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The untold struggle of job hunting as a middle-aged woman.

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The last three months of my life have been demoralising, demotivating and a total reality check.

When I resigned from my last job (for reasons I won’t go into), there is absolutely no way I predicted what was in store. I was not prepared for the ageism that exists in the job market and how it would shrivel up the professional opportunities I felt I deserved.

Why would I not land a job quickly? I have a very broad skillset, years of experience, and a history of long-standing roles on my CV. Sound familiar? I’m tipping everyone puts this in their cover letter, but in this case, I can assure you, it’s true!

Not only was I to discover that scoring an interview is like climbing Everest, but getting a courtesy response – yes or no – is apparently ‘old school’. I even had occasions where I had to follow up with the employer/recruiter after a face to face interview due to no response. No. Response. At. All.

Seems it’s quite common these days for a job seeker to spend considerable time and effort on an application and interview, only to be left waiting for a nod or otherwise. I wish someone had told me there’s no human side to the process any more.

job hunting over fifty
'I wish someone had told me there’s no human side to the process any more.' Image via iStock.

For me, I had a better chance of landing an interview when dealing directly with the employer, rather than a recruitment agency. I was about to find out there’s an art to getting noticed and, in these days of robotic and pretty much dumbing-down processes, it’s all about the key word search in your CV. You see, I found out the reason I was getting the ‘’thanks, but no thanks’’ response was because of my absolute refusal to regurgitate the job ad verbatim.

You see, recruiters don’t actually read your application; they just pass it through some sort of screening gadget that can tell right away if you’re a good fit for the position. Brilliant, isn’t it? Leaves me wondering how many terrific applicants are discarded along the way.

I’ve been lucky enough to land quite a few interviews directly from employers or from those recruiters yet to jump on the key word search bandwagon. But how was I to know that interviews would not focus on my skills and experience and my cultural fit for the organisation? I’d researched the company, matched my skills to the job role, considered my cultural/values fit, and played over the possible interview questions in my head over and over. So I thought I was super-prepared. Oh how wrong I was!

Recruiters know it‘s illegal (and just plain irrelevant) to ask your age, but they have ways to get this coveted info out of you. Disguised as friendly banter, the interrogation typically goes like this …

“So … do you have any kids?’’

“Ah, yes I do,” is the only answer they need (I mistakenly think).

“How old are they?’’

‘’I have three boys, my eldest is 30,’’ I say. Because why should I lie about it? It is, after all, totally unconnected to why I’m even in the room.

I can almost hear them thinking … geeze … is she? No! Could she be? No way! 60? Then comes the overwhelming feeling that I need to explain how I’ve come to have, of all things, a 30 year old son.  "Oh, but I was an early starter,’’ seems a good response. But I don’t respond, because why should I? My life choices are none of their bloody business! For the record, I was married at 21, first child at 23, so I am not 60. But who cares if I am? I wouldn’t be applying for the job if I didn’t think I could a) do it, b) enjoy it and c) stick around for a while (as my CV shows I have done over the course of a 35 year career).

job hunting after fifty
'I just know they think I’m a dinosaur and this inevitably sinks my chances.' Image via iStock.

Or, here’s a good one … describe your first full-time role. Well, for me it was working in the computer ‘room’ of a merchant bank. Computer ‘room’? Yep, precisely! Back in the good old days when all the PCs lived in this high-tech, much-revered and misunderstood room all of its own. No PCs in the money market, no way, heck, even the CEO didn’t have one, but then again we’re talking about a time when ATM’s had just come into play and we were still using typewriters and Telex machines! A time before fax machines and Microsoft – can you imagine? Practically the dark ages I can see them think. I look at the horrified face of my interviewer and think this was way before they were even born. What hope have I got? Even though this means I’m a tech native and I’ve just come from a tech-based industry, I just know they think I’m a dinosaur and this inevitably sinks my chances.

You know you’re a goner when you’re thinking more about your wrinkles than your professional background during an interview, but unfortunately, this is the state of play.

So I reluctantly started applying for lower level jobs seeing as how I was deemed ‘too old’ for the higher level jobs.  Seems they’re onto me, and I’m told I’m ‘over-qualified’ or asked why I would want to ‘take a step back in my career’. I can’t win.

How to NAIL a job interview on Mamamia Out Loud. 

I just want to work. Since the age of 18 I have never been unemployed, unless by choice (read – when I had my babies). While work doesn’t singly define me, it is a huge part of who I am and how I feel about myself. I hadn’t considered how hard it is for a middle-aged woman (person?) to get a job. Do employers not know the wealth of experience we can bring to the workplace or understand the importance of diversity? For the most part, we are not only good at leading and mentoring, we actually enjoy it. We are energetic and reliable, not infirm and ‘elderly’. We have that almost extinct ability to (insert drumroll) be tech-savvy and communicate effectively! What a waste of great talent in a time when the government wants us to be self-sufficient and rely less on the Age pension.

I for one lament the status quo. While I’ve read the average time to land a job is three to six months, it’s hard to remain motivated when you know that if all variables (other than age) are consistent, and you are up against a younger candidate, then they are definitely going to get the job.

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