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Aug 10 2013

As expected …

The job prospect I mentioned last week was looking great. It took place this last Wednesday at 10 AM, I showed up looking sharp, hair perfectly, freshly cut, wearing business casual as advised, a nice color coordinated sport jacket over new slacks and polished shoes which fit and accentuated my newly rebuilt, honed down, buffish bod like a glove.

The company is a solid, respectable outfit, great benefits, super neat story of how it developed and grew. The thing I like the most about them is, unlike so many corporations in the world today, this company has a great business; they actually help people. They make people happy. The company designed and maintains a stable online platform that allows people from all over the world, the well-off and the poor, the young and the old, the handicapped and the terminal, you name it, to buy and sell items of all kinds. collectible items, hand crafted ones, very rare or poignant things that make people smile and bring back great memories. They allow folks searching for a bargain a shot at getting great products at a price that person can afford, and in some cases people of all ages have become so adept and the platform so scalable, that really sharp people have learned to buy and sell and trade all kinds of items, making themselves a few badly needed dollars in this tough economy.

I knew going in this was a good company. But during the extended job interview I was even more impressed, by everything I saw, the building, the people, and the policies. On the latter, I can’t into detail because I signed a disclosure agreement. But I listened to  calls from people who were upset, and I can say with complete confidence I feel much better about issues like privacy protection, how they back up their customers, how they honor and resolve mistakes that aren’t even the company’s fault, how they protect their customers from scammers and data thieves, how focused they are on making the honest customer whole again at the company’s expense if possible in any way, even when the customer might and probably should have used better judgment.

You’ve probably guessed by now, the company was eBay, and from what I saw eBay isn’t a good company, they’re a great company. A company I would like to work for. The sky could be the limit for someone with my work ethic, background, and number crunching extroverted idiosyncrasies at a winner like eBay. In a few years I could be making a living wage again, after more than three years of scrapping by on near poverty pay, and rejoin the lower middle class. I might be able to once again apply for a home loan or get a car on credit and enjoy all the things I once took for granted and now can barely remember, the memories that feel more and more distant, more more and more surreal, like it happened long ago in a youthful dream.

The Austin campus is truly an impressive work environment with on site access to a four star gym. Best of all they are just now fully staffing this new, modern, spacious center, now almost fully built, just a few blocks from my apartment, I would be on the local ground floor of my department. Being a college grad, a former stock broker who has a long successful record of dealing with emotional people on critical financial matters, coming in with years of fresh customer service experience including the numero uno top performer out of hundreds of people in my current online customer service job for all of 2012 –  it looked very promising.

 

And I am a bad ass: I’ve been doing this so long I can now respond via live web chat by text while listening to a second customer on a live call and still scan over and close out a third web ticket all at once. I am greased lightning, no one can catch me on speed and my CSAT and FCR scores are way above average when I triple task too boot. Add in to that they are hiring dozens of people for a very large contact facility and that led me to believe, if I wasn’t a full-blown shoe in, I was at least facing way better odds than the unknown or 50-50 chances that keep defying the law of large numbers and rolling against me in past interviews.

Make no mistake, this is not a high level job, it’s not a dream job, it’s not a six figure job, or a job opening where only one or two of the best out of many applicants get hired. But even if it was I have to figure I’d still have a shot because I am one of the best qualified, most experienced applicants they’re likely to come across for that kind of starting wage. The job would have started at only 16 bucks an hour, but joining the working poor after being comfortably middle class has taught there’s a big difference between the $12/hr and change I make now after three years of stellar performance and no chance or ever moving up, and the $16/hr this would pay with room to grow. I mainly worried about being over qualified — if there really is such a thing.

Did a skills test, it was super easy, there was only one techie issue and it was basic, something I probably walk customers through 30 times a day in my current position. I carefully counted the number of words in the typing test and made sure I exceeded the threshold with zero mistakes. There were four of us taking the skills test, I finished way before anyone else and they told me I did great, that I had made it to the next step, a short interview with a team manager which seemed to go fine. They showed me all around the place like I was in and they said I would be hearing from them soon.

