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Mar 03 2014

Another day in the trenches of the unemployed

I spend most of my time these days applying for jobs, taking skills tests for jobs, doing phone interviews and in person interviews for jobs. Then there’s ancillary stuff, like working out to look trim and fit. I typically see a hairstylist to make sure my do is up to snuff, hair professionally colored, and I always see an aesthetician the day before an in person interview to touch up eyebrows and make sure nose or ear hairs aren’t sprouting out grotesquely. I also make sure my wardrobe is appropriate, if there’s a coffee shop nearby sometimes I’ll stake out the employer or peek around online, to get a feel for day-to-day dress code, and often shop for the interview with a fashion-minded friend if need be to make sure I wear just a notch or two above what my prospective employer-interviewer is likely to be wearing. So in short, it’s a full time occupation, one I’m serious and methodical about. I even tan to look as good as possible.

The way it works is you apply for the job usually on the company’s site, my res’s are set up to be easily scaled to include specific keywords, and I’m know I’m doing that part right because they generate a 50% contact rate. Meaning the company calls me to follow up at least half the time, usually I’m then asked to do a skills test, then, after I pass it, they invite me in. Lately they’ve all been semi-open house deals where I get to meet others who have made it through those hurdles, and I meet at least one if not more team and HR managers who chat me up after a group orientation. I’m applying for jobs in the $15 to $20 an hour range, tech related or support, some hosting or web page stuff, they’re almost always hiring several people, so it’s not a one shot deal; these jobs are well within my skill set and recent experience, not a stretch for me at all. I have superb references which I’ve had friends check out posing as employers just to be safe. I can honestly say, for what they’re paying, they’re getting a real fair deal in me.

I interview reasonably well and I’ve never once, in this latest round of job searching, been even closed to stumped on a technical question or when reviewing how I would handle a routine trouble shooting call. I have an HR director/hiring manager sister who runs HR in a tech support contact center, and who gives me all the inside scoops on behavior questions and rehearse the answers with me. Ask me what animal I want to be and I have an answer for it and can explain why I chose it without missing a beat.

Last Monday, I went to such an open house event after sailing through the screens, they said they were looking to hire about eight to ten people and there were eleven of us there. Not bad odds. This was a center that took tech calls from agents and assistants in branch offices for a large, multi-line insurance company. I’m insurance licensed and have sold millions of dollars in variable annuities, life insurance, health plans, etc., so I’m way ahead of the pack in terms of internal lingo there. And it was pretty easy trouble shooting, can’t connect to the company website from office or home, need a pw reset, that kind of ultra-basic thing, which I have totally wired. It paid $18.50 an hour to start, had great benefits and it was so close to my apartment I could have ridden a bike there. I would have gladly taken it.

I got to know four people who were also interviewing, none of the four had a college degree. There was a guy who had just gotten out of the Navy and did some network stuff, another guy who worked for the iPhone support section at Apple, a lady who had just gotten out of high school a couple of years ago and was going to a community college part time taking IT and a programming language, and a guy who was working at Best Buy but looking for something better. They were all bright and likable, from age 20 to about age 35 or so. But none of them had the kind of down in the trenches, recent hard-core retail tech support across PCs and Macs that I have. None of them scored as high on the skills test as I did, I made a 96 btw, and only the Best Buy guy even knew what a tracert was.

Three of those four told me via email they received offers on Thursday. Of those three, one told me he declined, and one said he is looking at other jobs and probably won’t accept it. So this morning I sent a nice email asking my company contact if she needed anything else from me and thanking her, and got a form rejection letter back within half an hour. Which means, somehow, I was ranked dead last or near dead last of the entire 11 person group.

How else to explain that besides age? The people interviewing me looked like they were about 25 years-old, early 30s at the most (The one time I did get hired a few years ago was probably in large part because the person I drew as my interviewer happened to be older than me).

I went to another open house deal on Friday and I liked that company a lot. It doesn’t pay as much but it’s not bad, and it’s a good, growing field. So maybe I’ll hear something there. But such is my life folks. A full time job and then some getting interviewed for jobs I’m highly qualified for and may well be able to run rings around my competition doing, and mysteriously never making it

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  1. 1
    Suido

    That’s brutal.

    I can’t fathom the mindset required to reject you. Perhaps there’s an element of you being a threat – if you’re so qualified for the role, the young managers may be worried about your effect on existing team members egos, the team dynamic and threaten their managerial seniority. Ridiculous worries borne out of competitive business instincts and self esteem issues that are detrimental to the overall work performance. Big fish in little ponds ensuring that no bigger fishies crash their party.

