Age Before Beauty
Or is it pearls before swine?
My squeeze, who like me is one of those self-employed creative types who’d kind of like some steady employment that he doesn’t loathe to his very core, is convinced that we are both of an age where employers are no longer going to give us the time of day.
“We are doomed to beg for minimum wage grunt jobs for the rest of our miserable lives,” quoth he. Or words to that effect.
And yeah, I have a tendency to detect a whiff of rampant ageism each time I find myself not even getting an interview for a job I’m ridiculously well-qualified for. The whole resume thing is a bit of a Catch-22, of course … fresh out of school, you barely have enough experience in anything to fill up one page, and you end up having to fabricate shit, or at least try to put a fatuously important spin on inconsequential experiences such as pulling dandelions (entrepreneurship!), babysitting (leadership skills!), or finally passing organic chemistry (perseverance, follow-through, um … team-building?). By the time you’ve reached my advanced state of decrepitude, the challenge is in paring it down to the essentials, cutting out the career detours and dead-ends, and keeping the damn thing to two pages, max. (Though opinions differ on whether that is still a Rule.)
Is there an optimum zone for resumes? Say, 33-35 years old, with some mileage under your belt but not so much that you have to take a machete to the CV just yet? Probably, but at that age I wasn’t worried about my resume, because I was actually making an okay living as a freelancer and wasn’t all that attracted to the cube farm lifestyle. Opportunity lost.
My current resume, on the advice of a 20-year-old career counselor at the local employment assistance centre, has had most of the dates erased. It lists most of my significant jobs more-or-less in chronological order of their occurrence, but it doesn’t say when I was there or for how long. This is a strategy which either cleverly conceals my age, or renders me a flake who can’t hold down a position for two minutes. Jury’s out on that one.
The ageism thing is on my mind a) because it’s January, and I get maudlin like that, and b) because I had an extended chat with a headhunter … er, recruiter … the other day. I explained some of my job search frustrations, and he was quick to assure me that I am, in fact, of a very attractive age for employers. According to him, I am blossoming with experience, wisdom, and dependability, am still young enough to be adaptable, and have more freedom than my less-crinkled competition because my kids are now grown and have been thumped out of the nest. (I didn’t bother to correct him on the kid thing, which has never been an issue for me. Likely the only major life error I never made was having kids.)
Sounded really encouraging, but implausible. I asked him how many HR managers share his rarefied point of view. He dodged the question.
Of course, the same guy also told me that my three years of unemployment have been the result of willful sloth. “There are thousands of jobs out there. You are unemployed by choice,” sayeth the sage.
Well, yes, to some extent … In this supposedly civilized and advanced First World country, I am still expressing a stubborn preference for work that I’m actually qualified for and good at. Call me a pig-headed beyatch.
But here’s the thing: even the jobs for which I was so qualified your head should be spinning like Linda Blair on a bad day, didn’t even fetch me an interview this past year. Hell, there were two I could have done post-cremation and still rocked the damn place. Neither application netted me so much as an acknowledgement of the carefully tailored and individualized resume accompanied by erudite and entertaining cover letter stuffed to the gills with whatever I guessed were the likely keywords being picked up by whatever automated software scanned it and promptly round-filed it.
Given that, what odds do I have for being interviewed for a position for which I’m less qualified, anyway?
My friendly headhunter disabused me of a number of apparent misconceptions about the current job market, including the ‘functional vs. chronological’ resume thing: “Functional resumes are for people who don’t have good tenure. A person like you with good tenure, you should be doing a chronological resume.”
Do I have good ‘tenure’? I have more than 25 years of experience in various forms of communication and media. But some of it has been editing. Some writing. Some public relations. Some media relations. A little marketing. And at least half of it has been as a self-employed freelancer, which many would just call a spotty employment history. A chronological tango up the ranks from intern to staff writer to assignment editor, features editor, managing editor, publisher, and empress of the realm, it has not been.
It’s a little late for do-overs. But clearly I have not been experiencing rampant success selling my somewhat convoluted career path to the ‘customers’, as Mr. Recruiter referred to employers. This, he diagnosed, is because I’m becoming negative and frustrated. Well. That always goes over well with me. (See my previous ruminations on negativity here if you’re so inclined.)
I’d been going along with his patent-medicine prognostics up to this point because the guy had, in fact, taken the time to call me back, and because I had been referred to him by a friend. I put up with him telling me I was overly extroverted and saw everything in black and white and that he, personally, wouldn’t hire me because of my attitude. (All of these insightful conclusions having been arrived at via a phone conversation, by the by.) But you might as well insert the sound of screeching brakes when someone tells me I have to exercise positive thinking to make things happen.
You’d have been proud of me, though. I politely refrained from tearing him a new one. I just asked, “What about the definition of stupidity?” As in, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Absolutely, I’m beginning to resent spending a solid day each time I apply for a position, tailoring resumes and grinding out cover letters no human ever reads, and getting absolutely no response. Is that resentment reflected in my prose? Nope, I can say with black-and-white confidence. (Well. Except if you count this blog.)
Mr. Recruiter replied, “You are doing something different. You’re reaching out to me.” Okay then. Sky’s the limit for 2013, folks. Get outta my way.
(The video below really has little to do with any of this, except that if you watch it to the very end there’s some helpful advice on not getting killed by an Australian train, which came to mind when I was pondering screeching brakes. Plus it’s disturbingly adorable.)