And they kept that promise, on Friday this was in my work email from a no-reply address:

Thank you for taking time to apply for the Customer Solutions Teammate position. We appreciate your interest and the opportunity to review your background, qualifications, and eligibility.

We have reviewed your resume and have carefully considered your qualifications. While your skills are impressive and you have met the basic requirements of the position, we will be moving forward with other candidates who exceed the basic and preferred qualifications for the position. We also encourage you to take another look at our current openings and consider other opportunities within eBay as they become available.

I’ll probably take them up on that. I got a really good vibe from the place. But my understanding is that kind of invitation to reapply is often done to ease the blow of rejection. That once you’re out, you’re out.

Worst of all, I don’t know what went wrong, maybe they hit a quota of hirees before my app came up? Maybe a reference confused me with someone else and skull fucked me? Who knows? I can only assume they’re telling me the truth about the skills test, maybe they went by total words typed per unit time instead of a pass-fail thing like I was told. I have to assume eBay is smart enough not to engage in age discrimination. But I’ll never know, so I’ll never be able to correct it if is correctable.

I’ve had a lot of let downs like this over the last few years, where I knew I was super qualified, had a great interview for a low level easy job, then either heard nothing back at all or got a form letter quickly indicating I was cut out of consideration early on.

But even in that dim light, this one was a huge let down. If I can’t get a low-level job I’m that qualified for, my future is truly bleak. I don’t know how long I can survive the way things are, it’s just a matter of time if nothing changes. I’ve spent all my non qualified savings now, I have some retirement left but I dip into that regularly to make ends meet, it won’t last five years at the rate I’m going. And all I get for slowly bleeding out my last IRA is a tax penalty and a miserable, drab, lonely life. Sooner or later I will run out of that last bit of retirement money, an expense will come along I can’t handle, and I’ll eventually become car-less, or homeless, or worse.

29 comments

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  1. 1
    Pteryxx

    Gah, I’m sorry. They may have decided you’re overqualified. (Nice catch-22, that.)

    Not much I can do but pass on this opening: http://io9.com/help-wanted-full-time-community-editor-936918041

    and repeat that you kick ass. Hang in there.

  2. 2
    notyet

    I understand exactly how you feel. I am 57 years old, currently unemployed, as well as essentially unemployable. I spent 35+ years in construction and then watched my business, my savings and my lifestyle disappear in the last recession. My back won’t allow me to return to the labor end of things and the field I was in has less than 40% of the jobs that it had before the crash. I understand hopeless. I chose to go back to school and try to get a degree in education and teach middle school. My biggest fear is that because of my age when I graduate no one will want to hire someone who they believe will want to retire in a few years. Sound familiar? All I can say to you is you are doing the right thing, you are trying and eventually you will be in the right place at the right time. As you might imagine I was really pulling for you as I followed your posts and your quest for this job. I will continue to do so (for whatever that is worth) because I obviously see our problems as similar and I have developed a kind-of “If he can do it, I can do it” mentality while reading your blog. Good luck.

  3. 3
    New England Bob

    If you have an HR contact, call and ask where you were lacking for future improvement.
    This sometimes gets an honest reply or may even get you in.

  4. 4
    machintelligence

    Damn. Just DAMN! I agree that they may have figured that someone so overqualified mjust have some kind of problem to be applying for such a low level position. Age could be a factor too.
    Don’t give up the ship.

  5. 5
    grumpyoldfart

    Sorry to hear that. I’d seen your earlier post and thought you were in with a chance.

    I have to assume eBay is smart enough not to engage in age discrimination.

    I am one of those characters who doesn’t look his age – at 30 people thought I was a teenager, at sixty I could still pass for forty. At one interview I was asked my age. “Sixty,” I replied. “You don’t look it,” came the response – and a minute later I was being hustled out the door. The interviewer assumed I was lying and treated me with utter contempt for that last minute. Bastard!

  6. 6
    sheila

    Hugs. Better luck next time.

    I think the economy is picking up slightly, so there should be a next time.

    Meanwhile, hugs.

  7. 7
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    I don’t think I buy that over qualified deal. I’ve been in on hiring decisions plenty of times, I’ve never seen an applicant nixed because they were over qualified. Besides, I’ve sent in resumes that didn’t mention certain achievements or downplayed others, it doesn’t seem to make any difference one way or another.

    If I had to guess, and this is purely a guess, I’d guess the person who interviewed me after I passed the skills test did not like something about me. There is a different dynamic at play when applying for low end jobs and when you are middle aged. It’s similar to what women face in the workplace; damned if you do and damned if you don’t. What might be a plus for a male — or an executive job requiring leadership and analysis, the kind of job I’m used to interviewing for — or a younger worker is perceived as minus for women or low end entry level jobs or for older workers. What would be seen as ambition in one person applying for a leadership/exce role comes off as pushy in another, older person applying for a CSR job. What might be seen as assertive in one case comes off as bitchy in another, what might be seen as confident comes off as arrogance. That kind of thing. It’s a thin line to walk.

    In the last four jobs apps where I reached the interview stage with flying colors, that’s where the company’s interest in me seemed to wane, the interview. Which is weird for me, that’s where I used to seal the deal with little effort. The one difference between interviews in the last few years and the ones I went on a decade or more ago was the job back then was executive/leadership stuff and the person interviewing me was older. Age definitely has a lot to do with it, but I don’t doubt it’s policy or institutional, I think it’s more unconscious than that. I think when you are older and applying for a low level job, those who make the final decision are unconsciously looking a little harder for a reason to move to another applicant.

    In all these recent cases where everything looked great up until the last second, the one doing the interviewing was fairly young, notably younger than me, and the job was low level. I’m a good listener and make decent conversation, but in all these cases they were aloof from the second they saw me. There was no back and forth, they gave me nothing to work with to make conversation, it was very cookie cutter, they were professional, they were polite, but in all these cases I got the distinct impression they didn’t like me from the get go and there was absolutely nothing I could do to break that ice. My guess is something about me came off as arrogant or pushy or somesuch, perhaps in part because I’m older and don’t get the benefit of the doubt any more, or perhaps because I don’t send out the right signals for that generation, and that person gave me low marks.

    Whatever it was, I was cut pretty much immediately from the pool of prospects, so it must have been something that stood out clearly. The tour was on Weds, they said they would contact me the following week, I got the rejection email Friday morning. It doesn’t seem to matter what your qualifications are, or what your references are, none of that counts if the person who makes the final decision does not like something about you.

  8. 8
    No One

    The young and in-experienced are rarely able to discern talent and ability in their elders. I recently had a client complain to a producer that I was “An old white guy with a beard”. The client ended up loving my work. It’s hard to get past that initial age discrimination.

  9. 9
    catlover

    Ohhhhh….Stephen…..that REALLY SUCKS!

    I think you hit the nail squarely on the head: it was age, and thus your superb skills — which took TIME to acquire — unintentionally made the interviewer feel inferior. Sounds like tech companies care only about hiring very young people. EBay obviously does not have the best HR people, or else those HR people would be much older, and much more experienced, and would have hired you on the spot. I really hope you can find an opening in a company that is smart enough to employ older people in HR.

    I send you virtual hugs — if you want them. You deserve SO much better than the crap that has been happening to you.

  10. 10
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    Well, they may be younger, but I have a wicked six pack and big pumping guns on my arms now. I have lost almost fifty pounds and gotten pretty buff, and I did that in large part to interview better, although so far it hasn’t paid off that I can tell.

    You know I went in there with my diploma, my awards, work history, everything on my person. But they didn’t ask for any of that. The entire interview was ‘describe a time when I went above and beyond on the job’. I could have told them I disarmed a disgruntled employee and saved everyone in the place, the police chief called me up to offer a job and the mayor gave me the key to the city, and I doubt they would have checked. I’m not sure what that question is supposed to elicit, but it’s been asked at every interview lately.

  11. 11
    No One

    Yeah… I had a “kid” ask me why I thought I was qualified for the job. I pointed out that most of his current employees were my former students. The look on his face was priceless. I didn’t get the job.

  12. 12
    leni

    I don’t think I buy that over qualified deal. I’ve been in on hiring decisions plenty of times, I’ve never seen an applicant nixed because they were over qualified.

    Well, I have been. But that was applying for fast food jobs out of desperation when I have a degree in physics. Not exactly the same thing.

    I’m so sorry :/ I know in my state you can do some mock interviews and other classes through the unemployment office. I really doubt it, but maybe you are doing something you are unaware of?

    I really doubt it. There is a company in my area with a very bad reputation for only hiring kids straight out of college, basically so they can screw them on wages by paying them a <30k/year salary, which seems awesome when you've never made more than 12$/hr, and making them work 60-70 hour weeks. And you have to have 3.5 GPA or higher to get hired at all. (NASA has a 3.5 GPA requirement. This is not fucking NASA. It is a software company though, big surprise. And run of the mill software. They aren't doing anything cutting edge.)

    So if you were your age and were applying for an entry level position, you'd still have to send them your damn transcripts even if you had 25 years of experience.

    Total. Bullshit.

    ‘describe a time when I went above and beyond on the job’

    Ugh I hate those stupid fucking questions. Did you get the “what animal would you be”?

    I got asked that in my last interview. I was so completely floored and confused the only thing I could think of was T. Rex.

    Why yes, I’d love to be a goddamned T. Rex now that you mention it. I immediately imagined a T.Rex destroying an office and chewing the heads off cubicle dwelling homo sapiens, so I scaled “back” to brontosaurus in a cowardly way (something probably no true T. Rex would ever do!). Apparently wanting to be a big ass tree eating extinct animal was a plus because they hired me, but I’m guessing T. Rex would have been the “wrong” answer.

    .

  13. 13
    Compuholic

    Ugh I hate those stupid fucking questions. Did you get the “what animal would you be”?

    Wow, that is certainly a new low for stupid interview questions. I always got the “where do you see yourself in 5 years” bullshit question.

  14. 14
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    You know I woke up this morning and I realized something: I’m not afraid any more. I’m not afraid of being homeless, or being hungry, and I’m sure not afraid of shining some light on this and finding out what happened. I contacted an employment lawyer I’ve known for a long time and I’m going to talk to him about possible DoL complaint. I don’t know for sure what happened, but I’m concerned it was age bias, probably not even conscious, by a single person. I’m under no illusion that that will get me hired, quite the opposite, but if something like that did occur, maybe my complaint will help the next applicant avoid my fate.

    Think about it from an exec viewpoint: you want the best qualified people you can get. I know for a fact eBay hired someone who used to work where I work now for this same job I was rejected for, and that person was not meeting their numbers where I work now. So eBay’s interview process selected the mediocre performer and selected out the excellent one. That’s a broken process.

  15. 15
    Kevin

    @5: You’re not allowed to ask a candidate’s age during a job interview. Forbidden by federal law. If that happened, that interviewer was breaking the law and should be reported.

    Period.

  16. 16
    Kevin

    @Stephen: It sucks, no doubt.

    But I’m still wondering why you’re looking for this type of work, when as a consultant, as a freelancer, as a small business owner you could do so much better for yourself.

    Healthcare should not be an issue. COBRA, ACHA, et al, all have mechanisms by which you can get insurance, even with pre-existing conditions. That was a problem before — it’s fixed now.

    I became a full-time freelancer 8+ years ago without a single client, no office, no nothing, other than a bunch of contacts from lots of years in the business. I was “jobless” but determined not to work in any environment other than one I created for myself. It’s been a great ride. Thing is, first year out, I made more money working half the time than I had done previously. Because an hour worked was an hour earned.

    And since then, I’ve paid my mortgage, contributed 20% to my SEP yearly, bought new cars, traveled extensively, and enjoyed my life with no regrets. I work on projects that I find interesting, not ones that are foisted on me by a clueless boss (though early in my freelancing life, there were a couple of “I hope I’ll never have to do one of these again” moments).

    The new economy is the personal economy. You’re more than skilled enough. You have way more than enough personal contacts to garner business in any number of avenues that you find interesting. If you went to Ebay and offered yourself to them as a high-level ($250 an hour) consultant … you’d probably land a 6-figure contract.

    Do that. You’ll be so much happier. So much more productive. Don’t wait.

  17. 17
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    They didn’t ask my age, but they did ask for a birth certificate or photo ID, so they had it. Kevin I am seriously considering doing exactly that. The reason I apply for this kind of work; I don’t apply just for this. I apply for a lot of other stuff. But to date these are the types of jobs that I’ve made it far enough to even be contacted.

    I’ll tell you, if someone asked me what kind of animal I wanted to be, I would politely offer to discuss my work history, my awards, my background, etc., but I would decline to answer that and ask them if they wanted to proceed with a serious interview or go ahead and end it now.

  18. 18
    leni

    Wow, that is certainly a new low for stupid interview questions. I always got the “where do you see yourself in 5 years” bullshit question.

    I hate that one too. I always want to say “A little bit more grey, probably a few pounds heavier. ” I mean, I know how I’d answer that question myself, but like my T. Rex problem, the honest answer is probably not the correct one. I suspect that’s true for a lot of people.

    I don’t know for sure what happened, but I’m concerned it was age bias, probably not even conscious, by a single person. I’m under no illusion that that will get me hired, quite the opposite, but if something like that did occur, maybe my complaint will help the next applicant avoid my fate.

    I can feel afraid for you, if you don’t. That sounds absolutely terrifying.

    You know what? I think you are too smart for that corporate bullshit. R&D seems like it would be a better fit for you and age and experience is not a detriment when what you need is people who really know what they’re doing, rather than just a body to meet some numbers. Whatever you decide, I think you can definitely aim higher than entry level :)

  19. 19
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    The animal question has been around since I was a kid in the 70s. It’s woo, in the same ballpark as astrology, supposed to be provide keen insight of some kind when in fact it’s as useless as what sign you are. It’s been woo-resurrected recently and sold to some west coast corps by some smooth charlatans somewhere who probably made out quite well.

    BTW one of the the answers you want to consider is Orca, reason, because they look like they’re having fun … it’s not usually on the list, they can’t get much out of it. Of course the safest answer is to ask them what they would be and then say that makes sense, put me down for that too. If you just want to toy with them for being woo sayers, and really, who among us could resist, tell them something fun, like ambulocetus or andrewsarchus.

  20. 20
    theignored

    Shit….this “age” thing when applying for jobs worries me too.

  21. 21
    smhll

    In all these recent cases where everything looked great up until the last second, the one doing the interviewing was fairly young, notably younger than me, and the job was low level. I’m a good listener and make decent conversation, but in all these cases they were aloof from the second they saw me.

    This really sucks! I feel for you.

    What you describe rings true to me. The most common unconscious form of discrimination is the interviewer picturing the right candidate for the job as someone much like himself.

    This is probably a terrible idea, but in case they sometimes walk the walk of being an enlightened company, someone might want to prod the top HR and legal people at eBay to look and see if the data shows that they have an entrenched pattern of discriminating on age. They really need to switch to ‘auditioning people behind screens’ somehow.

  22. 22
    jacobfromlost

    I was actually TOLD I was overqualified in an interview once (actually more than once). It does happen.

  23. 23
    Kevin

    I’ve been on the hiring end of the decision-making process many times, and I can tell you that no matter how intensively you vet a candidate, you’ll probably only bat .500. The other half will be either marginal drudges or outright incompetent boobs. So, the “science” of hiring is a complete and total crapshoot.

    Sometimes, the decision is really, really tough. Like the one time my boss’s daughter came in for an interview for a meeting planning position. She had zero experience in the field, didn’t know F&B (food and beverage) from A&P, had never contacted anyone in hotel catering except to order room service. And the people she was up against had actual real degrees and a modicum of experience in those things. I didn’t hire her — I think that was the beginning of the end for me at that company, even though the person I did hire was an absolute superstar.

    Other times, it’s really easy. You pick the first “non-weirdo” to come through the doors. I interviewed several candidates for a science writer’s position – almost impossible. And this was in Manhattan! One guy was working on a book about how to convert water into energy in some magical way that would let you fill your gas tank with water — oh no, he did not get the job. Way the best candidate was a spiky-haired lesbian that everyone else gave a “pass” to — but I saw lights on and somebody home. She was smart, she was tough, she was nobody’s fool, and she could write. She did great.

    Out of all my hires, those two were by far the best.

    And then there’s the assistant editor I hired. Master’s degree in journalism from Big Name Journalism School. Lots of great clips, recommendations out the wazoo. Couldn’t report. Couldn’t write. Couldn’t edit. Couldn’t lay out a page. Couldn’t do any of the things he was hired to do. That was a spectacular flame-out.

    I’m just barely ambitious enough to occasionally think about hiring some staff to turn my solo practice into a small business. And then I think of all the problems I had with hiring. And I think of all of the fracking paperwork. Oh no. Solo is fine. Very very fine.

  24. 24
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    Here’s what happened folks: 1) the company was all warm smiles right up as I passed every test and requirement set before me including the final skills test, then 2) company personnel had the opportunity to examine my state ID with my DoB on it, at which time 3) the smiles stopped, things went ice cold, I was told I would be contacted next (this) week, and lastly 4) I received a brief, cryptic no-reply form rejection letter in my spam box professing I had indeed met the benchmark, less than 48 hours later.

    That looks bad. Bad enough that I’ve been advised to contact the HR department and ask for verification if that email was sent as intended. That’s now been done, I’ll keep ya posted :)

    Kevin I agree. I’ve actually been involved in hiring and training candidates for a call center position, and in my experience full blown Florida retirees much older than me are as good if not a better gamble than anyone else.

  25. 25
    trinioler

    Stephen, an idea on fighting discrimination in interviews:

    Tape the interviewers. This way, the company can review if the interviewer treated any person differently than they treated someone else. The interviewee would be off-screen, so the appearance of the interviewee wouldn’t bias the people reviewing the videos.

  26. 26
    theignored

    How would one do that? Doesn’t one need the subject’s permission to legally film them? And if one announces that one’s going to do that, what’s to stop them from just saying “you didn’t make the interview cut” to prevent the interview in the first place?

  27. 27
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    It’s a fun idea. But it wouldn’t do any good. There’s little you can about a single instance of age discrimination or any other discrimination, that will change things for yourself.

    The only reason I’m even bothering with the TWC and federal complaints is I’m stubborn. There’s a principle involved, it might help the next guy who comes along and applies for a job at eBay, and if it turns out to be part of a larger pattern eventually the bad apple[s] doing it will get thrown under the bus.

  28. 28
    smhll

    I don’t believe in a Just World, BUT, in a just world it might be possible that a letter to high level eBay HR that said “I believe I was turned town for a job for which I am extremely well qualified solely due to my age” might get results.

    I like to believe that if I was a powerful and important HR exec, I would look at your qualifications and say, “Whoops, give this guy a job. You made a bad call. A discriminatory one.”

    (Sigh. If I believe this hard enough, maybe I can fly? But it would be smart for them to try harder to avoid discriminating. Eventually the statistics will show a clear pattern and they will have a problem that’s too large to hide.)

  29. 29
    elspeth

    The animal question has been around since I was a kid in the 70s. It’s woo, in the same ballpark as astrology, supposed to be provide keen insight of some kind when in fact it’s as useless as what sign you are.

    That is so dissapointing! I had assumed that it was really intended to see how you react to, and answer, something totally out of left field, which is arguably useful when hiring for a public contact position. At which it would apparently be failing, as it becomes yet another question the interviewee knows about and prepares an answer to.

    Oh, and my answer — at the moment I said “Huh, how would I answer that question?” and undoubtedly subject to change — was Naked Mole Rat. I answered this before finding out there’s a list of some kind, but I’m pretty sure Naked Mole Rat is not going to be on their woo-list…

    Thank you for pursuing the age discrimination angle, Stephen. Although it might end up helping you, it’s much more likely to help others who come after you, and you deserve thanks on their behalf.

    About not being afraid any more, that’s something you can use and factor in to decisions about less ordinary, potentially risky alternatives — like going freelance. Fear of losing what little security one does have in a bad job or series of jobs is one of the big things that rules out freelancing and self-employment for most people. I’d also ask if you do chose to remain among the employed-by-others, how do you feel about relocation? I’m wondering if putting up your resume, possibly redacted for privacy, on your blog and what the hey, maybe someone out there knows of a good company that’s hiring in their area?

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