    I assume you’ve been applying for more senior roles, but I’d advise you keep chasing that angle. It seems the most logical way of turning age and experience into a positive. If recruiters are writing you off for entry level jobs that you’re over qualified for, raise your sights.

  2. 2
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    Thanks. I’ve been told by head-hunters and others, if you don’t have documented management experience in the last three years, don’t bother applying for a management job. I do it anyway but I haven’t gotten a call back doing it. There does seem to be, imo, among not all but certainly some folks in their 20s and 30s, a bit of an elitist only-we-understand-technology self absorbed dismissive attitude.

    It’s unlike the divide between me and my parents’ generation. There was a sharp cultural divide between me and my dad’s generation, but it wasn’t a technology divide, quite the opposite. He was an IBM engineer, his generation invented large scale integrated circuits, mainframes, personal computers and the modems that connected them into networks and ultimately, the internet. This divide they think they have … it’s coimplete bullshit, they didn’t invent the Internet, they are not alone in being able to write code. Again this is not universal among 20 and 30 something year-olds, but for those who do project it, I don’t know where they’re getting it from. Unless they’re really so out of touch that their only point of reference is helping nana learn to use a camera phone back when they were teenagers. And it seemed to come out of nowhere, set up and engulf some portions of the workforce, almost overnight during the great recession.

  3. 3
    Sunday Afternoon

    Hi DarkSyde,

    Regarding applying for a management job, I think you are probably correct. I’ve been both a manager and individual contributor. I’m in high tech – most places I’ve been in want to hire a manager from within the company. I’m a case in point – I moved groups last year to move into a management post and even then I have had a huge amount to learn to get up to speed.

    I’ve seen mid-level managers be moved in above people from outside and cause significant resentment. Not because they were bad people, but because they got in and someone inside wasn’t moved up the ladder. There are a lot of immediate people skills required if such a situation is to successfully settle.

    Don’t make the assumption that there are only entry level jobs or management jobs. In my field at least there are definitely senior positions possible for folks that either don’t want to be, or for lack of people skills reasons, shouldn’t be managers.

    Best wishes!

  4. 4
    chimera

    I know someone who updated her degrees (or licenses or whatever you call the damn things), got a facelift and liposuction and cosmetic dentistry and who, by the way, is also extremely smart and good at what she does, and can’t get hired either.

  5. 5
    Kaintukee Bob

    One thing to consider is that you seem grossly overqualified for these jobs – you blow away the requirements. You know everything they could need you to know, and you have an obvious drive and work ethic.

    That’s not what most of these places are looking for. They’re afraid that you’ll be bored quickly and look for a new job, or that you’ll make everyone else on the team (including the supervisors) look bad by comparison.

    Try understating your achievements a bit. Tone down some of the most impressive stuff from your resume (but don’t lie or remove jobs). Flub a question or two on the tests – not so bad that you fail, but make it clear that you won’t be immediately vying for a higher-level tech job and leaving their department understaffed again.

    It sucks, but it might help.

  6. 6
  7. 7
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    I’m not grossly overqualified for these jobs, in most cases I’m ideally qualified. There may be some jobs, when they’re looking for one person who is the most perfect fit possible, where exceeding the qualifications might not work. But for these kinds of jobs, where they’re hiring several people and looking for someone who can hit the ground running, I can say from recent experience, exceeding the stated reqs gets the callback and coming up short on any of them does not.

    But once that callback happens, I have to make it through a final screening process composed almost exclusively of young HR folks and young low level managers, mostly in their mid to late 20s. They’re choosing people in their 20s and early 30s. I can show people cases where I was the ONLY one, or one of only a handful interviewed, who didn’t get an offer, I can show cases where I didn’t get the offer, and a few weeks later they hired another group and when I applied the second time they rejected me out of hand, which means someone had decided whatever it is they’re looking for, they do not want me specifically no matter what. Occam’s Razor: If young people are getting the job and middle-aged people are not, no matter what the requirements or qualifications, over and over, and if the existing workforce is way over represented by people in their 20s and early 30s, it’s not a mystery, it’s age that’s doing it. They’re picking young people over others. The only solution I can think of is numbers, go on as many interviews as possible (I’m about to exceed 20 in person interviews in six weeks). Sooner or later I’ll either get interviewed by someone older or by someone who needs warm bodies fast.

  8. 8
    Reginald Selkirk

    I don’t understand why companies would practice age discrimination in this day and age. It’s not like anyone works 40 years for the same company any more, or companies offer a pension instead of a 401k. So why do they do it?

