By: Dr. Helen Ofosu
Life in the Time of Ageism
What Just Happened?
It has happened, the unthinkable … you at the age of what was assumed to be your approaching golden years are now golden tears. You won’t be spending time with your grandchildren and or booking tropical vacations, no, now your time is spent searching for work. So how did you get in this sudden predicament? And, how do you rationalize all those loyal decades resulting in the company’s decision to downsize you when you were so close to retirement? The unfairness of ageism is as cutting as the realization that they have replaced you for a younger, less qualified employee who is eager to work for meager wages, and the word pension plan isn’t even in their vernacular.
Getting Back Out There
This isn’t a unique situation, although it feels like it as you sit in a stuffy waiting room, holding a recently dusted off resume, anxiously rehearsing what you will say in the interview. It doesn’t help that the person who is calling out your name looks like they could be your child … or grandchild. You haven’t prepared for this moment. Sure, you have practiced, even role- played with your spouse on how to answer the potential questions, but the role reversal in age is almost too much to take. This person struts with an air of authority as they greet you; they tell you their vocational title, already outranking your previous profession. The humiliation sweeps over as the unavoidable thought bubble looms … “This prospective boss was probably in diapers when you were paying your mortgage, and putting 2 kids through college.” The age discrepancy is as obvious as it is humbling especially when told you are “too experienced” for the job. Watching your application join a stack of random papers presumably where resumes go to die, you leave politely all the while understanding “too experienced” really means as “too old.”
How to Bounce Back
So, how do you bounce back? My advice is hiring a smart and experienced career coach who can be an effective resource for your legal counsel as well as help you reinvent yourself. If you think that you’ve been wrongfully dismissed due to ageism then you should at least get an initial consultation with an employment lawyer.
Here are 5 key ‘to do’s’ whether or not legal action is not possible:
- Attempt strategic networking to gain access to potential work opportunities. Introductions to people who know you well and recognize how valuable you are as an employee will lead to a better fit in your future employment.
- If you have skills that are viable for consulting / freelancing, it’s wise to do so. This will also cover gaps in your employment while finding another job.
- Self-employment and entrepreneurship are more common than you may think for mature workers. It even has a nickname: Encore Entrepreneurship.
- Consider your online presence. If you’ve been an employee for a long time and you haven’t embraced social media, you might be invisible online. This Forbes article (published after the present blog) includes some ideas for mature job seekers. In addition, I wrote an article about social media algorithms that may limit certain job seekers’ awareness of employment opportunities.
- Avoid applying for job ads with potentially discriminatory code words such as flexible hours, energetic, willing to work overtime.
More than career coaching, it’s career psychology®.
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