The age thing
You can tell by the way the person in reception looks at you whether you have a chance of a job. They know whether you meet the requirements of a firm.
Then you can tell as soon as you walk into an interview. I could see it in their facial expressions. I could see it in their body language. I could tell by the questions they asked and the questions they didn’t ask. Often there was almost a coldness there; it was all a waste of time.
They clearly knew – and I knew – it was the age thing.
4,000 applications, 40 interviews, 1 job offer
Before I was made redundant, I had conducted around 500 interviews myself. I had done appraisals for 500 staff members. I see myself as good in an interview situation. Because of that, I was determined to be professional for the whole interview. I did my best to convince the people interviewing me that I was an all singing, all dancing candidate, perfect for the role.
Altogether I applied for 4,000 jobs over a four year period and had 40 job interviews before I gained my current post at Independent Age.
Overqualified, with too much experience
They were quality applications too. I had paid for help for my CV. I knew about which buzzwords to include as so many recruiters search for these. I had been advised to cover only the past 10 years of work experience on my CV, though application forms do ask for more detail than that. I was often told that I was overqualified or that I had too much experience. Or there was no feedback at all.
The jobs I was applying for were all around the M25 from Watford to Sevenoaks to Chelmsford and sometimes further afield. I prepared in depth for each interview. I knew that I’d come second on three or four occasions.
I believe I faced discrimination and an assumption that an older person isn’t as adept at computers, or switched on about office procedures. We are over the hill and ‘past it’.
A solid work history
I always believed that I was good at interviews. Even being asked to do tasks like the ones on The Apprentice didn’t faze me. I knew I had been successful in the past and had been promoted internally in my previous jobs.
I had had a two-pronged career. I had worked at Barclays Bank, for a time as a manager in its charity department, sending out secondees paid for by Barclays to help charities. I was made redundant at 39 and reinvented myself as a mail room supervisor and office manager first at a law firm, then the London Stock Exchange, the Lloyd’s of London, then insurance companies.
When I was made redundant again in 2012, I was so sure I would get another job.
I knew I had managed to before. I started looking at different websites, morning, noon and night. It was an addiction, something like having an affair. I was suffering from sheer fatigue and exhaustion, ducking out of family events.
My fiancée called off our engagement and I found myself without a relationship, homeless and jobless.
Looking for work
I started doing temporary work but was then told by agencies that I had too much temporary work on my CV and this put employers off. They said to me, ‘Get a job, any job and stick at it for a year.’ So I started working as a night concierge from 7pm to 7am, four days on, four days off, and stayed in that role for 20 months.
The interviews I did get were all over the Home Counties and I would find myself driving to Watford one day then Redhill the next. The M25 was full of road works so sometimes the only way of getting to a 9am interview was staying over in a hotel. My redundancy money was dwindling.
Positivity turned to stress and depression
I had been extremely positive to start with. When the rejection emails and knockbacks came I learnt very good tips, such as deleting my CV from job search websites and then putting it back on to refresh my application. This helps employers realise you are still looking.
After a while I started to get depressed. It was the worry and stress. The more I was rejected, the more financial problems I had.
When I applied for the job as Office Services Manager with Independent Age I really felt I was in with a good chance. I thought my age couldn’t be a barrier with an organisation that works to benefit older people. My optimism had resurfaced. Some of my key skills are improving efficiency and saving money and I know that every organisation wants that. I left the interview thinking, ‘I hope I’ve got it,’ and on the way to the tube station I had a phone call. They wanted to offer me the job. I was elated. So, so happy. So relieved to get a permanent full-time job and one in the charity sector doing what I’m best at.
Perseverance finally triumphed discrimination
I felt the hours and hours and hours I’d put in had been worth it in the end. I had made contacts with agencies that had built up over the years, and one of these contacts had put me forward for this job. My experience of older people tells me that my attitude isn’t surprising. We are committed employees who will go the extra mile. We are dedicated. We will turn up on time.
Statistics show it’s a real benefit to an organisation to have a mixture of ages, races – a balance of experiences in a cohesive workforce.
Yet at one insurance company I worked for, with 350 employees, everyone there was aged between 25 and 45. I was the oldest. A lot of the time they don’t know they are being discriminatory. They have a fixed impression of who they want to appoint before the job advert goes out. The words are designed to put people off like ‘boutique firm’, designed to attract the young.
Very often ageism manifests itself by looking for other excuses, things about a candidate that puts an employer off. Anything to justify their decisions.
Don’t ignore the 65-75 year olds keen to work
There are lots and lots of quality men and women from 65-75 who would love a job, whether full time or part time. Yet employers know if you go through certain channels you get certain applicants. Online the applicants will be younger, via Job Clubs and Job Centres they will be older.
I think employers need to be more open-minded. Find an older person with a range of skills who knows how to be supportive to colleagues, whose attributes have been gained from years of working, who knows not to panic in a crisis, and who has a passion to keep going.
Employers need to change and this would benefit older men and women, and their own organisations.
Now is the time to bring the maturity that comes with life experience and work experience into the workplace. Maturity – now there’s a word that can go into a job description.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Independent Age.