When I recently found myself unemployed and looking for work — a position familiar to many — I knew it wasn’t the best time to be job hunting. There is a worldwide pandemic and about 30 million other people joining me on the search every day. A vague little voice in the back of my head reminded me that I’m also older and competing with kids who use words like bandwidth and leverage and can walk briskly in the morning, even before a cup of coffee.
I didn’t panic. I could do this. Even as I started noticing that times had changed a great deal from the last time I went looking for work.
After I graduated from college, I purchased reams of paper weighing more than a small child with off-white shades like iridescent so my résumés and cover letters would stand out. I mailed them in bulk while watching President Clinton’s impeachment hearings, and within weeks the offers came pouring in.
I worked in education and issue campaigns — took some time off to raise children — and got back into the game as a political organizer and columnist. Here we are, two decades later. For the past six months, I’ve emailed, uploaded and parsed approximately 337 resumes, cover letters and writing samples. I’ve logged into 28 virtual interviews and have received over 104 rejection notices.
I’ve perused job boards, enrolled in new technology webinars and dissected advice columns encouraging older applicants, especially older female applicants, to think young. That’s usually when I’d begin counting down the minutes until Happy Hour. Every single day.
It took a while, but at the age of 51, I finally secured a job in political communications and advocacy, despite the fact that I’m old enough to consider Mary Tyler Moore a personal hero.
Here are my tips:
A résumé should be ageless, like afternoon naps or wearing socks with flip-flops.
- So maybe don’t mention that Mary Tyler Moore is your personal hero.
- Leave out the year you graduated from college. You don’t want the hiring manager to gasp and say, “Whoa. I wasn’t even born then.”
- When listing marketable skills, learning how to dye your own roots during quarantine doesn’t count.
- Part-time work turning off lights after grown children leave each room doesn’t count either.
Google yourself and take deep breaths.
- Review every social media account and pretend you’re a recruiter rather than your high school boyfriend. Do you like what you see?
- Remove cryptic posts that belong on an episode of Snapped.
- Delete any tweets that reference day drinking, love toys or old soap opera stars.
- While msunderstood2k is clever, maybe it’s time for a grownup email address that doesn’t scream 1998.
Be prepared for a writing assignment.
- Many prospective employers give homework to job applicants. If you’re like me, an experienced political operative, the assignment might be something like: “Develop a winning campaign slogan for a sassy blogger running against a popular incumbent who has double the endorsements.”
- Try not to panic.
- Think of it as skill building. Fun!
- Know this: You’re working for free.
- Understand they reserve the right to use your ideas after explaining, in a form letter, that they’ve decided to hire from within or go in a different direction.
- Avoid using teen words like “vibing” or “finsta.” They’ll think you’re extra.
Embrace the Zoom interview.
- It’s not as intimate as an in-person conversation, but you get to wear yoga pants.
- Hide that hot pad. No one needs to know about your bad back.
- Use virtual cocktail hours with friends to try out neutral facial expressions, flattering camera angles and appropriate hair styles.
- Nix the Napa Valley backdrop. This isn’t a “Wine and Women” book club meeting. It’s a job interview. Find a quiet, empty room and make sure the bed is made.
- Don’t put “Buffering…” as your Zoom name. Yes, they said they wanted someone with a sense of humor. They lied.
- When you speak about impressive accomplishments and panelists snap their fingers like beatniks at a poetry slam, don’t look alarmed. They like you.
- Make sure your internet connection works before the interview starts. You want the recruiter (looking bored/tired/like a supermodel and preoccupied by a puppy/baby/smart phone) to clearly hear your “lower wages are fine, I’m looking for a new adventure” speech.
- Keep your 20-year old daughter within earshot. (The same daughter you berated for getting a nose ring, even though her OnlyFans account has been paying the mortgage since last summer.) When the interviewer asks for examples of confirmation bias, personal pronouns or land declaration statements, politely ask for a bathroom break. Then ask your daughter what they mean.
Throughout this process: Don’t lose hope. That offer might take awhile, but somewhere there is an HR rep looking for a new hire with wisdom and experience. A recruiter needing a grownup with an attention span longer than two minutes. A hiring manager desperate for someone who can navigate a complicated project to completion, stay within budget and make a compelling TikTok video about it all at the same time.
You might meet recruiters who doubt your ability to connect with something called “youth culture.” They might be skeptical that you can learn something new. They might even suggest Botox or hair coloring to look younger. Tell them to go squat in a cactus patch.
You got this, Queen. Happy hunting.
Catherine Durkin Robinson has several job titles and still more bandwidth to leverage. You can find her on Twitter (@cdurkinrobinson), online (catherinedurkinrobinson.com) and on Medium (@catherinedurkinrobinson).