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