Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why I'll never get hired

A colleague recently passed along a job posting she thought I'd be interested in. I'm not looking for a job, but there's never any harm in knowing what else is out there that might be interesting.

The job my colleague had in mind is with a tech company that has been around for about five years. They're actually based in the city where I live and not in Silicon Valley. So far, the company is successful and growing. They have a product that, although not exactly unique, is proving to meet the needs of a niche market that has needed this product and is now fully embracing it.

I went to the company's website and read everything. I bought their product to become more familiar with what it feels like for the end user. I read articles about the company in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and other prestigious business publications. Everything I read was overwhelmingly positive.

Although the tech industry may, at first blush, seem like a radical departure from anything I do, it really isn't. The particular job I was looking at would very neatly pull together many elements of my rather broad skill set and diverse work experience. I got into working with refugees from a sort of sideways maneuver; it was never my intentional career path.

I kept rereading the job posting and I thought, "I am the total package. I can do this job. There will be a learning curve, but I know I am solidly qualified. I think. Maybe there's more to it than experience and a head full of knowledge."

I started researching similar companies across the country to see if I could get a better idea of what the personnel makeup looks like in these enterprises. The more I looked around and researched, the worse I felt. Most of the companies describe themselves similarly. There's energy, innovation, collaboration, work hard/play hard. Wait. Play hard? There were many mentions of things like employee foosball tournaments, cereal bars, in-office Pac Man competitions, monthly games and awards, and golly, just so much fun.

I'm not against fun at work; I'm just not used to it being such a prominent part of the corporate culture. It wasn't the prospect of fun at work that dismayed me. No, it was the photos of staff. Again and again, I came across pictures like this:

This looks much more like a sorority rush picture than a staff photo.

Nowhere, ever, did I see anyone who looked like me at any of these companies. For the most part, upper management looks like guys in their 40s wearing jeans and sweaters, and everyone else appears to be under the age of 30.

I don't buy anyone's logic that older workers don't understand or welcome technology, can't learn, aren't innovative thinkers, don't have a good work ethic (hey, we're not the ones playing foosball at work), and can't adapt to a rapidly changing technological landscape. Some of the most skilled and talented people I know saw their 40th birthdays long ago.

I didn't get the job at the tech startup. I didn't even get an interview. The job is still posted. I suspect that after looking at my resume and doing a little timeline math, my mad skills became irrelevant once my age became apparent.

I have no fewer than eight friends/acquaintances/former colleagues who should be employed but aren't. All of them are over 50. They are dynamic people with good minds and engaging personalities. Their collective accomplishments are impressive, relevant, and current, but no one will hire them. All of them agree that they've faced blatant age discrimination that is far from thinly veiled.

It doesn't matter that I'm smart, creative, sharp, insightful, entrepreneurial, and a strategic thinker. I am a short, frumpy looking, middle aged woman. If I were a sitcom character, based on how I look, I'd be the weird cat lady neighbor or the quirky gal in the file room. That is how people my age who look like me are perceived in the current job market. Age and a lack of beauty have never been such handicaps to being taken seriously.