27 Sep 2017
It is a subtle maneuver. You are called into the office and very nicely told that business has fallen and your position is being eliminated. Your superior and the HR representative cannot even look you in the eye.
But this happens. To those of us who are over 50, 60, and older. Companies will downsize due to several reasons. Maybe business actually has fallen. Perhaps after reviewing budgets and finances, the position you held was disposable. And you are out of a job. And you are old.
You may not feel old. You don’t even look old. Hell, you wear skinny jeans, Chuck Taylor sneakers and graphic Tee shirts! You have a “young” attitude (WTF does that mean anyway? Shouldn’t it just be a positive attitude?). You know all the words to Katy Perry’s latest song and can bust a move better than any of your now grown children!
It doesn’t matter though. Because in the corporate and working world, you have been put out to pasture like an old cow. The only difference is that the cows have it better. At the end of the day, they are called in to the barn and taken care of.
You aren’t. And your affordable healthcare is about to be taken away from you due to unemployment and a congress that wants to get rid of you as badly as Corporate America does!
It’s that ism that nobody addresses. Ageism. It runs rampant and is the white elephant everyone tries to ignore. Corporations extol the self-righteousness of being equal opportunity employers. They aren’t. And the job interview is a dead giveaway. I know this. I’ve been through this and it is vile. It is disrespectful. It’s a disgrace.
At 62 years of age, I’m rather adept at handling a job loss. Back in 2012 I lost a job I loved, working for a large financial services company. As the electronic age took over, the company’s services became extinct. The good thing was that I was the last person standing. I literally closed the center. Little did I know my experience in closing a site would come in handy at my next job.
So at the age of 57, in a new job at a healthcare company, I was more concerned about life as an empty nester than I was about ageism affecting me.
Just my luck, the company merged with a larger healthcare company. The merger was more like a marriage that didn’t work out and it was decided to close our office. My experience as a “closer” from my previous job came in handy.
Now 59, I found myself, for the first time in my life, receiving unemployment benefits until they ran out and I no longer had any income. Nothing. Nada. No medical benefits. No dental benefits. No pay.
I had been on job interview after job interview after job interview. At home, I was turning into an emotional basket case. Being upbeat and positive and smiling and selling yourself in the most confident way and then returning home: ripping off those good clothes, running into the bathroom for a good cry. Second-guessing yourself becomes a way of life.
You play each interview over and over in the theater of your mind. Did I ask the right questions? Was I overly confident? Not confident enough? Did I ask the right questions? Did I ask too many questions?
And as time goes by, you start to wonder more about why you didn’t get that job: the one you were very qualified to do. You realize something. You didn’t get the job because you are too old.
You become an expert at spotting those small ageist “tells.” You enter a room and the interviewers give each other a sideways glance. The look they give you is a petrified smile: a forced half-smile, and a look of fright that says, “Holy shit, I didn’t realize this one was so old.”
Better yet, let me share a few of the more entertaining job interviews I’ve been through.
I decided to go through a placement agency. Since I’m an administrative assistant, I was tested on various skills—among them Word, Excel, math and grammar. Since I worked as an admin for years, I was confident with the computer skills. Attending Catholic school helped me in the basics of math and grammar. Thank you Sr. Mary Clairvaux!
And so, armed with my knowledge and skills, I was sent back to the world of interviews.
I arrived at the first interview, where I was to meet a woman… let’s call her Rachel. Rachel was nowhere to be found. I poked my head into a few empty offices and finally found her office. I asked if she was Rachel. She turned from the window and gaped at me. In her late 30s or so, she seemed livid that the agency sent someone of a certain age. I asked if I could have a seat. Things went downhill from there. She never took her eyes off her computer. She couldn’t even look at me. She rambled about how she was on her computer because her task master boss had just given her a very important project. The interview ended with Rachel saying, “I know you have questions, but I don’t have the time to answer them now.”
Then there was the British company, Johnson-Matthey. When I arrived for the interview, I was told that instead of there being one position to be filled, there were now two and I would be interviewing for both. Could this be my lucky day? The first interview was very businesslike. The executive who interviewed me was very no-nonsense and serious. I like that. He explained to me what the position entailed and under all accounts, I thought this interview went very well. It didn’t matter to me that this man had failed to make any eye contact whatsoever. I figured he was a workaholic.
I had high hopes for my second interview with the HR person. As HR, he had to have a great personality. He was charming. I was engaging. He explained what was expected. I asked questions. After telling him that I would be pleased to accept either position, he smiled and said I could email him at any time and that a decision would be made shortly. Naturally, when I arrived home, I sent thank you’s to both men. A week later, I emailed him asking if they made a decision. I never heard back.
People that want jobs take their time to do research on the companies they interview with. They make sure their resumes are perfect and they have enough copies to go around. They practice interviewing. They never give up. And yet, they often never hear back. At some point, it doesn’t matter if you get the job or not— it’s about respect. Any company that doesn’t have the decency to get back to an individual is showing a complete lack of respect.
Next up: a large insurance company. I sat through three hours of interviews by five people. I would be reporting to each of them as their administrative assistant. I heard how well-qualified I was, how I would be a great asset, how much they loved my work experience and so on and so forth.
When I got out of that interview, I almost drove to J. Crew to buy some nice work clothes because I was sure I got that job. My thank you notes were on target. I waited for my offer. And waited. And waited. And for a group of people to sit there and tell me to my face how great I was and how wonderful my resume was and how I would be a great fit was such a blow when they didn’t have the decency to even get back to me.
I’ve been told, “You’re overqualified. Why would you even want this job?” I sat through passive-aggressive interviews, challenging interviews, boring interviews and interviews where I thought I would get the job. Looking back, I see the common thread. The silent ism known as age.
Something needs to be done. Especially in a time when older people are being shut off from healthcare and guaranteed social security. What will we live on? We have mortgages. Auto loans. We need to eat. We have monthly bills. We are the 99 percent and there are more of us each year.
And now that I’m back on the interview circuit, I don’t want to break. I must remain strong in spirit. I must have hope. I must hope that our ageist society takes a step forward in being inclusive of all ages. And I hope you have a better story than I do.
© Catherine Lartigue 2017