Interview with a Third Age Job Seeker
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!