Category Archives: Age discrimination

Shelf life

“Once you’re unemployed more than six months, you’re considered pretty much unemployable. We assume that other people have already passed you over, so we don’t want anything to do with you.” –Cynthia Shapiro, former human resources executive and author of Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know

The above is excerpted from an April 2011 Reader’s Digest Magazine article, “What HR Won’t Tell You About Your Resume.”

So, it appears, my shelf life is about to expire; I’m nearing the six-month mark. It’s depressing news, but, like the alleged statistics claiming “a woman over 40 has a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than getting married,” some rumors are not true, or are exaggerated. (I met my husband when I was 42 — so there.)

The woman making the above statement is only one HR person. Others, like those quoted in this CNN article, say that in this economy you don’t need to worry until at least nine months.

Still, it does seem to be a disturbing trend. “Job-placement professionals say that over the last year, more and more employers have made it clear they won’t consider job candidates who aren’t working. ‘A lot of our recruiters have had clients who have come across this,’ Matt Deutsch of, which brings recruiters together to collaborate in finding jobs for candidates, told (Yahoo blog) The Lookout (February 2011), calling the practice ‘unfortunate.'”

The Lookout article continues: “Some employers have said they’re unwilling to hire unemployed workers because they believe that if a worker has once been let go, that’s a sign that he or she is probably not a great hire. ‘People who are currently employed … are the kind of people you want as opposed to people who get cut,’ one recruiter told the Atlanta Journal Constitution in October.”

I continue to be positive and believe that if one personnel director won’t look at anyone who’s been out of work for six months, there’s another one who will say, “We need the right person for the job.”

When I look at my qualifications — editing, writing, public speaking, extensive computer experience — I know that there are a lot of other people with those skills out there, and I really don’t know how to convince an employer that I’m the best person, beyond editing tests and references. Usually I go into an interview acting confident, friendly and professional and hope I click with the right person. All other things being equal, if someone likes me it may be the edge I need.

I try not to think about the statistics and the trends. Maybe I’m whistling in the dark, but there’s not much else I can do.


Today — job fair

It was a hot morning in midtown Manhattan and the job fair didn’t start till 11 a.m., but at 10:35 there was already about three-quarters of a city block of people lined up. Should have gotten there earlier. I had to hit Staples to print my resumes first– my printer cartridges finally ran out of ink and I haven’t gotten new ones yet. (It’s first on my to-do list for tonight. Well, at least in the top three to-do’s.)

The online list of companies attending the job fair was not promising. From what I could see, the majority of positions were in sales. Nothing against sales, but I’m not a salesperson and I don’t want to start being one.

My place in line happened to be right by the entrance of a church that seemed to double as a mission — something I might need if I don’t find a job soon. Lol, as they say. People kept pushing through to either enter the church or look at some flea market goods for sale on a table there. Beyond that minor annoyance, I had too many things in my bag. It had been chilly and cloudy before I left Queens, but now I was lugging a no-longer-needed jacket and umbrella.

I asked myself if I should network or just pop on my headphones and listen to some jazz to try to get mellow. I did a little of both; I played some Miles Davis and I also talked to some of the people in front of me.

I refrained from getting into it with the lady behind me who kept moving up and touching me, or poking me with the paperback book she was reading. I finally, quite calmly, asked, “Could you give me a little more room?” I do have a thing about space. I know I need to work on it.

It was an hour and a half before I got inside the conference room. I scanned the room and immediately ruled out the military recruiters and the companies that want people to go out to other people’s houses and do sales parties. I also avoided the franchise opportunities.

I decided to approach the colleges first, since they seemed to have the best possibility of needing an editor, a writer or maybe an administrative assistant. However, the colleges were only recruiting students; they weren’t hiring. I couldn’t even make a pitch or leave my resume — they wouldn’t take it. I felt a little angry at this. Yes, some people might need to go back to school to increase their marketability, but here is a roomful of desperate people looking for work, not another expense.

The longest line in the room was for Whole Foods, which was hiring cashiers and other store positions. I’ll reserve Whole Foods for when I am really desperate — I doubt they pay enough. The U.S. Open was hiring temp workers for the event in August, which I will consider because it might be fun and I’ll get to see some tennis. But I’ll do this only if it pays more than unemployment.

Otherwise, most of the companies were only hiring salespeople. I went to every table (except the above-mentioned ones that I avoided) to check if they were hiring for anything else and they all said no.

So I was done after half an hour. There was no interviewing, and the only networking I did was with other out-of-work people. In the ladies’ room I talked to a woman who’d been out of work for 16 months after the company she’d worked at for 20 years laid her off. She looked as disheartened as I felt. We wished each other luck, I changed my “interview” shoes for flip flops and left.

