A few years back I had a very strange interview. There were many details that made it so, but the most telling was the lack of respect the interviewers had for me. I was applying for a job I previously held, a job I knew how to do, a job already listed on my resume. Still, I was asked repeatedly, “How would you feel working for someone who had your job?” Well, I would be fine as long as he was skilled and I could learn from him. And indeed, he seemed very smart.
But the interviews all had something in common: they were conducted by much younger employees, and they were disrespectful both in their thinly veiled attitudes and their unwillingness to hide them. I was asked about social media with smirking assurances my Facebook account included only family member followers. They insisted that “breaking news has changed since you were last in a newsroom.” (Really? We no longer drop everything to cover it?) HR kept circling around my “experience” and whether I might feel “overqualified” for the job. Overqualified is not a compliment. I don’t apply to jobs that don’t challenge me. I got the hint.
Suddenly I’m too old. Sometime in the calendar of years, I’ve crossed over from “young and energetic” to “old guy who probably wants my job and who will tell me how to do mine.” I was told “We’re going in a different direction.” Guess which direction.
I don’t bring up this anecdote to grouse. OK, maybe just a little. I mean, I’m only partially into my 50s. I’ve given talks to companies about how to use Twitter, I follow my kid’s band on YouTube, I have a TikTok account. I’ve witnessed intergenerational conversations that span the mommy wars to the great Gen Z/millenial rift over jean and hair styles. Today, I have great job tutoring young writers of the future where it would be impossible to ignore current trends and interests. I’m not exactly pulling up to these interviews with a Filofax and an inability to turn off the flashlight on my iPhone.
I bring it up because it’s my generation’s turn to experience ageism, and it’s a huge mistake. I came across a post on LinkedIn that summarized the situation beautifully. It is by Brigette Hyacinth, author of “Leading the Workforce of the Future”:
I HIRED a person over 50. You can’t imagine the resistance I had to overcome. The HR manager was not impressed. She said he “won’t fit into our culture,” “he is overqualified.” etc. I had to put my foot down to get him hired.
Everyone is looking for that 18 year old with 20 years experience.
He was one of the best hires I ever made. He made a huge difference for the company. You can’t Google Experience.
“You can’t Google ‘experience.’” Isn’t that perfect?
Companies want to look young and hip, but they also want experience and the ideas that go with it. Generation X is experienced, hard-working, and… totally discriminated against. We’re the ones who helped developed the modern web and the mobile web, but we’re put in the same bucket as buggy-whip salesmen. We have 15 to 20 good work years left. And unlike that 25 year-old in their first job, we’re going to stick around because we appreciate the power of loyalty. We’re not looking at the job as the first of the next dozen companies that will employ us.
So follow Brigette’s lead. Hire someone over 50. If (when) your company fights you– fight back. Ask exactly how someone can be “overqualified” for a job they might already know how to do well? If I go to the supermarket and want a job bagging groceries, they will hire me on the spot. I am overqualified for this job, save for a bad back. So how can someone be overqualified for a job in the same field they’ve worked in for 25 years? Let’s lose the “O” word from our lexicon. Ageism is wrong and it’s also illegal. The trouble is, it’s really hard to prove. All I can do is encourage employers to look at veteran employees as an asset, not a liability.