So, I started down the road of re-entering the workforce and I have discovered that I am considered ‘an older worker’. Yikes! Although, I am 52 years old, I have never considered myself ‘old’. I mean, really, I do all the things that I did when I was 20, some of them better now. Heck, a LOT of them better now! And the way things are going in Canada, most people retire when they’re 65, 70…or even older! I’ve still got plenty of good years left. When I think of ‘older’ I see some gray-haired granny with a walker, one of those old hearing horns, and baggy support hose tucked into practical shoes. I thought of myself as vibrant, youthful, fun-loving, tech-savvy, and career-driven. But apparently, this is not so.
My search has led me to various career fairs, workshops and counselors in an attempt to figure out why, although I have submitted hundreds and hundreds of applications, I am not getting any bites. Over and over I kept hearing the same thing; ‘Make your resume ageless’ – eliminate anything on your resume further back than 10 or 15 years. Employers calculate how old you are based on your experience and your education. You don’t have to put dates on your experience and skills. Well, I had been at my last company for 10 years, so that eliminates a lot of my experience; things which I consider would be valuable – no priceless – to any potential employer. In one breath, I was told not to assume that employers aren’t looking for older workers, and in the next, I was told to blur my resume so they could not calculate my age! Don’t tell people the dates you got your education, they just need to know what education you have.
Mix up the words you use – Human Resources people like a variety of synonyms for the word ‘manage’, like ‘be in charge’, ‘collaborate’, ‘unify’, ‘successfully lead’. Why? Align the words you use in your resume and cover letter to match the words used in the job posting. Don’t lie, exactly, but rather elaborate your skills to show a fit for the role. This is because most application systems are now automated and look for matching words or phrases to filter out applicants. Don’t put all your skills and experience in your resume if you are applying for positions that are at a lower level than you previously held; the employer will suspect that you just want a foot in the door and you will leave as soon as something better comes along. Hmmm, won’t we all do that anyhow?
These are HR people telling us what to put on our resumes to ‘fool’ HR people! This does not make any sense. Why are we not scraping off the fluff and flotsam and getting down to the meat and potatoes? Why am I lying about who and what I am, what I do, and how I do it? And, of course, when I did it!
A large portion of the online applications ask several questions that I find intrusive. Sure, they say that these are ‘optional’ but what does that really mean? If you don’t answer the questions, then your resume is tossed; they have 300 more applicants that are willing to answer. These questions are framed with the purpose of providing equality in employment, but trust me, they are just as likely used to cull out anyone that particular hiring organization deems ‘undesirable’. The typical questions are (paraphrased here):
- Do you identify as a woman?
- Do you identify as aboriginal?
- Do you identify as a visible minority?
- Do you identify as a person with a disability?
I mean, WTF? I do not see ‘Do you identify as a man?’, or ‘Do you identify as Caucasian?’ What is the real purpose of these questions? When I must respond to these questions in order to submit my resume, they put such a bad taste in my mouth. Why not just ask, ‘What religion are you?’, ‘Are you planning on getting pregnant?’, ‘Are we going to have to purchase special equipment to accommodate you?’.
Let me tell you some great things about ‘older workers’.
- They have experience. They have had experiences, been through things, probably had to deal with situations that come along only occasionally, and have learned from them.
- They have seen how things used to be done, and how they are done now, so they have worked through progressive change already and are probably quite comfortable with it.
- They have gone through their child-rearing years, or are at the tail-end of them, or past these years far enough that they will not be having children. Not that I don’t love children and think parents need to have an advocate for fairness in the workplace, but that is an entirely separate blog post!
- It is less likely they will be out partying on a work night.
- They have seen enough to not take crap from anyone.
- They are confident.
- They know what they can do.
We are constantly being judged. It does not matter what you do, what you look like, what you think, who you love, what you eat, or what you wear. Somebody, somewhere, is going to look at you and say ‘I don’t like that.’ Too fucking bad.
The other day a young man came to my door with a flyer for a woman who was running for Ward Counsellor in my area. The flyer did not say ANYTHING about what she stood for or what she wanted to do for the community, but it did give narrative on where she went to school, what volunteering she has done, where she previously worked, and copious pictures of her wearing neck-high ‘Mom’ sweaters walking with her daughter, laughing with her husband, and shaking hands with some official. Oh Yeah, you got my vote! Image is everything!
I am in a dilemma. Do I bend to what society wants me to be, or do I do what I want to do, dress how I want to dress, and be who I want to be? Always, there is the fear that if I am authentic, I will be judged and rejected. Fit in. Fake it ‘til you make it. I am reminded of one of my favorite Simpson episodes, ‘Always Be Yourself.’ https://youtu.be/r5WeAmEVW8o But in the real world, we often do not have those who will be there to support us always, no matter who we are.
What the heck. There are no guarantees that anyone will hire me anyhow, even if I do ‘conform’. So, why don’t I keep looking for those jobs that will accept me just as I am? And in the meantime…I think I’ll keep on writing.