When Did I Get Old?
In January of this year, the powers-that-be called me into a meeting and told me and my co-workers our office was closing. I would be losing my job. There was a certain irony because I worked from home almost all of the time.
I did it well. It was a win-win. The company gained the extra hours that I would have used commuting because I would typically work during that time.
I was one month short of 13 years with the company. The others who lost their jobs had even greater tenure.
The business world sometimes values youth over experience. In my opinion, this is odd for the consulting firm environment I was working in, but I am sure there has been some study somewhere saying that youth adds better value for the money. Two weeks after they told us the office was closing, I was without a job.
I wasn’t very concerned. I had strong skills. Thirty-six years of varied experience in the employee benefits industry. It was time for a change. The idea excited me.
As part of my severance package, I was given six months of services with an outplacement agency. I worked with a specialist on my resume. She took out all dates for previous positions, except those associated with my last company. She also took out some of my previous job titles. She said that employers would calculate my age using that information
That is when I first got the idea that at 59, I am old.
I denied it for a long time. No one has yet said I didn’t get a job because of my age, of course. They won’t.
The reality of companies in America today is that often you get no indication that you did not get the job. Not even a form letter. After you have presented yourself for multiple interviews, with presentations and analysis required, I admit that I resent that I gave ideas and knowledge to companies that later did not even provide a common courtesy to me.
I called the recruiters I worked with and asked for reasons I was not getting the jobs for which I had interviewed. Recruiters had been forthcoming and helpful with feedback in previous job hunts.
This time the feedback was anemic. The major obstacle given was that I live in a location that would require a commute from one to two hours. I was willing to commute until I could make a move. I commuted about an hour to my previous job for most of the time I had worked there. It would impact my life and not the work I did for the employer.
They asked about it during the interviews, and I assured them I had thought about it at length and would be happy listening to audiobooks and podcasts for several hours a day. They didn’t see it that way. But yet I knew some of their employees did live a significant distance away.
I finally conceded it couldn’t all be about the commute. I could move if it were unbearable. Age was very probably a factor.
I thought the experience I brought to the table was an asset. I have been shocked to find that my age makes it almost worthless.
Recruiters have told me that I must consider taking a much lower salary than I had in the past. My salary was not very high in my industry, given what I brought to the table. One job they approached me about had a salary that was 2/3 of what I was making prior. If I devalue my experience and accept significantly less money, it adds to the problem for the others who will find themselves in this situation behind me.
I have been job hunting for over nine months. That adds another wrinkle in the process. The adage, “the best time to look for a job is when you have a job” is probably true. But should it be? Shouldn’t employers look at the person and discuss the reasons?
I haven’t kept count of the number of interviews, by phone and in person. I have been upbeat about it all most of the time, but last week I had “one of those days” where I felt discouraged. I worked consistently since I was 16. I babysat since I was 12. I always believed you built a career and were more valued as you added more skills to your toolbox. Finding out that is not the case is disheartening.
I’m not the only one I know who is in this circumstance. Knowing there are bright and hard-working people out there in the same boat is a bit comforting, but it also adds to the frustration.
Are we going to force older employees to retire before their time or to work at jobs where they deliver a significant experience at cut-rate prices? Is corporate America going to consider 59 old?
We’re putting some very bright and educated younger people in jobs for which they have minimal practical experience. They do beautiful presentations, but do they understand the underlying content? I suspect many find themselves in positions for which they are not prepared and will either crash and burn or burn out.
What if we utilized the wisdom of the older population and mentored the younger employees, so we know they are ready to meet demands?
Maybe the number of people in the workforce taking anti-depressants would decrease — just a guess.