Age discrimination is very real. And as workers get older, they find themselves in situations where their age suddenly becomes a factor, much to their surprise. After all, it wasn’t an issue before. Sometimes, it culminates in rethinking an entire career.
Kay in her, early sixties, worked in the non-profit sector at the executive level for over twenty-five years. To be near her children, in early 2018 she voluntarily left her previous job and moved to a different state.
After a year and a half of interviewing, Kay is now one of the many disillusioned older workers who have all but given up on being offered a meaningful job commiserate with their past experience and compensation.
With family support, she has had to reinvent herself and create her own opportunities, and while she has already successfully launched herself as a consultant for causes she is passionate about, Kay believes ageism is the main obstacle she faced finding a new job doing what she was doing at the highest levels just a short time ago.
Are you actively searching for jobs right now?
“I’m not actively searching for jobs. I decided to go out on my own since I won’t discriminate against myself.”
When was the last time you applied for a job?
“I recently applied for one. I follow up on personal recommendations, but beyond that no. I’m building my consulting business.”
How would you rate ageism as a factor in your decision to go out on you own?
“Well, it is always something I wanted to do, but because of the ageism, which I believe is the most socially acceptable form of discrimination, it really became a huge factor to do it at this point in time.”
Give us an idea of how you see yourself as a job candidate.
“I have a history of interviewing well and getting positions that were well regarded in the non-profit industry. I’ve kept up to date. I’ve expanded my knowledge. I’ve even been a presenter at national conferences.”
You’ve used the word ‘discrimination’ a couple of times. In your experience, describe the kind of age discrimination you have faced.
“Since I moved, I interviewed four or five times when I noticed I was hearing the same things over and over. That’s when you know there is something happening.”
What have you heard over and over?
“Well, it really starts with organizations that are excited to interview you upfront. You are well received on all points, and hear things like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to meet you,’ or, ‘You sound like you would be an ideal candidate’. I remember one Zoom call I had where the principals of the company told me, ‘You are exactly what our organization needs’.”
“Then you go in and get, ‘How old are your children?’ or ‘You seem to have many years of work experience,’ or ‘Do you plan on working for much longer?” and you think, ‘Here we go again.’”
Since you moved in 2018, how many interviews have you had where you had a serious chance of getting the offer?
“Ten times [since interviewing] I’ve been one of the top finalists.”
What’s been your most difficult experience?
“With this one organization, a large national organization, I went through seven interviews. The CFO, four regional and national Directors, the CEO, oh, and I they had me talk to three employees that I would be supervising as well. They flew me across the country to their headquarters and I met with a man and a woman, both who would be my bosses.”
When they flew you to their headquarters was it your expectation that you would be given a job offer and were there to sign an employment agreement?
“I wasn’t told I would get an offer, but I was told it was a big deal, and it was a very expensive ticket. The HR woman later apologized to me and told me she never would have sent me there if she knew what was going to happen.”
So what happened at the headquarters?
“I met with the man who would be one of my bosses. He was the second highest person at the organization. We had a great interview. We had both lived in the same small town, and had common work and personal history, and when it was over he walked me all the way to the CEO’s office for my scheduled interview with him. The CEO was my second to last interview. At the end, he said to me, ‘I hope you get to do what you do for our organization’. When I was leaving, one of the Directors I met with saw me and left a meeting to come say goodbye and he told me he hoped we would get to work together. All the feedback was great. I felt like I was there to be rubber stamped.”
But you didn’t get it?
“No. They hired a much younger person, and it would be impossible for her to have the expertise I have because she is too young. Call me naïve, but I had no idea my acumen would be drowned out by my age. I was shocked. I thought about legal action.”
What other obstacles have you faced because of ageism?
“It’s not just about getting a job; it’s the kind of job too. I started off interviewing for jobs that were over $100,000, then $80,000, then $65,000, and suddenly you’re two or three rungs lower than what you’re use to and then you’re overqualified. This was a life changing realization. I had no idea I would be facing this as a professional woman.”
How do you feel about the tips and tricks on job hunting sites for older workers, like leaving out dates and limiting how much work experience you put on your resume?
“Background checks reveal your age. Once they meet you, they know how old you are and if they’re not sure they can always find out if they want.”
Now you’re consulting for non-profit clients. Consulting is synonymous with experience. Do you feel that you have found a way around ageism?
“I’m not advertising my age. Being a consultant, age tends to work in your favor. It’s actually a benefit, or can be a benefit. Many people do not know I am as old as I am. But my earning power would be greatly increased if I could look ten or fifteen years younger than I do. But I can’t even do that and be hired because a background check will show my age anyway. I don’t ever want to retire. I love working so much I don’t want to retire. So, this has been very disheartening. I now live with one my daughters. I used to be the reliable, stable one in my family, the one who helped out others financially, the one who could be generous. I was making very good money. You go from very successful, to being treated like an idiot, to being treated like you’re useless. Ageism has brought me to the cusp. If it weren’t for my friends and family, I don’t think I would have made it, and I’m now on all the social services you never think you’re going to need. It takes away all the dignity you hold dear, and I don’t think most people realize how much dignity they have until they lose it. This is a problem everybody should be concerned with, everybody at every age, because you’re going to be next.”
Philip Roufail contributed to this article.
Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services. You can email Scott Singer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.