My Misadventures in Job Hunting as an “Older Woman”
- Employment, Skills Building, Multigenerational workforce
by Katrina Busselle
Inspired by my experience job hunting in my 40s, I attended a terrific conference in NYC called Inclusion by Design sponsored by amazing community centered around older women in the workforce. Loved it! And I’m not the only one. The first conference of this fledgling organization was 15+ people; six months later, it’s grown to 100+ who come to learn and become advocates for change and opportunity.
To be frank, the recognition that I am an “older woman in the workforce” did not come easily. In fact, to be even franker, it was a crappy and humbling unfolding of events. But it’s why, I attended this conference, and as it turns out, it gave me a whole perspective to think about. Here’s the abridged version of what transpired:
Katrina gets a job
A few years ago, I found myself needing to look for a job. I was admittedly rusty. I had ascended from one professional opportunity to another throughout my career and hadn’t actually had to look for a job in 18+ years.
But, it was time to find a job. So I hired a coach, refined my resume, and confidently put myself out there to discover my next opportunity. After all, I reasoned, I had thrived in a dynamic career and was well aware of my strengths and abilities. Such as:
I bring out the best in others
I am a lifelong learner
I embrace risk and welcome new challenges.
The world was my oyster, right? It was just a matter of figuring out the right match. My initial plan was to explore a widened landscape of new industries and possibilities. I’d been working in marketing, B2B, and focusing on the HR industry. And I was certainly willing to try something new. I figured I could take my core skills and apply them elsewhere.
Wrong. It turned out that looking for a job in my 40s was dramatically different from looking for a job in my 20’s. (And by the way — future self, it will be even more of an adventure in my 60s.)
The “oh shit this is harder than I thought it was going to be” moment
In answer to your question, Yes: I networked within my industry. I can network like nobody’s business. In addition, I interviewed for opportunities in events management, nonprofit development, training administration, and operations. But got nada. Here’s what I learned about changing industries: Employers want extensive industry experience from “senior” people. In other words, they will hire a 20-year old and start from square one. But if you are 40 or, you know, over 40, they want you well-seasoned, with industry experience. Even if you have all the skills, have the moxie, and just want to take them with you and cross over into another industry.
And other indignities.
Here are some more fun things that happened in Round Two. I’ll just make a few other coded mentions. Prospective employer volunteered to me: “We can’t pay you what you are used to” — without our having had one single salary discussion. Recruiters would wring their virtual hands and worry out loud that the role, “Would not be stimulating enough to someone of your experience.” Isn’t that for me to decide?
Finally, three cheers (not) for the incivility of the process overall. Cover letters that took me hours to research and write were never acknowledged. A prospect went dark for a month after promising an update in a week. What’s happened to this world of work? Was it always like that and I just forgot? Am I just old-fashioned?
So what happened? Did I find that elusive job?
Reader, I did not. After about 7 months, I stopped looking for a full-time job. A colleague smartly said to me, “Stop looking for work and just start working.” I took her advice. I joined the ranks of the gig economy and got busy. Very busy. It turns out that joining the gig economy is a common scenario with older workers, and it has its pros and cons. The major cons are the lack of financial security, no company benefits (health, retirement, etc.) and a higher tax rate because the employer does not contribute, and independent contractors may be subject to self-employment taxes. The pros include flexibility, earning potential, independence and the freedom that comes from being your own boss. But it’s not that simple. Different generations experience this gig economy in different ways (read more in this survey report from Prudential.) Interestingly, Gen X’ers like me, generally are not in the gig economy by choice (unlike millennials or Boomers).
I’m writing this piece, and working for myself, by choice. Truth be told, I’ve actually turned down a few full-time jobs at this point. Really? Yup. My work is varied, engaging and fascinating — from organizing the conference for HR marketers in my first story to working with a local youth coalition in the City of Poughkeepsie. Next up, a partnership with Max Traylor (whom I adore and respect) helping entrepreneurs digitize and scale their businesses. While we’re helping them, we will also be scaling our own.
Recognizing the problem and taking action
Although I’ve chosen to work for myself, the problem of older workers and age discrimination is alive and kicking.
Jo Weech and I were table buddies at the Inclusion by Design Conference and got to know one another by participating in an inspired worship on design thinking. Jo has been a talent acquisition / recruiting practitioner her whole career. She’s also a thought leader, public speaker and overall exalted member of the recruiting community. Now in her early 60s, she headed out for her own job search confident, accomplished, pedigreed, smart and charming. And what an experience that was. She is still mopping up the metaphorical blood from hitting the brick wall of age discrimination.
Jo wrote a LinkedIn article about her experience interviewing for new opportunities: Over 40 and Interviewing? Have these things happened to you? It’s a great read, and a harrowing account. It certainly struck a chord with the LinkedIn community. Her article has seen 10,000 likes on LinkedIn and 1,989 comments and is going strong.
In her conclusion, she suggests what hiring manages should do to address their bias and give older workers a chance to compete. But this isn’t just written for HR. As she told me, “I had to write it. As soon as it went up the comments started pouring in. Such painful stories. I can’t help everyone, but it made me realize what an important issue this is for me as well as for women overall.”
I’ll leave you with two things to think about
1. Some version of age discrimination in the workplace will (likely) happen to you.
Unlike other discriminatory categories, we all are getting older. If you continue to work, you will be an older worker. Think about that. Now, pay it forward.
2. What are you going to do to make our existing workplace better for older workers? What can you do? I challenge you to wake up and take action. Go forth and make social change. Do what you can. Look for me out there. I promise, I’ll be making it with you.
Katrina’s passion is supporting revolutionary, entrepreneurs.
With more than a decade in corporate management, overseeing communications, leading teams, and managing client account relationships, she leverages skills honed by her graduate degree in conflict resolution. Katrina’s areas of specialty include strategic planning, business development, client account strategy and engagement, B2B marketing and communications.
Learn more at katrinabusselle.com
This blog was originally published on Dec 10th, 2018 on Katrina’s blog.