It was 12:35. Outside, the line was still there, stretching up 57th, almost the entire block between 9th and 10th avenues. It continued around the corner three-fourths of the way to 56th Street. Everyone was in suits and dresses, carrying resumes and a little bit of hope. I looked at them and wanted to cry.

Rolling with it

In this economy it’s become necessary to be thick-skinned and not to take things personally. Faced with the potential for age discrimination and the notion that some companies won’t touch you once you’ve been out of work for over six months, I have to keep fighting through the periods of malaise. I get a little down, but then I bounce back up. I treat myself nice and have fun once in a while without playing all day to make myself “feel good.” I won’t “feel good” for long if I don’t work.

What amount of time should I spend doing “work” that I don’t get paid for and isn’t directly connected to my job search? Tough question. For myself as a writer, any writing I do will keep me in practice, and may have the added result of getting someone to notice my “goods.” I’m just beginning to use LinkedIn, and I’m actually enjoying it — it’s not all business and I am having some fun sharing little job search stories while adding to discussions about grammar and writing.

A fellow writer in one of my groups there asked me to write a guest blog. I was very flattered, and when it was published (I cross-posted it here, of course) I was gratified with the feedback and very happy when people wrote how much they identified.

I can’t afford to go back to school, so I spend a lot of time reading and looking for free training online. In between, I’m actually working. I have two free-lance jobs right now, one of which (and this is a first for me) I found through Twitter. It is a new world, and I have to adjust.

Was that an interview or a drive-by shooting?

Also appears on the blog, Politics of the Workplace

The “creative talent coordinator” at the agency sounded very enthusiastic on the phone. The job description matched my credentials. I had all the experience they were asking for and more: twenty-five years in publishing; more than ten years as a medical writer and editor. We set up an interview the next day with the “lead recruiter.” It seemed very positive.

Yet the next day I found my suited-up self in a gray windowless cube, across from a woman who was frowning at my resume.

“You don’t have pharmaceutical industry experience.” It was an accusation.

I had come in feeling confident. Even though my resume hadn’t gotten a bite in a while, I do have a good background, and I figured that eventually someone would notice, or someone who had already noticed would finally get the green light and the budget to hire someone like me.

I’d traveled over an hour from northeast Queens to get to Manhattan that morning, had taken twenty minutes to fill out the agency’s ten-page application, and had sat waiting another ten minutes or so for the unfriendly recruiter who was now lecturing me about not having the “right” background.

What do you say when an interview turns out to be nothing like you expected? No matter how much you prepare, occasionally someone tosses you a curve ball.

Trying to maintain my cool, I pointed out what my resume said: “I have more than ten years in medical publishing. I have experience using AMA (The American Medical Association Manual of Style).”

In response, her finger moved down my resume and she said that my last medical editing job was a while ago. Technically, she was right; that job had ended in 2003 and I was a freelance medical writer for a year or so after that. I had worked at a medical publisher more recently, and I had reported on medical studies on my last job, but I was not a “medical editor” in those roles.

“We have people with recent experience at pharmaceutical companies who are applying for this job,” she said.

I wish I’d had the presence of mind and the confidence to say, “I don’t understand why you called me in and wasted our (“our” of course meaning “my”) time if you didn’t think I had the experience you needed.” Instead, I looked at her, unable to think of anything to say beyond, “I can do the job.”

She then said she could submit my resume to the company that was hiring, if I wanted, but she didn’t think it would get very far. Let’s get this debacle over with so I can go find a place to cry, I was thinking. But on hitting the street a few minutes later, I felt not sadness but anger.

What was that all about? It made no sense to me. Someone on LinkedIn suggested that the agency had brought me in to fill a quota, to protect themselves against potential charges of age discrimination. That made sense. I don’t feel very old; I didn’t think I was already at an age where I had to worry about that. But I am turning forty-eight on June 12, so I guess I am at that age.

I had no other bites for a while. There were times when I told myself that maybe I deserved to be treated that way. I’d go through the litany of my past: If I’d gone to a better college, if I’d gotten better grades, if I’d been more aggressive as a reporter when I was younger … and the worst one – if I were smarter — I’d be in some high-level job right now.

Writing about it on LinkedIn helped, and I was gratified to see the number of responses and the number of people who had gone through similar experiences. The incident also forced me to take another look at my resume and find places to tweak it, to better highlight some of the things I had accomplished.

There are days where I tell myself I will never work full-time again, that it’s going to be freelance from here on in (luckily I have a freelance job right now and I’m surviving). There are editing jobs out there, yet so many seem to require skills I don’t have — I’m not a content manager or a search-engine optimization expert. But I imagine that I’ll probably, eventually, get a job. I’ll be overworked and underpaid (we are talking about publishing). If I’m lucky, I’ll get a little respect.

(c) 2011 by Jan Arzooman