The ad says, “Recent College Grad.” Another says, “Digital Native.” Still another says, “Looking for a Cultural Fit.” Most recent college grads are under 30. Most digital natives were born after 1980. A cultural fit in a company of predominately younger employees leaves out older folks. Are these add words discouraging to older applicants? You bet! Are these ad words illegal? Maybe. AARP has a great article on the subject.

Yesterday, Michael was interviewed on the FOX Radio Network during drive time as a Workplace Cultural Expert on this issue. But instead of dwelling on the legalities and enforcement issues involved, he took a much different tact. Whether it can be proven illegal or not, whether the threat of liability is strong enough to end this type of discrimination, the fact is, it’s just plain bad business! Here’s a few good reasons why:

Technical Knowledge

We were surprised that when we hired recent college grads, the technology they knew was already obsolete and there were several programs we use every day that they didn’t know. For instance, such staples as WordPress, how to maximize LinkedIn and Facebook, best use of PowerPoint, and how to use video editing and platforms were a mystery to them. And for good reason! The features, formats and algorithms are changing so fast now that to maximize the use of these programs, folks must be in a constant state of learning. So, regardless of age, people must effectively start fresh every few years. So much for the perceived advantage of recent college grads. They need constant retraining as much as an older employee might.


Younger employees tend to be short timers. We recently hired and trained another recent college grad. After 18 months she announced, “Well, I’m off to my next opportunity!” and she left! So much for all the training and the relationships she had developed with our vendors, outsourced service providers and customers. When asked why, she said, “This was just my first job and I need to see if there’s anything better for me. I need to build my experience.” Older employees are more appreciative of the job, less likely to bolt, and are generally pretty stable in their relationships, residences, and family. That stability can result in a much better ROI in training and relationship building. They are simply more likely to stay with your company. Remember, turnover is the #1 hidden cost of doing business.


The best hire we ever made was a 70-year-old employee! He not only knew all the key buyers in our industry, he knew exactly what we had to do to get noticed at retail. He had 40 years of experience! What a Godsend for a fledgling startup with limited knowledge of our industry. He not only knew what to do, but he had experience at teaching others. Our younger staff loved him because he took an interest in their success. He was their “go to” guy! Our young company all of a sudden gained respect with the other organizations we depended upon because he knew and followed their policies and procedures. We recommend that today’s older applicants sell themselves on this basis. It’s not what they don’t know, it’s what they do know! Startup and Build up businesses should be looking for that kind of experience.

Soft Skills

Most older employees were raised with soft skills as a given. They didn’t grow up in a tech world that thought that somehow the classic values of human relations were retro or obsolete and not necessary with today’s technology. Ironically, when we attended a commencement for a young friend who recently graduated from Stanford with a master’s in engineering, the Dean surprised us. In his commencement address, he warned the students, “We, your teachers, have given you the best technical education possible. But we are concerned about you because the number one reason for tech startup failure is a lack of soft skills.” He then went on to describe how soft skills are absolutely necessary to engage others, get the best prices, get the best credit and terms, achieve cooperation, and make sales happen. He advised the grads to learn them.


After a particularly trying day of interviewing candidates for a receptionist’s job, an older applicant came in. She was in her late 60’s at the time. She opened with, “I guess you are wondering why you are going to hire an older person like me to sit out front and represent your business.” She then went on to tell us she had 25 yrs. in the military working for a General. We hired her. Fast forward two years, a middle-aged man came into our lobby and started looking at pictures and licenses hung on the wall. He said nothing. He was dress in Bermuda shorts and an aloha shirt and had a camera over his shoulder. Was he lost? Was he on holiday? This was our business office and not open to the public. Did he have an appointment? The senior we hired smiled at him from the reception desk and asked politely from across the room, “Are you a supermarket buyer?” He said, “Does it show?” She had already alerted our national chain manager, a much younger man, to “Get out here right now!” That led to us getting into 26 stores in Arizona because of her sensitivity, social abilities, and understanding of our challenges. A less experienced person may have simply explained that our office was not open to the public, and shown him the door!


Older employees tend to be more stable, exhibit more soft skills, and bring a level of experience that only time on the job can teach. They are more likely to be appreciative, engaged, and have your business at heart. Don’t overlook this incredible opportunity to add a level of knowledge to your business. Balance the enthusiasm and inexperience of youth in your workforce with the stability and experience that only age can bring. You will see it’s benefits in your bottom line!

Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact