Interview with a Third Age Job Seeker

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By Cathy Milton.

Midlife marks the beginning of what is known as “Third Age”. Third Age is considered by many to be the “golden years” of adulthood, running roughly from ages 55 to 80+. It can be a time of renewal and transformation, rich in possibilities for self-fulfillment and meaningful engagement.

Many Third Age workers choose to stay in the workforce for as long as they can either because they truly enjoy making a contribution, they need the income, or a combination of both. If, however, they find themselves out of work, obtaining new employment can be a challenge.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with a Third Age job seeker in Toronto. She had just accepted a job offer after one year of active searching. Her candid insights provide food for thought for anyone supporting clients in their job search efforts.

How long were you looking for work?

It was almost one year to the day from the date my last contract job ended on Feb 25, 2015, to accepting a new job on February 26, 2016. During that year, I worked 1.5 days for the Federal Election, and did a temporary vacation coverage for two weeks.

How did the job search period play out for you in terms of the number of interviews you got, number of responses to applications, etc.?

It was certainly a challenge in terms of keeping motivated. During the year-long search interval, I had over 40 in-person interviews. In about 20 of those cases, the first contact was a phone or Skype interview, followed by an in-person interview. When I consider that I applied for at least five jobs a day, seven days a week (1825 applications), that’s pretty slim odds. In the vast majority of applications, I heard nothing back. I received an automated reply for approximately 10% of online submissions, acknowledging receipt of my application, and later, about a dozen responses informing me that I wasn’t selected to move forward in the application process.

What did you do to keep yourself motivated during the year of job searching?

I found it important to keep a normal daily schedule. My morning consisted of checking job postings and applying to interesting and appropriate opportunities, after tailoring my cover letter and resume for each. That would normally take until 2:30 p.m. at which point I’d take a break and go for a walk, or to the gym. Then, around 4:00 p.m., I’d quit for the day and get dinner planned. This was the normal day, and it occurred seven days a week. Some days it was very hard to find any motivation, but routine helped to keep depression at bay.

I also babysat some pets, volunteered teaching English as a Second Language, and had a few short stints doing vacation coverage in the business of friends. The majority of my time, though, was spent following my job search routine.

To sum up, I never really got too bored, but neither did I get very excited like I’d be if I were doing some meaningful and useful work to help my team, my boss, or the bottom line.

What did you learn about the job market while searching for work?

The job market can be quite frustrating. Of the hundreds of potential opportunities out there, 99.9% are for contract or part time work. Generally, the salaries offered are fairly minimal, but given that contract / part time work provides no benefits, or paid vacation, it’s really not a viable option for anyone expecting to support themself. Of all the interviews I had, there were only two full time, permanent positions. Fortunately, the job I just accepted was one of them. I also learned that very few employers post their own ads – most use a staffing agency.

What did you learn about yourself during your job search?

I got discouraged easily, especially at the beginning of the search. It is tedious to keep looking without any feedback. I got lonely and realized I actually really missed human interaction. Considering that I like my own company and ‘cocooning’ at home, missing others surprised me. One needs to be resilient and stoic in the job search, and just persevere.

Did you seek professional help (for example, a career coach, interview coach, etc.) during your job search?

I was fortunate to have six months of career counselling with a professional firm as part of my severance. I was even luckier to have a wonderful friend, coach, and mentor who made helping me in my search a passion. Her consistent support and positive attitude saved me from getting bogged down in despair.

Can you comment on any differences you observed between the way very large companies recruit, versus small companies?

In smaller companies, the interview process was more intimate. In most cases, the hiring manager conducted the interview (sometimes along with an HR person, if they were a large enough company to have one). The job requirements / scope were explained in detail, along with a description of the team. Skills were more thoroughly explored in terms of fit.

In larger companies, I never once met the person I’d be working for. The HR rep was the first, and only, point of contact. Less information was offered about the job, the team, the culture, etc.

I enjoyed interviewing with law firms the best as, in most cases, I met with HR and the hiring manager, as well as the Department Head. They were unfailingly polite and pleasant. They all let me know how I did afterwards, too, which was appreciated.

The banks and telecommunications companies were the worst in terms of attitude towards the applicant, and not providing follow-up as to the status of the application. They were sometimes outright hostile and condescending. I felt very undervalued in all of those interviews. The attitude that was projected was that they were granting me a favour just by seeing me. Most would attend to their mobile phones during the interview.

Between large vs. small firms, there didn’t really seem to be much difference in terms of hearing back after an interview. At the beginning of my job search, I was really hoping for constructive feedback, but soon realized that was not going to happen.

If you had the job search period to do over again, would you do anything differently?

I would definitely practice mock interviews. Each interview I attended was amazingly similar. I would be less optimistic about how well qualified I am and how that would translate into a job. I’d follow more companies for opportunities and build relationships with staffing firms.

Now that it’s reached a successful conclusion, what experiences in your job search stand out for you (both good and bad)?

The bad is easy in that in almost every interview, the interviewer said they’d get back to me. In reality, I only received feedback from eight companies (20% response rate) saying that I wasn’t the right fit, or more usually, that I was overqualified. Since when is being overqualified a bad thing? I suspect it’s a euphemism for ‘too old.’

Honestly, that failure to follow-up was the most disheartening part of the whole process. To me, it’s a symptom of an issue that’s much larger than my little job search. It’s just another sign of a general decline in societal mores and respect for others. Why even make the statement if you don’t intend to follow through? It clearly demonstrates a lack of integrity and professionalism, and I guess I was naïve to expect more from the business people I met with.

On the plus side, I learned a lot about many different workplaces and met some really interesting people. I developed new respect for receptionists who had to greet people while performing many other tasks, all while maintaining a professional demeanor.

I think I also learned to present myself better in interviews as I become very comfortable answering the questions that are most commonly asked, regardless of industry.

Having now accepted your new job, are you able to pinpoint the reason for your success with this employer?

I have asked myself this question and haven’t come up with a good answer. Could it possibly be that I was becoming so jaded by the time this interview came along that I didn’t even remember what role it was for? I know I was much more myself than usual, even letting out my weird sense of humour – commenting on the fact that I was older than the average applicant and why that would be a good thing for the firm. I also spoke to being overqualified and how that would translate into the firm getting more ‘bang for their buck.’ Perhaps because I had just applied for my monthly Canada Pension Plan it didn’t matter quite as much, and I was more relaxed. I really liked the interviewer, who will also be my boss – that helped, too.

Any tips/hints you’d like to pass along that you think may be helpful to other third age job seekers?

Don’t let the ageism that’s so rampant out there get you down. Easier said than done, I know, but you have to remain confident about what you have to offer. I admit that it still amazes me that often the people making hiring decisions are much younger than the youngest of my children. Many of them don’t appear to possess the skills or experience to be able to assess – and be objective about – what a mature candidate has to offer.

Present the best face possible – wrinkles and all – and clearly articulate how your skills and experience will be an asset to the firm!

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Excellent article Cathy. I am surprised that she had such a difficult time finding work in Toronto. I guess the market is slowing down there too, but with that said, Toronto is a very young city so it’s no surprise that she had to deal with ageism.

I’m curious, what kind of work was she looking for?

Hi Giselle!
I’m glad you liked the article. I really enjoyed putting it together, and the client found it very cathartic to tell her story. She has a varied employment background, but was primarily seeking a role as a billing analyst (her most recent work), and was also applying to supervisory roles in customer service (which she’s done in the past).
Your assessment of Toronto as a young person’s city is quite accurate. Many large companies in Toronto actually capitalize on that image by incorporating it into their brand and company culture. I keep in touch with ‘third-age’ friends still working at some of these companies, and they all express feelings of being ‘outsiders’ who aren’t valued by either their young colleagues or bosses. It is a shame that such valuable resources are being underutilized.
Cathy

Great article. I can absolutely agree with everything that Cathy said. I do not work in the Toronto area, but did experience the same ageism barriers. Before I began at Over 55 London, a small non-profit that enhances the quality of life for those 55+ through income possibilities, I was interviewed for a position in London. During the interview the general manager said “There are a lot of younger people working here. How do you feel about that?” That was my first experience with age discrimination in the work force. In my work I see this type of situation often, which is surprising given the extreme amount of skills and loyalty an older worker brings to the table.

Thank you for publishing this article and raising awareness of barriers to employment.

Betty Blasdell
Executive Director
Over 55 (London)
http://www.over55london.ca

Hi Betty,

Thanks for sharing your personal experience. When you were asked how you felt about potentially working with a lot of younger people, your ‘inside voice’ was probably saying, “Well, if hired, I’ll look forward to sharing my wisdom and breadth of experience with them. They’ll be lucky to have me around!” 😉

I took a look at Over 55’s website. What an array of valuable services you offer, with the admirable goal of keeping older people comfortable in their own homes for a longer period of time.

Thanks again for adding your comments!

Cathy

Thank you, Cathy, for this timely article. It rings true for me and some of my clients. I would like to add that employers show less value for people in the 45+ age bracket (not 55+ as people so often note). One of the key marketing strategies a third-ager can employ is commitment and staying-power. I find that if you show humbleness and a willingness to listen, they don’t see third-agers as a threat to their culture (and younger supervisors).
Your interviewee was impressive in that she tracked her results. This further proves that tradition job search methods don’t work and that tapping into the hidden job market is so important.
Well written!

Hi Sheila,

Thanks very much to you for your comments and for adding your insight to the discussion. You’ve given us something to think about regarding age 45+ being the actual start of the third age. Scary, but potentially very true, and valuable information for those of us supporting clients in their career goals.

I think you’ve planted a seed here…I may ask some clients / friends in their mid-40’s for their take on the situation.

If I may add a timely personal note related to our discussion…just today, I accompanied my parents (Mom – age 84, Dad – age 87) to formal ‘geriatric testing’ at their local hospital. My Mom “passed” with flying colours, but my Dad has some memory and cognitive issues. When the gerontologist asked her to clarify some questionable answers that my Dad had given in his testing, my Mom said, with some conviction: “I really think that ‘retirement’, as we knew it in our generation, was the beginning of the end.”

Retirement, in their generation, was leaving formal employment somewhere between age 60 and 65, and ‘taking it easy’. It was almost a cultural expectation that you would do nothing but put your feet up and ‘take it easy’.

I’ve never heard my Mom make that statement before, but for me, it was a moving and powerful endorsement of the benefits of continuing to grow, learn, and be engaged in personally meaningful ‘work’ (for pay, or not) for as long as you’re physically able.

Thanks again, Sheila.
Cathy

Nice feedback. I took the same from the article, but also couldn’t help thinking that had role research been included with quality check gates the volume would have been significantly less and the trauma of rejection proportionately lower with it.
The numbers approach game to job search is an indicator of both frustration (understandable!) and dilution of quality job opportunity capture.
None the less, ageism is rampant, and I hate to imagine the talent that escapes companies resourcing because of it.

Excellent insight, Cathy. Lifelong learning is the best way to stay young and vibrant throughout our career and life.
Your number one fan,
Sharon

Thanks for posting this article. Ageism is rampant and in my experience with my clients and listening to their feedback mostly attributable to 3 key factors;
1) Unconscious bias
2) Poor interviewer skills
3) Failure of the candidate to articulate a value proposition that created a value around ‘3rd age’

I also couldn’t help thinking that the volume of applications in this case was extraordinarily high given their supposed focus areas, and had role research been included with quality check gates the volume of applications would have been significantly less and the trauma of rejection proportionately lower with it. Rejection after rejection and/or no response is hugely debilitating.

The numbers approach game to job search – whilst tempting, and job boards have added to this (APPLY NOW button) is an indicator of both frustration – understandable! – and a dilution of quality job opportunity capture.

None the less, ageism is rampant, and I hate to imagine the talent that escapes companies resourcing because of it.

Hi Craig,

Thank you for sending your comments all the way from New Zealand! Much appreciated, and a reminder that this issue is a global one.
I took a look at your practice description and it seems you are extremely well-positioned to counsel and assist clients in the very same situation that my interviewee found herself in. Through discussions such as this, I hope that we contribute to turning the tide on Third Age talent being squandered.

Cathy

Great insight, Craig. Yes, the “numbers approach” is not the best way to find and secure meaningful opportunities that are a great fit.

Great article, Cathy! It is the first time I’ve heard the term “Third Age” when referring to seniors looking for employment. Just wanted to say that I’m 77 and my husband is 83. We are both working full time and enjoying making a contribution and receiving the pay. Some of the things which have allowed us to do this are:

1. Establishing good reputations among our peers and professional associations. Here in the states, the agency and recruiting communities don’t do as well when there are a lot of people looking for jobs. It depends on the type of profession you are in.

2. Staying current or ahead in our field of expertise. Both of us are known for being innovative in our respective fields. My husband is a Marketing Mentor (College Professor) for a major online university and didn’t finish his Doctor of Business Administration until he was 60. Both of us were into computers early in our careers and that has helped us be adaptable to whatever comes along. One of the reasons I was selected for this job was that I mentioned LinkedIn in my interview 8 years ago and my boss had not heard of it.

