Wanted: Midlife jobseeker to remove boardroom elephants

Reading Time: 4 minutes

elephants in boardroom

Midlifexpress is delighted to feature this guest post from Carmen Neutral, an erudite and indefatigable midlife jobseeker and expert elephant-in-the-boardroom spotter. She’s had enough of job applications, employment interviews, ageist recruiters and being told to erase her age if she wants to work.

Job interviews. Don’t you hate them?

I’m a woman of a certain age and a jobseeker. I live in Victoria. And it’s just my luck that in the past several months I have applied for more jobs — and received more rejections — than I could ever have imagined. And what a hoot that’s been!

In the current Australian job hunting landscape, my age seems to be a big disadvantage; even though I don’t typify the average 50 year old (no wear and tear from raising kids, no hubby, no silver nest-egg, but one very understanding dog).

Just five years earlier, I had no idea of the difficulties faced by mature age job seekers. Back then, at 45, I still felt like a spring chicken. And I imagined that when I did reach 50, job-seeking would be a non-issue. I confidently went along to interviews, got jobs relatively easily, and undertook regular contract work, without a concern.

Now at 50, (still a spring chicken) and after a relatively brief employment hiatus due to illness (not serious), I find it an up-hill battle to get my foot back into the paid workforce. I should add that I am not one of those so-called “job-snobs”. How I hate that unhelpful term — though I think it’s age-biased recruiters and employers who are the real “job-snobs”.

And that’s where dodging elephants enters the equation.

Age-biased recruiters are the elephants in the boardroom

Even polishing my existing qualifications, skills and experience with a new degree has had no positive effect on my midlife employability. While the new bit of embossed paper does give me “the Colgate ring of confidence” — that’s as far as it goes. In the current job hunting climate, I’m beginning to think that a prison sentence would look more enticing on my resume.

A few weeks ago, I was offered a job as an emergency Lollipop Lady with my local council. While the thrills and spills of that news lasted maybe half a minute, I couldn’t help questioning why the same council rejected my applications for more appropriate roles within my usual field of work (library services).

Recruitment experts advise mature jobseekers to erase their age

What’s really starting to annoy me about being a midlife jobseeker is the way recruitment experts advise that, to get our applications noticed, we must delete years of experience from our CVs and remove any traces of our actual “mature age”.  And, if we do get an interview, in order to compete with young, hipster applicants, we must somehow erase “age” from our appearance.

When selling a house, real estate agents recommend creating a “neutral” decor. When applying for jobs, it’s no different. And so, we “neutralize” everything about our “selves”. After several months (or more) of this charade, hiding the truth about my real and visible self has become tiresome. But I’ve become good at it. It’s revitalized my wardrobe, bag, and shoe collection. And my hair has never looked better. However, I’m really over being “made-over”.

There’s now clear evidence that across the Australian recruitment sector — and in many organisations — ageist attitudes are, in fact, preventing mature age jobseekers from getting jobs. So it’s not just all in the mind  (as Centrelink would have me believe).

According to Monash University research (despite vast experience, qualifications, and other advantages) older job applicants are being rejected for positions because they are perceived as too old.  Some do manage to avoid that barrier. However, surveys show that ageism in Australia is a real problem. Furthermore, findings reflect that the government programs developed to counteract it are generally ineffective.

Ageist elephants still allowed to lurk in boardrooms

So, rather than getting ageist employers to reassess discriminatory attitudes, midlife and older jobseekers must continue to conceal age and to override deeply age-biased systems. Meanwhile, the powers that be overlook the elephants that lurk in boardrooms throughout the employment sector.

I think it’s about time HR people confronted the problem by getting re-educated on the merits of employing older, experienced workers. For failure to value older workers also indicates a failure to respect and understand the meaning of the term “harmonious diversity” —  which supposedly characterizes modern Australia, and each and every workplace. “Respect for diversity” is, after all, a term that’s promoted in many corporate mission statements. However, where’s the diversity when one particular group is excluded from the picture?

After seeing a couple of the latest “No to Homophobia” television advertisements, I wonder why age discrimination in recruitment is not being treated in a similar way —  since ageism is just as unlawful and backward as homophobia. Moreover, if our governments and advocates looked at the research, and were serious about fighting ageism (and getting “older” workers “off the dole” and back into paid work) why aren’t they proactive and creating a similar ad campaign to change widespread bias and prejudice against the mature job-seeker? Perhaps the topic is too boring? Not sexy? Not a vote-getter? Or maybe they want the cult of youth to remain a dominant force in the workplace and society, while the rest of us remain invisible?

I hope that someone, right this minute, is on to it and devising an advertising campaign that makes midlife “oldies” look like the new black.

You can find more of Carmen’s writing at her wonderful blog below:

Monash University Research link:

Monash University research study on workplace age discrimination

Claire Bell

Claire Bell is the health and wellbeing editor of Midlifexpress. She is the author of Stone Age Secrets for Mind and Body and Comma Magic. Print and ebooks available on Amazon.

11 thoughts on “Wanted: Midlife jobseeker to remove boardroom elephants

  • April 12, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Fabulous post and a frightening reality for many women. Good luck with the job hunting Carmen.

  • April 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Carmen you present a vivid picture of the job hunting arena for mature people in oz. I’ve been travelling lately in the States and in Britain and the story is similar in both countries. But I don’t read much about in the newspapers in Australia or in the U.S. & Great Brit. Thanks for telling it like it is.

  • April 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Enjoyed this article. I suppose that in some areas of work it’s more difficult to find work than in others and I expect that the situation could differ from state to state. I’m a midwife nurse in my mid-fifties. In my field it has been easy to obtain work in Victorian hospitals but I do worry about some of the younger graduates who are missing out on positions in Australian hospitals. I hope that our State and Federal governments don’t sit on their hands with the issue.

    • April 15, 2013 at 8:40 am

      You are right Anna about some professions easier to find work than others. Teaching is an area where I’ve always found work, particularly as I teach technology and most schools and universities have trouble recruiting qualified and experienced educators.

  • April 13, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    My wife and I have read this with interest. It gave us bit of a laugh but the questions you raise are not funny… We wish you well in your endeavours.

  • April 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks for your clear and honest appraisal of the over-50 jobseeking fandango. I could relate to every bit of it. Good luck with your job hunting and watch out for skulking elephants!

  • April 14, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Well said, Carmen! I think you’re right – there should be anti-ageist campaigns. It’s a shocking waste of so much experience, intelligence, knowledge and skills – and to have to wipe it off the CV to get noticed…??! Madness.

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