OPINION: At 62, it appears that I am on the workforce scrap heap. That’s quite unnerving when I see myself as a bit of a mover and shaker, intellectually sharp, still relatively easy on the eye and an up-and-comer on the tennis court. For me, life is just beginning.
But, like thousands of over 50s, I want to work. Sadly, I admit to being desperately in need of a job. Psychologically, I swing between despair, hope and optimism. On a bad day, I relate to the impoverished, picking their way through giant rubbish tips in third world countries in search of a scrap of nourishment or something of value that can be traded for a shekel or two. I, too, pick my way through the jobs boards; daily, sometimes hourly and definitely on weekends and public holidays.
Contract or permanent, I am interested in them all. Just last week, when everyone else was immersed in holidays and hot cross buns, I applied for 26 jobs. If my phone rings during this, or any week, the potential employer will be greeted with enthusiasm and hope, regardless of how defeated I may feel on any given day.
If, or when, I do snag an interview, I often miss out on executive roles to a good looking 40-ish male. For other roles, the feedback from recruiters and employers is the usual unimaginative pro forma email. It ranges from borderline bragging (“we have received a high volume of quality applications”) to sympathy (“unfortunately” I didn’t quite cut the mustard) to effusive flattery … but no job.
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The more florid emailed tributes backhandedly refer to my “wonderful experience” and “impressive resume” but “unfortunately” (now adopted as my new middle name) and “even though (you) ticked the boxes” for the selection criteria, others were a closer match. But this classic will be very hard to top: “And while it may be of little consolation, I found your CV a great read and very interesting. It just isn’t right for this role. I’m sorry.” I am sorry too.
More excruciating are the times when I have been interviewed for a role where the synergy between my experience and the role has been undeniable. I am assured that “they (the potential employers) are really keen to meet with (you)”. Then, after the meet and greet, with hopes raised, the feedback stings. “(You) would be bored in the role”. I assure you, honey, not likely, and not in my circumstances.
I can live with “having interviewed very well” despite some mysterious “we” choosing someone who is a better cultural fit (not to say that I wasn’t a good cultural fit, “they” were just better on the day) or the “we” deciding to promote from within.
But frankly, when I hear that I am “too senior” for the role, it is just crematory.
Is that too senior? Or is it just too old?
So much for the rhetoric that supports diversity and inclusiveness in workplaces and the endless hours spent on crafting policy – policy that goes nowhere near actual practice. So much for investment that has been ploughed into creating more flexible ways of working and strengthening employee engagement.
If the workplace is so flexible, diverse and inclusive, why do prospective employers need copies of identification such as passports that show birth dates? Why at first interviews do some recruiters resort to saying that they “would like to understand more about you” by asking if you went to university straight from high school. Please.
It’s time to lay bare that dirty, big and open secret that ageism doesn’t just exist. Rather, it is the family violence of the contemporary workplace. Let’s do something about it before it kills.