3. I work with a very young staff and my boss (who is a terrific man) is 16 years younger than I. While some of the conversations at the lunch table are like Greek to me, when it comes to doing our jobs supporting our students, the age factor recedes to the background. I think if I don’t act old I won’t be treated as though I am.

After 20 years as an Outplacement Consultant helping all levels of people find jobs after layoffs, I totally agree with keeping a schedule. I also know that helping others less fortunate is a great way to even out one’s perspective during a difficult transition. Faith and prayer certainly help too.

I hope everyone who wants a job is successful in finding something they love doing, no matter what age.

Thanks again!

Hello Peggy:

You made my day with your inspiring story! I copied it and shared it with the woman who was the subject of this interview. I knew that she, too, would love to read about you and your husband.
Your insights as to the factors that have facilitated your successful and long careers are worth memorizing and becoming high-priority goals in career planning.
Personally, this statement will stick with me…”I think if I don’t act old I won’t be treated as though I am.” So true, as I know quite a few octogenarians (and beyond) who live out and prove your philosophy every day.

Thanks again,
Cathy

Great article Cathy, with excellent insights. I am curious if this individual tried a variety of job search strategies, outside of just online applications? It sounds like they spent a considerable amount of time each day “checking job postings” and no mention to networking, etc. Perhaps this played a role in the extended employment search? Just curious if there were more details not shared.

I think it is important that job seekers expand their search methods and ‘disrupt’ the traditional ways of doing things to see if different results are formed. This person did mention that mock interview practice may have helped…and I agree. With so many interviews and no results, the hold-up could easily have been at this stage. Professional assistance on greater levels may have also have shortened the search time.

Ultimately I am pleased to hear employment was secured and all information/statistics are wonderfully captured here!

Hi Adrienne,

You raise some great points. I checked with my interviewee and the only other job-search strategy she tried was to sign up with two large staffing firms in Toronto. She did get a few interviews via those firms, but ultimately did not land her job that way.

As I chatted with her, something came up which I’d not thought of before, but once she said it, I thought, “Of course! That’s obvious.” When I asked her about leveraging her network during the job search, she said, “My once large network has really diminished in the last 5 to 7 years! Many of my friends and former colleagues are now not employed…either by choice, or by having been let go. In the past, I’ve had great success getting jobs through the recommendations of my network, but those opportunities became increasingly rare as my network shrunk in size.”

You are wise in noting that “it is important that job seekers expand their search methods and ‘disrupt’ the traditional ways of doing things to see if different results are formed.” She did tell me that if she ever finds herself looking for work again, she will definitely (and quickly) seek professional assistance.
Thanks again for your insights.

Cathy

This interview is fabulous Cathy. Three things stood out for me. First, people often relegate interview practice to the last thing on their to-do list. The job seeker notes that she would “definitely practice mock interviews.” Practice builds confidence and that makes for a better interview. Second, that she would follow more companies for opportunities and build relationships with staffing firms, and thirdly, that she addressed the elephant in the room – her age and being overqualified. She turned those into positives.

Hi Cathy,

Thank you for sharing this wonderful interview and all the insights that your interviewee learned the hard way. Your post is so timely now when many people face or deal with unemployment, especially the so called Third Age folks. There are so many wonderful takeaways in your post.

The biggest takeaway for me is that when your interviewee relaxed into the job interview process, she landed the job. This makes perfect sense to me from a psychological, spiritual, and metaphysical perspective.

Her main task was to be likeable, approachable, memorable, and sell her expertise. She achieved all that by showing true interest and liking for her boss to be. She was relaxed enough to joke, showcase her expertise and just enjoy the interview process for what it is – an opportunity to connect with another person, learn together, and bring value to each other’s process.

Your interviewee proved CPC’s interview coaching strategy: stand from your competition by skillfully answering on every level the employer’s main underlying question: Why should we hire you and not somebody else?

Another wonderful takeaway for me is that age doesn’t matter in job search. At the end, your interviewee reframed her perception of age and presented it as it is – expertise and wisdom. With pivoting to agile workforce and online work mode, age is just a concept. Expertise is what matters, regardless how young or old a worker is.

I also loved the advice to maintain a routine and include a wellness practice – spiritual, mental, and physical – as a daily regimen.

Thank you again for your delightful article! I absolutely loved it!