

By Astrid Prummel

It’s not only clients who experience doubts upon seeing a CV from someone over the age of 50; candidates often also feel insecure about their age. Petra Herman notices this regularly in discussions, with people often asking her, ‘Aren’t I too old?’ She always gives them the same answer: ‘Age is just a number.

There are three things that matter. One: are you up to date on and connected with the latest developments in your profession? Two: are you passionate about your profession, and do you let others see that? And three: do you still have the energy and drive to make the difference? If you satisfy these three conditions, your age will be much less of an issue, and perhaps even an advantage. After all, you have many years of relevant work and life experience, which gives you a much broader perspective than someone who is 30.’

Does Herman Rutgers never look at age?
‘We will never discriminate against someone on the basis of age. A good portion of our population is over 40, because we mediate for senior positions. It may be that a client has a preference for a certain age, in order to keep the team’s composition diverse. Suppose you have a team of five, three of whom are already between 40 and 60. It makes sense, then, to look for a younger person for one of the other positions.’

Don’t prejudices about people over 50 also have to do with the fact that they don’t meet the ideal image of the young, dynamic professional?
‘People have to stop thinking that their career is over once they hit 50. If you are up to date in your profession, bursting with energy and passionate about what you do, then that’s what people will remember about you. Not a few wrinkles. Someone in their 20s or 30s who completely lacks energy will also not make it. That’s why I often think: why don’t we talk about energy labels instead of ages?’

Is it difficult to convince clients of this?
‘Sometimes you need to be more persuasive. I remember a recruitment process a couple of years ago for a communications director. I had suggested four people: one in their late 30s, two in their 40s, and someone in his 50s. The HR director asked me: do we have to see the one in his 50s? He’s rather old. I replied that they should definitely talk to the candidate in his 50s, because he was thoroughly informed, was passionate about what he did, full of energy, and had 25 years of relevant work experience behind him. He got the job.’

Do you have people in their 60s on file?
‘Yes, and I really stick my neck out for some of them, because they are extraordinary people. If you talk to them, you feel their energy; they connect effortlessly with the younger generations and are completely up to speed on their profession.’

Perhaps people find it difficult to be in charge of someone who is older than them?
‘That’s entirely possible. If someone has much more experience than you, that can feel threatening. As an older colleague, you can defuse that feeling by indicating that you are very cooperative, that you’re not there to pull the rug out from under someone else, but that you’re happy to share your knowledge and experience. In this too, personality is more important than age. Because if you’re a know-it-all or show-off at 30, you will still be one at 50, unless you’ve actually learned something.’


This is the second in a series of interviews about the experiences and observations of Herman Rutgers in the world of executive and interim recruitment by Out in the Open.


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