If you are looking for a job, being in your 50s sucks.
There. I said it.
I know -- it's tough out there for anyone job hunting. But when your employment history pre-dates your interviewer's birthdate, there is an entire minefield of issues to overcome.
I really thought I had a handle on what to and not to say to an interviewer. I knew not to romanticize the way things used to be done or to throw in old war stories of how tough it was back in the day and how easy all these young whippersnappers have it with their newfangled computers. I knew not to be condescending to someone younger than me and by no means act like I knew more than they did. And -- though it took every ounce of self-control -- at no time did I mention all the misspellings and grammatical errors in every piece of professional employment correspondence I've ever received from an HR department.
Little did I know how sensitive a 30-something can be when interviewing someone who can't help but remind them of their mother -- and not in a good way. Usually, I'm not only defending my own employment history, but also the pre-conceived notions born of whatever messed-up mother-child relationship my interviewer is working through with their own mother. Your mother may be a critical hypochondriac, but I am not her.
I've been on very few face-to-face interviews. I'm told that's step 2 these days. I have done numerous phone interviews, which I suspect are done because I fit a demographic they don't really want, but have to prove they're at least giving a chance to. Either way, it's so easy to say something innocuous, only to have it blow up in your face. I can usually point to the exact moment an interview fell apart.
For instance, there was the interview I did for a bank teller job. I know that these days a bank teller is expected to do more than process bank transactions; they are also the first line in selling more banking products. See? I did my homework. And I formed my answers as such.
So, even though I was't expected to do much selling back when I was a bank teller, I was prepared with an answer when the interviewer asked this question:
Interviewer: (obviously reading from a script): "Can you give me an instance from when you were a bank teller where you sold a customer a product or service?" (Note: She asked me. I was not offering an old war story.)
Me: Well, if I knew a customer had a heavy balance in their savings or money market, I would suggest a Certificate of Deposit.
Interviewer: But how would you sell it?
Me: Well, I have to admit, it wasn't too hard to sell when you told them the rates were over 10 percent.
Interviewer: (Icy edge to voice) You could get into a lot of trouble misquoting a CD rate. How would you sell it without exaggerating?
Me: (Clueless as to what she was saying) I didn't misquote the rate. It really was around 11 percent at the time.
(Can you feel it all falling a part? At this point, I could. I was getting sucked into telling a "back in the day" story.)
Interviewer: (chuckling) That kind of rate would never...
(I should have just backed off and made up some hard sell line about the wonderful virtues of a one percent return. But NO. Stupid me, I had to defend the fact that 11 percent wasn't hyperbole...and I had to do it without using the word "hyperbole," which I think would have made matters worse.)
Me: It was the Reagan era (shuddupshuddupshuddupshuddup) and interest rate were incredibly high. Look it up; it was a phenomenon. (STOP TALKING!!!!!!)
Sigh. It was all downhill after that.
Another bank teller interview:
Interviewer: What was your favorite part of being a bank teller?
Me: Well, we got to know most of our customers and it was nice and friendly. (Requisite "I'm a people person" answer required for any position involving contact with the public) But I also really enjoyed helping other tellers when they had trouble proving out their drawers. It was like a puzzle and I loved proving it down to the penny...
Interviewer: (interrupting) What services were you able to direct your customer to? Accuracy is all well and good, but...
(Wait. What? YOU'RE A BANK AND ACCURACY IS "ALL WELL AND GOOD?")
Interviewer: (continuing)...did you enjoy presenting new products and services to your customers?
(I know, I know. I should have taken her advice and focused on how much I enjoy...cough, cough...foisting products on people...cough, cough. Instead, I jump on the "accuracy is all well and good, BUT" part of the conversation.)
Me: Well, you see, we really weren't expected to sell to customers (NO!NO!NO!NO!NO!NO!NO!) and in our annual reviews, our accuracy is really what my manager was concerned with.
...And there it went.
Then there was the interview panel I went before for one very diverse office job. Part of the job was running a cash register, an exact copy of one I've used before. On the panel was the current employee (being "promoted") who had devised this elaborate system of "cashing out" that required adding up handwritten receipts, separately adding up sales tax, and subtracting refunds from both. I innocently (honest -- I wasn't trying to be sarcastic) asked if the register was broken that it couldn't run the report automatically, to which there was an awkward silence since apparently no one realized the register had that capability.
Stupid me -- I thought, Aha! They were trying to see if I had the chutzpah to point this out. Failing that, I thought it would certainly be a good reason to hire me -- that I knew a piece of equipment better than they did.
It wasn't until after the fact I realized they could never hire me -- I'd embarrassed them.
I've had my resume evaluated and gone through mock interviews with a consultant. We've gone over wardrobe and how to use the proper slang (I was actually encouraged to over-use the word "awesome" -- not, I might add, a synonym for "awesome," -- but the actual word "awesome" over and over and over again). I can't tell you how this grates on my brain.
Really, my interview skills turned out to be not all that bad. So said one consultant around my age, who was offering her consults for free. She confided in me that she was offering these consults in order to launch her own business because, after a year and a half of searching, she couldn't get hired either.
Actually, interview skills are a tiny portion of the problem. Just getting a response from an application is a practice in futility; and, believe me, I will apply for anything. They won't even let me dress as Lady Liberty and flip a sign outside a tax prep office (though, I can see their point -- an old lady out in the freezing cold flipping a sign is just...well...sad.).
Still, I soldier on. This week I applied for a job as an insurance adjuster, newspaper reporter, convenience store clerk, administrative assistant and a dog bather. I can't tell you how very, very AWESOME I feel about my chances.