  9. 9
    mildlymagnificent

    Perhaps there’s an element of you being a threat – if you’re so qualified for the role, the young managers may be worried about your effect on existing team members egos, the team dynamic and threaten their managerial seniority.

    I don’t understand why companies would practice age discrimination in this day and age. It’s not like anyone works 40 years for the same company any more, or companies offer a pension instead of a 401k. So why do they do it?

    It’s a silly prejudice which has been around for about 30 years. The presumption is that older applicants, even by a selection panel of much the same age as the person in question, are not flexible and cannot learn “new” skills quickly. It’s all rubbish and, probably for that reason, very hard to argue against. Because there’s no there there to argue about.

    It can only be dealt with by people being trained – explicitly – to recognise their own personal feelings about tall v. short, older v. younger, men v. women, white v. POC, shoes polished or down at heel, perfumes and aftershaves, long hair or short, and a couple of dozen other things that people don’t really think about unless they’re asked to. I was trained in this stuff 30+ years ago when the emerging big issue was preferring, or not, people with experience versus people “willing to learn”. At least we did specific stuff on our own personal preferences. We weren’t obliged to say out loud what upset us or put us off, but in the end we all did. Some of it was funny, some of it was surprising, but all of it was useful.

  10. 10
    kathleenmcnamara

    That really sucks that you are having so much trouble to find a job. I have no advice about getting a permanent job, as it seems you are already doing all that you can in that department. The one thing I would say is it’s worth looking into is private tutoring. I did that for a while when I was unemployed, and the pay is good, if a bit spotty at times. I’m guessing, with your background in computer stuff, that you are well versed in math, which usually pays well($30-60 an hour, depending on the area you live in). You can also tutor for standard exams, which typically pays very well, but usually you can only do that if you’ve taken and passed the exams.

  11. 11
    andrewscott

    I liked what kathleenmcnamara suggested. Have you considered teaching/tutoring tech subjects? Here I think, looking older (aka the ‘distinguished’ professor stereotype) would be viewed favorably.

  12. 12
    mildlymagnificent

    One thing that occurred to me long after I commented yesterday. There are several non-profits and conventional businesses here that concentrate entirely on mature age jobseekers. (There are also government incentives of various sorts but I can’t imagine there’d be anything like that in Texas.)

    Their most important function is that they already have established relationships with employers and industry groups with a demonstrated interest and not-just-lip-service commitment to employing older workers. I’ll admit that some programs are focused on people older than you, but it might be worth tracking any such useful people/ groups down if there are any in your area – geographical or industry.

  13. 13
    Pteryxx

    I don’t understand why companies would practice age discrimination in this day and age. It’s not like anyone works 40 years for the same company any more, or companies offer a pension instead of a 401k. So why do they do it?

    …I just read something that might be relevant. This is from Wendell Potter’s 2009 testimony to Congress on the profit-grubbing underhanded tactics of insurance companies. Source (bolds mine)

    Secondly, the number of uninsured people has increased as more have fallen victim to deceptive marketing practices and bought what essentially is fake insurance. The industry is insistent on being able to retain so-called “benefit design flexibility” so they can continue to market these kinds of often worthless policies. The big insurers have spent millions acquiring companies that specialize in what they call “limited-benefit” plans. An example of such a plan is marketed [to employers - Ptx] by one of the big insurers under the name of Starbridge Select. Not only are the benefits extremely limited but the underwriting criteria established by the insurer essentially guarantee big profits. Pre-existing conditions are not covered during the first six months, and the employer must have an annual employee turnover rate of 70 percent or more, so most of the workers don’t even stay on the payroll long enough to use their benefits. The average age of employees must not be higher than 40, and no more than 65 percent of the workforce can be female. Employers don’t pay any of the premiums—the employees pay for everything. As Consumer Reports noted in May, many people who buy limited-benefit policies, which often provide little or no hospitalization, are misled by marketing materials and think they are buying more comprehensive care. In many cases it is not until they actually try to use the policies that they find out they will get little help from the insurer in paying the bills.

    So there it is – some companies that *do* offer benefits (eventually, to the rare few) may have made certain their HR people don’t hire anyone over a certain age, because they’ve already got their quota of mid-aged workers up in management, and hiring more might cost the company its cheap benefit plan. Not to mention the insurance company *requiring* a high turnover rate before it will offer such a plan.

  1. 14
    Another day in the trenches of the unemployed | EveryDayNewsScoop

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