On my first interview for a project manager position I was asked how someone with my limited experience (i.e. young age) could be expected to perform well on the job.  My reply to the hiring manager was “do you want someone who has 20 years of experience managing projects the wrong way or someone who know how to manage projects effectively?”  This bravado I believe is what got me the job, although in hind sight my arrogance carried quite a bit of ignorance at the time.

A friend of mine used to joke about experience by asking “do you really have 20 years of experience or 1 year of experience repeated 20 times?”  While I certainly believe that there are instances where my friend’s joke applies, it would be foolish to discount years of experience and age when looking for project management talent.

The reason I am thinking about this topic today is because of a recent article I came across by Steve Tobak on bnet.com titled “Do We Get Better With Age?”   He provides for some excellent discussion points regarding what gets better with age, such as ability, versus what gets worse, such as stamina.

One thing that the article does not address is attitude toward risk.  If we compare a 20 year old for example with a 50 year old, I would venture to guess that the younger individual has stronger feelings of invincibility and a sense of immortality.  However, as we get older, that feeling of invincibility disappears.  What we gain instead though is wisdom.  We become better able to sense danger and as such become more able to deal with risk.

Risk is a major component of project management and effective practitioners are ones who are able to lead the team through the various process dealing with risk planning, identification, analysis, etc…  It is within this area of project management that I believe more experienced (and yes, but definition older) project managers have an edge over the less experienced (younger PMs). This statement however is a qualitative one based on my opinion rather than hard data or research.

When reflecting on my own experience hiring project managers I found that I focused less on age and more on the relevance of the experience as compared to the job requirement. The conclusion however that I have to keep coming back to is that experience, like everything else is a factor among many that should be taken into consideration.