GETTING “KICKED TO THE STREET” AS A MIDDLE AGED WOMAN
I remember when I walked into an interview for an outside sales position. I was in my late 40s. I walked in the door; the gentleman who was interviewing me was about 35 years old, clearly a family man as he had pictures of his kids and family behind him. I greeted him with a friendly smile and gave him a warm handshake – yeah that’s right, a firm, solid handshake (not one of those “sissy” handshakes that I can’t stand to get).
When I sat down, I could see that dreaded look on his face, “Oh no, I am not going to hire you. After all, I don’t want my mother working for me.” It was written all over his face. I tried to hold back the little smirk that wanted to form on my face. He was clearly annoyed it seemed, that I was even interviewing for this job. He was cranky, borderline rude, and he clearly rushed through the interview process. After all, at this point I was just a waste of his time.
I heard his question, “So, what did you do today to get ready for this interview?”
I can’t even remember what I said. Oh, It was probably something like, “I got on the company website, did research about your products and what you sell, your company, etc. and etc.” What I wanted my answer to be (as I actually howled with laughter on the drive home) was, “What – you can’t tell? I took a nice long shower, washed my hair, ironed these clothes I am wearing, and pulled up the directions on MapQuest to find out how the heck to get to this awful part of town!!!!!” But …. Such is the world of trying to beat the odds and get a job as a middle aged woman!!!!! ( I could laugh then because I wasn’t totally desperate at that point. I would learn in later seasons I often cried after some of those interviews).
Many of us have been out of work, “downsized”, “early retirement”, kicked to the street, whatever you want to call it – in our “mature” middle age and left with what seems to be too few choices.
And what an emotional toll this takes. You say to yourself, “I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
Feelings of desperation, disappointment, hopelessness, and embarrassment flood your body when your friends and family find out. Even grief and fear about falling behind with bills, and possibly losing your home, become the new reality.
Then you question the whole job seeking, interviewing and hiring process by thinking to yourself, what complete idiot would want to choose a 21 year old that has been up all night partying, drags into work at 11:15 a.m. (instead of 8:30 a.m.) without even a phone call to the boss that she is going to be late, hung over and not giving it her all – and lying to her employer saying her car wouldn’t start. What logical intelligent adult would choose that person over a mature, stable, hard-working intelligent experienced adult?
Or how about that “young gun” who lies, cheats and stabs his co-workers in the back just to get ahead? I tell myself, “In the old days we told the truth, and we had a working code of ethics.”
But this is a whole new world … and today’s employer often chooses the younger employee. Maybe because they can get them “cheaper”; maybe they figure the youngsters will be out sick less. Maybe they think these “kids” are energetic and more computer and Internet savvy. Who knows? I still can’t figure it out. Frankly, common sense would tell me that the honest, life-experienced, hard-working, stable and reliable “mature” employee would be the way to go. Go figure. Hmmm, I guess that would take maturity and common sense. Definitely hard to find when the kid you are interviewing with still has acne and braces. I don’t even think a couple of them were old enough to shave. I am pretty sure of them probably borrowed the car from his dad just to get to work. Despite what it may sound like, I’m not bitter … at least not now.
So … We are well into our 40s and/or 50s or even older, and we find it necessary to update our talents and skills on a piece of paper (the resume), buy new “interview appropriate clothing”, put on that nice warm smile, and spend hours upon hours on the computer filling out on-line applications, and attaching resumes.
The days of walking door to door with your resume, filling out applications, and actually meeting with someone in the employment department (now referred to as HR) without an appointment is unheard of today. What about first impressions? Well – you have to first fill out what seems to be often hundreds of on-line applications to get one job interview.
You may not be able to prove that an employer is discriminating against you for your age, but 9 times out of 10 they probably are. It is the new reality, particularly if the person interviewing you is under 40, or just entering puberty. Come on, you know exactly what I am talking about. No need to be bitter. You just need to change your approach and be better!
- Make eye contact – and keep eye contact – when answering interview questions, or when the interviewer is speaking to you.
- Network, network, network. Get out there, be professional, and don’t sound desperate … even if you feel desperate.
- Write out a list of all your skills and things you can do. Update your resume and be sure to have some professionals and experts review it.
- After you have updated your resume, send it with a short cover e-mail note to your sphere of influence; include all of your family and friends, ex co-workers, etc. Tell them briefly what you are specifically looking for and what you are “open to.” I have done this on more than one occasion and have received many valuable job “leads” and even jobs this way.
- One couple I am closed to – who shall of course remain nameless – said to me, “Clare, we keep getting downsized, so we decided to “reinvent ourselves”. They created a small but profitable medical billing company from home. They now have no commute, they love their co-workers, and they work for ethical hard-working people … themselves!
- Shake hands firmly, like a man. A firm handshake is good, but injuring someone with an overly firm handshake is not. Know the difference.
- Smile and answer directly. Don’t be “giddy” but be friendly, and make sure you smile. Not the creepy ax-murderer smile … but a genuine warm, confident and calming smile.
Julie Shiftman, Author of “Job Interview Advice Older Women Don’t Want to Hear” on www.nextavenue.org provides some helpful hints:
- Update your “do”. Gray hair is the most obvious sign of age.
- Refresh your wardrobe. Clothes can immediately date a job candidate.
- Rejuvenate your skin.
- Lighten up that smile (over-the counter teeth whitening products brighten up a smile dramatically).
- Watch your weight. It is statistically harder for a significantly overweight person to get hired.
I hope some of these tips helps. I have unfortunately been down this road more than once, and it is a road-trip I really don’t care to take on a regular basis. It isn’t a vacation, and it’s simply no fun. Sometimes just knowing you aren’t alone, and you aren’t the only one, can provide some comfort.
Most importantly, stay positive…
Because Life Ain’t Easy Street.