April 18, 2013

Wanted: Midlife Job-Seeker ...Capable of Removing Boardroom Elephants [Guest Post]

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've applied for more jobs — and received more rejections — than I could ever have imagined. And what a hoot that’s been! ...Ha ha.

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 darling little brats, no hubby, no silver hair or nest-egg, and subsequently without the funds or desire to be a caravan-obsessed "grey nomad"). However, I do have one very adorable, understanding dog.

As little as a year before turning fifty, I was oblivious to the difficulties faced by mature age job seekers. On the cusp of my cinquagenarian years, I still felt like a spring chicken. Moreover, I imagined that when I did reach 50 - job-seeking would be a non-issue ...And I thought employers would be humbled, impressed, and chuffed by my experience. Fat chance of that now.

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 unemployment 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'm 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 finicky culprits.

And that’s where dodging elephants enters the equation.

Age-biased recruiters are the elephants in the boardroom

Even applying the advice of career-ologists, and polishing existing qualifications, skills and experience with a new (somewhat useless) degree - has had no positive effect on my midlife employability. While the additional bit of embossed paper does give me “the Colgate ring of confidence” — that’s as far as it goes. And I’m beginning to think that a prison sentence, and runs on the board in crystal meth merchandising - 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 rejects my applications for more appropriate roles within my usual field of work.

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 (and nubile government employment centre "job coaches"), advise that - to get our applications noticed - we must delete years of key experience from our CVs to remove any traces of actual "mature-age". 

And, if we do get an interview, in order to compete with young, (practically nappy-clad) hipster applicants, we must somehow erase “age” from our appearance.

When selling a house - to maximize market/curb appeal - 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 authentic truth, about my real and visible self has become tiresome.

But I’ve become good at it. And despite still being out of a job, the positives are - that I haven't succumbed to seasonal table-top dancing, crystal meth merchandising - or shoplifting frozen turkeys, to keep my protein levels up. Moreover, I now have a revitalized wardrobe, bag, and shoe collection ...And my hair has never looked better. However, I’m really over being told to get "reinvented" and “made-over”.

There’s clear evidence that across the Australian recruitment sector – in government and privately run 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 by many employers as too old.

Of course, some older applicants do manage to avoid the ageist barrier, surveys nonetheless prove that ageism in Australia is a real, continually occurring problem. Furthermore, findings reflect that (expensive) government programs developed to counteract it are generally ineffective.

Ageist elephants still allowed to lurk in boardrooms

The frustrating thing about this whole issue, is that, rather than getting ageist employers to correct their own entrenched discriminatory attitudes - midlife and older jobseekers must continue to conceal age - and fight to circumvent deeply age-biased workplace systems and cultures. 

In the meantime, the powers that be (political and business leaders) overlook elephants that lurk in boardrooms, and HR offices, throughout the employment sector. Now wouldn't it be great to see those same workplace elephants hunted down, exposed for their cluelessness, and have costly anti-discrimination laws applied to them - instead of routinely blaming the innocent older jobseeker - for merely not being thirty-five anymore? Whistleblowers where are you? 

I think it’s about time blinkered HR people confronted the problem by getting re-educated on the merits (and ethics) 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 and best practice benchmark that’s promoted and sprinkled throughout many corporate mission statements. Ironically, it's also a quality I'm having to routinely address, in reply to the selection criteria component of most job applications.

However, where’s the diversity when one particular group is excluded from the picture ....and interview shortlist?

The social inequality ladder
After seeing a couple of the “No to Homophobia” television advertisements (and the level of attention that issue receives across AFL communities), I wonder why workplace age discrimination is not being treated in a similar way – since ageism is just as unlawful and backward as homophobia. 

Sadly, researchers like Therese MacDermott (Macquarie Law School), say that age discrimination has not captured the public consciousness, in the same way as areas such as race, sex discrimination, marriage equality, and homophobia.  So when it comes to issues of inequality, in 21st century "socially inclusive Australia", there's clearly an inequality hierarchy - that has age discrimination, as an issue - shoved firmly toward the bottom. 

And so it goes, whether in parliament, workplaces, or across the media - not all forms of discrimination are considered worthy of equal attention. Indicative of this, is the zero level media coverage the issue gets, whenever there's an Age Discrimination Commissioner press launch.

Now if our governments and advocates looked at the research, and were serious about fighting ageism (and getting “older” workers “off the dole”, back into paid work), why aren’t they proactive by creating a truly effective awareness campaign, to overturn widespread employer bias and prejudice against the mature job-seeker? 

Perhaps the topic is just too plain boring? ...Not sexy? Or, a votes-magnet. Or maybe our powers that be and media commentators, just don't get it? 

No doubt, it's all of the above. Plus, employing mature "older applicants", clearly clashes with the incessant 21st century re-branding trend, referred to as "corporate reinvention/revitalization" ...clever code for not employing anyone past a certain age. Who cares if it's unethical, overtly discriminatory, and breaches Human Rights Laws?

First appeared on 


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  3. Good luck! I've just heard that Burger King in Italy only want people under the age of 26!!!!!

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