REAL EXPERIENCE: True interactions in a professional environment
Looking for work over 50 is a deeply disturbing experience
Written by Louise Di Francesco, Director of Over Fifty Still Fabulous
This piece has been written from the real experience of an individual who, after many years of dedication and experience, took the leap to refresh their career, only to be faced with a new and concerning obstacle. We praise Louise for her dedication in addressing this issue through powering Over Fifty Still Fabulous.
This time last year, I never would have dreamt I would be writing about ageism in the Australian workplace but unfortunately it is alive and well and thriving.
And Josh Frydenberg’s thought bubble about older Australians retraining will not work unless there is a fundamental cultural change in this country.
About a year ago, I decided I needed a career shake-up. After 25 years as a corporate communications consultant and owner of two agencies, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and try and secure a full-time role in-house. So off I went to various executive recruiters, confident that I would be able to secure a fabulous senior communications role in an industry that interested me.
The outcome of this exercise was a lesson I never thought I would experience – a fascinating and quite frankly, deeply disturbing, insight into what happens when you turn 50 and become irrelevant in a marketplace full of young guns.
I wasn’t desperate for work nor was I going to take just anything because I needed to meet my debts. I cannot imagine how soul-destroying the experience would be for any man or woman over 50 who had to find work. That’s not quite true – one of my corporate friends who is incredibly smart, beautiful, savvy and one of the best in the business shared with me, with tears in her eyes, that she had been so humiliated by recruiters she wouldn’t go back.
All the executive recruiters I met were friendly – bar one, more later – but I have never been contacted again by any of them. My meetings with them were all at the end of last year. I guess my skills didn’t match any of the umpteen million comms jobs that have been vacant since last December.
So, let me tell you about the first executive recruiter I met with – a director of a company in her mid-40s.
She presented me with my CV – which I had constructed with help from several senior communications people to make sure it was contemporary – that had red pen through it like school homework gone wrong. But wait – there’s more. I had too much experience so I needed to cut some out – dumb it down, she said. Since when is too much experience a negative – but apparently it is.
After telling me that an industry colleague was “in here quite often” – bit indiscreet I thought – she asked me what my dream job would be. When I told her she drew back in horror and barked and I quote: “Oh, no. You are not qualified for something like that … you are very mid-tier!”
Okay – I gave up at that point and excused myself from her presence.
But … it wasn’t over yet. As I exited, she gave me a few other pointers. My lipstick was too bright, my perfume was too strong and I was inappropriately dressed. I thought it was hilarious for a few weeks until I then just got mad! It was a very cruel way to treat anyone let alone completely unprofessional.
There is a major societal issue brewing here that needs to be addressed … there are thousands of experienced people over 50 looking for work.
All the major companies have diversity policies – yes, I have seen and read many of them – and age is mentioned along with race diversity, sexual diversity etc. But I have been told again and again by HR people that, as long as they tell their management and boards that they have interviewed x number of people over 50 but none were suitable for the job, there are no quotas or accountability or measurement.
It is an issue that needs air time; the answer has to be a combined effort from government, companies, HR divisions, recruiters and those looking for work.