If you’re a job-seeking woman over fifty – like I was, when I lost my job at 59 as the coronavirus pandemic began its race around the world – the statistics are not in your favour. Since February 2020, in the United States, the unemployment rate for females over 55 has almost doubled. In Australia, while women over 50 made up only 5% of all Jobseeker recipients in 2001, by 2019, they were one-in-five.
Although it’s some small comfort to know that I am not alone in my ongoing struggle to land a new role after losing my job in December 2019, my journey to re-entering the workforce as an older job-seeker has not been an easy one.
Of course, the ongoing pandemic has added an additional layer of complexity to my job search. And at 59, of course, my age adds yet another hurdle. I spent the first few weeks over the new year period taking stock, and have since spent many valuable hours recuperating and volunteering in my local community garden. In the meantime, however, I had many fears to overcome, both real and imagined. I worked hard to put my best employment foot forward. And I applied for jobs. Lots of jobs.
By March 2020, I had updated both my LinkedIn profile and my resume. I was getting enquiries on LinkedIn from recruiters. I even got an interview for a copyediting job I thought I had a chance at. Of course, I was new to Zoom and interviewing virtually, so I dutifully followed 18 tips for succeeding during your interview. Hoping to come off as more appealing, I rearranged my room 20 times and changed the art on the wall for a more attractive background.
Don’t Zoom in!
In this early phase, I admit it; I was hiding my age, constantly worrying or trying to decide which scarves or outfits would make me look younger (or, God forbid, older), for example. When I got online with the two interviewers for the copyediting role, one was a male, mid to late thirties. The other was a woman of approximately my age. Instead of a closeup of her sitting at a desk, she was in her kitchen and a scarf, wound about 10 times, was completely covering her neck.
I know you!, I thought to myself. She’s like me, I comforted myself, just doing what she can to appear younger. I even felt sympathy for her. It must be hard hiring younger and younger people while you are aging. But I did not want to be her at all. I did not get that job, despite putting many hours into a copyediting test and a second interview.
After not landing that first role, though, I didn’t give up. I was still hopeful that the perfect job for me was around the corner. But as several more interviews, and of course the pandemic, wore on, I came to realise that hiding my age was not working for me. I was not presenting myself as I really was and began to feel a bit resentful. It should be my skills that mattered, I decided, not my age.
So I bravely decided to stop colouring my hair, and also to actively let potential interviewers know that I was over 50. In previous jobs, I’d never told people my age. It sounds ridiculous, but I was constantly trying to hide my neck. As screenwriter Nora Ephron, of When Harry Met Sally, Sleepleess in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail fame once famously said “Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth.”
I was no longer willing to hide my truth.
Reframing reality as a mature job-seeker
Despite not getting a second interview or a job offer, I put more energy and time into the interview process. I prepared interview responses using the Star Interview Response Technique. And while I again worked on my overall presentation on the Zoom interview, I did not hide my age.
When I was on camera with people younger than me, I could see they were a bit uncomfortable. Can I say this was definitely due to my age? I’ll never know. But again, I did not get a second interview and when this happened a second and third time, I really did begin to feel that my mature age was the biggest issue.
My suspicions were only confirmed when I spoke to other women my age who were also job-seeking. They all felt sure that ageism in recruitment not only exists but is directly impacting our employment prospects.
Just keep going
I personally choose to maintain a positive mindset, which helps. Below are my top tips for mature job-seekers; a few suggestions that have worked for me and improved both my attitude and self-confidence during a difficult time.
1. Stay up-to-date and upskill
Since I lost my job, I have attained certificates in SEO and Google Analytics. This helps with your LinkedIn profile and also attracts potential employers and recruiters to your profile. So being unemployed might be the perfect time to learn new job-seeking skills.
2. Update and improve your Linkedin profile
I spent $100 to learn how to improve my LinkedIn profile and this really helped. There are free classes available, too. Regardless of which route you take, it is definitely worth learning how to improve your profile.
3. Get support from other women
I have found that talking with other women who are going through the same process as me really helpful. Networking with other mature women enables you to share – and receive – encouragement and advice. One kind friend said “There is a position for you, just be yourself,” which I keep in mind every day.
4. Go after positions or companies you really want to work for
This takes research. Waiting for recruiters to contact you can be self-limiting. Take control of your job search and seek out companies that align with your values and what you need in your life. Sell yourself. I wrote a pitch document that outlines what skills I have and what problems I can solve, and can tailor to the company or organisation I want to work for.
5. Keep a positive mindset
For now, I have decided that I will work for myself while still seeking part-time remote work. I am currently working on a plan to contact companies and offer writing and web development for small businesses and non-profits.
I also believe that the best way forward for me (and if you are a mature job-seeker, like me!) is to maintain a positive attitude. Update your skills and your CV. Have faith that with your age and maturity come many attractive and hard-earned life and professional skills. And keep believing that, like me, ultimately you will be the perfect fit for the business or company that is prepared to see your true value.