Weekly Wrap: It’s a Age-Old Question – Would You Hire Meryl Streep?

Let me be honest about this: I’m an older guy (hard to admit that), but I’m not delusional. I know better than anyone that in today’s economy, if I were to lose my job tomorrow, my chances of finding another one at or near my same salary level are virtually nil.

There are a lot of reasons for that, but I think the main one is that businesses and hiring managers just don’t put much value in experience and wisdom anymore — especially if it comes with a price tag commensurate with the years it takes to acquire it.

Not all that long ago, I applied to a job posting that wanted very specific experience that not too many people have, although I did. Problem was, they didn’t want to pay very much for that experience.

Experience, wisdom aren’t viewed as pluses anymore

When they gave me the run-around (promising a return phone call that never came, re-posting the job without telling me why, and failing to get back to me at every turn), I challenged them on it. They admitted they had behaved badly, but there was a reason — they couldn’t afford my salary!

When I challenged them on that and pointed out that their very specific experience requirements severely limited the candidate pool, and that they would need to pay someone (like me) more to get that specific experience, they said something interesting: “Well, I guess we won’t be getting that experience then.”

I was flabbergasted, but when it sunk in, I got it. They wanted the experience, but not the salary that naturally comes with it. And, they were more willing to tightly stick to the salary than to really get the experience needed for the position.

This all happened a few years ago, and if anything, the situation has gotten a lot worse since. Experience and wisdom are no longer viewed as benefits because they’re pricey. And, that puts older workers at risk given the current trend to ruthlessly cut head count at all costs.

So given all of that, how do we explain Meryl Streep, the three-time Academy Award winning actress who just won again last month as Best Actress for her portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady? How does she keep doing it — getting jobs, and getting nominated for awards — given that’s she’s 62, an age when few Hollywood actresses are even considered for lead roles?

What makes Meryl Streep great?

TLNT’s sister website ERE has a great article about that, and author Ronald Katz gets right to it:

Would you hire Meryl Streep?

She’s 62, you know. And sure, she’s been nominated for 17 Academy Awards, but prior to winning this year for her brilliant portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” she had a pretty questionable track record. Only two awards out of 16 opportunities. That’s barely better than a 10 percent success rate. And did I mention that she’s 62? She has been making movies since 1977. Half the time she doesn’t even get nominated!

She once went five years without a nomination back in the 1990s. It has been two years since her last movie came out. I think she might be losing her edge. Unemployed for two years … do you really want to take a chance on her? Maybe the times are passing her by? Maybe she can’t keep up with younger actresses? What if she can’t adapt to all the new technologies? What if she’s uncomfortable working with directors who are younger than she is? That could be a problem. And you know she was unemployed before she got this part. Can’t we find a currently employed actress for our next film?

Sound ridiculous? Of course it does. Any producer or director would give up a reservation at Chateau Marmont to work with the woman who is arguably the finest screen actress of the past 50 years and the acknowledged successor to the brilliant Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn. Yet we hear these same arguments every day in conversations with recruiters and hiring managers. All the myths that exist about people who are unemployed — particularly those who are on the other side of age 50.”

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What makes Meryl Streep a great actress? Well, great skills are a start, but over time, she’s gained great experience and wisdom that more than make up for the fact that she’s not so youthful anymore.

There are lot of great people out there in our workforce, and although they may not be as accomplished as Meryl Streep, they can still contribute and add great value to an organization’s bottom line — if they could just get the chance to show their stuff. It’s the shame of our youth-obsessed culture that we are so willing to write them off, and the joy of this ERE article by Ronald Katz is how deftly he points this out.

Big employee bonuses at Alaska Air and GM

Of course, there’s more than whether you would be bright enough to ignore her age and hire Meryl Streep in the news this week. Here are a few HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Coping with Obamacare – how small business is doing: The New York Times You’re the Boss blog just launched a series on how small business managers is dealing with the huge changes that are coming due to health care reform. And, the first installment asks small business owner Ann Gish what she wants out of the process: “Simplification. Health insurance, Ms. Gish said, “should be put together in a way that any idiot could understand.” Though Ms. Gish has occasionally read press accounts of how the Affordable Care Act will change insurance, she concedes that she still does not know what to expect. “I figure when 2014 comes, I’ll have to learn it,” she said. “But since I feel pretty powerless about doing anything, and since it could all change before then, what’s the point in trying to sink your teeth into it now?”
  • Big bonuses at Alaska Air: It’s good to be an employee at the Alaska Air Group. That’s because, according to the Seattle Times, the airline just paid out an average of $5,200 per person in bonuses to employees — more than $52 million overall. “The bonus, awarded for exceeding 2011 operational and financial goals, is about 6.7 percent of annual pay, or more than three weeks’ pay for most workers … It comes in addition to a total of about $1,000 in monthly bonuses that each employee earned last year for achieving monthly on-time and customer-satisfaction targets. The combined monthly and annual bonuses amounted to nearly $72 million.”
  • And a good year for employees at GM, too: The American automobile industry is coming back, and GM is clearly at the heart of that. According to an Associated Press story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, they are giving out more than $500 million in bonuses for employees across the board, reflecting a much-improved performance at the giant automaker. “GM, which made a record profit in 2011, will pay bonuses of at least $182 million to white-collar workers such as engineers, car designers and managers today, according to a formula obtained by The Associated Press. That’s on top of $332.5 million in profit sharing it already agreed to pay factory workers.”
  • What would Peter Drucker say about Jeremy Lin? Wonder what the father of modern management would say about the hullabaloo over newly discovered pro basketball star Jeremy Lin? Bloomberg Businessweek gives us a sense of  how he might have reacted. “Peter Drucker was never much into sports … But even Drucker would have been swept up by the phenomenon of New York Knicks bench-warmer-turned-global-sensation Jeremy Lin. That’s because “Linsanity” offers some valuable lessons on managing information, innovation (or should I say, “lin-formaton” and “lin-novation”?)”
  • International Women’s Day is March 8. Time and attendance technology giant Kronos has a great little video marking this important day next weel. It’s worth a look.