A while back on LinkedIn, I was a part of a discussion group about job search over age 50. Someone made the comment that there was “no such thing as age discrimination”, only the “poor attitudes” of older job seekers.
Yes, it’s true – all hiring is discriminatory, it’s not solely about age, but I also can’t deny that age discrimination has been the major obstacle in my own job search.
I got top-notch career coaching at Career HMO – they have excellent content for age 50+ job seekers and I did everything necessary, from tailoring my resume to begin at 1993 (so I could pass for 40) to upgrading my technical skills and making sure my wardrobe and appearance was professional and up to date. I am someone who is young at heart by nature, so appearing “old” didn’t concern me. I knew that I had to stress my skills to an interviewer, but not to oversell myself; and even though I’ve had a lot of experience working with Gen X and Millennials, and can articulate the differences, I continued to follow the relevant content on LinkedIn, Harvard Business Review and Fast Company, among others. When push came to shove, I was well prepared for the interviewer who was wary of a mature candidate.
Despite my best efforts, I experienced age discrimination at most of my interviews.
Sometimes it was about technical skills – “you don’t know SharePoint” or “you’ve never done budgets”; other times it was “we only want to pay 40K”. It was such an ongoing issue, that I decided I had to blog about it. And I’m setting out to prove, that in my case, it’s not about a “poor attitude”.
The absurd story that follows is the first of a series:
On a miserable spring day I interviewed at a major insurance broker for an Executive Assistant position. The generation gap was apparent the moment my 30ish interviewer bounded into the room wearing yoga pants and a t-shirt. She had unkempt hair and was carrying a frozen coffee drink. I immediately felt ridiculous – how dare I wear a trim black dress and matching jacket to a job interview?
She eyed me with barely concealed contempt – One look at me and she had already written me off. There was no small talk, not even “tell me about yourself”. Her first words to me were “how do you organize your day?”. I gave her a very good answer based on my experiences as an EA which ended with the observation that sometimes you have to put your phone on forward or close your email program for an hour when working on an urgent task.
“That’s not the right answer!” she thundered.
I was startled by her aggression, but wanted to keep the conversation civil. It was after all, a job interview. My response was this: “Surely there are no right or wrong answers– there are only work styles. What works for one person may not work for another…”
That rationality seemed to go over her head: “You won’t get very far in this job by ignoring your email for a whole hour” she scoffed. (Translation: “you’re so old and dumb you’d never last here”…)
I continued to treat her respectfully, hoping to salvage the situation – “would you mind telling me what you think is the right answer?” I asked politely
“MUL-TI-TAS-KING” she enunciated, as if she believed I’d never heard the term before. “You’ve got to be able to juggle 8 balls at once”.
It was on the tip of my very sharp tongue to suggest she might add a 9th ball to her own juggling act – and that would be dressing properly for work.
Her sheepish boss, (who was my age) suddenly appeared and without asking me another question, she left the room in a huff. He and I had a wonderful interview. It was clear to me who wore the pants in that working relationship and I might have gotten the job if it hadn’t been for “the barbarian at the gate”, but the word shortly came back to me: “you’re not a good fit”.
Now there’s an HR cliché – “not a good fit”. Excuse me, but giving that feedback to an employee/ jobseeker is the coward’s way of avoiding the truth. The truth, after all, would make them vulnerable to a lawsuit, which is utterly despicable.
I would much rather a hiring manager tell me the truth, rather than insult my intelligence, but I guess that’s not going to happen anytime soon…
Now, I must stress, that I interviewed with EAs on 3 other occasions and those experiences were much more civilized. These are stories yet to come….