I’ve read innumerable horror stories in the news since the Great Recession began in 2008, stories of people being unable to find work for months and years, the despair of the older worker forced suddenly to compete with people half their age. It was one of the reasons I stayed in my previous full-time job, even though I had wanted to leave for the last of my eleven years there. All I knew was what the media told me: that at 53 I may never find work again. Fast-forward nearly a year, and imagine my surprise to be told after an interview and subsequent job offer that they were glad to have someone mature.
You cannot tell recruiters you want a mature worker, someone older whom you know is not itching for the next job or spending most of their time looking at their smart phones, tweeting their followers and updating their Facebook pages. They were also hoping a man would apply, another unmentionable in a world that pretends to have no workplace preferences. And before you react with outrage, let me just tell you that being a male executive assistant in a field where 95 percent of us are women has had me at a disadvantage for twenty years and I’ve known it. I’ve lost more than a few job opportunities because I don’t fit corporate America’s idea of what an assistant’s gender should be. I’ll be starting this job soon, having managed not to fall into the trap of thinking I would never work again or that I would be doomed to low-wage part-time jobs in a tragic effort to cobble together my survival.
There are a couple of lessons in this experience for me and possibly for others in my situation. One is to not let the media and the world around you create your perceptions. If you believe your work life is over, that you won’t find employment, that you’re too old to be of use in a world dominated by millennials, that may well become your reality. But you can also choose to ignore the dire warnings; you can trust your own experience, you can present yourself as someone competent, cool, collected, and that dreaded word, ‘mature.’
Another lesson is to stay current. Even if you don’t use social media, at least know how to. You may think Twitter is for twits, but those twits are shaping the cultural landscape and it’s better to accept it than to be shut out. Be aware of changing technology. Don’t act like a smart phone is a foreign device you have no interest in and don’t pine for the good old days of newspapers and “real books.” (If it weren’t for a Kindle I would have stopped reading books altogether as my eyes deteriorated; they provide consistency in size and font, and I’ve come to love e-books, as well as publish them!). In a related note, I recently had to type something on a typewriter. Good luck finding one in most offices. We happen to have one where I’m temping now, and after spending an hour slowly tapping at the thing and going through a half-bottle of White Out, I’ll be happy never to use one again. They are horrible, slow and clunky and have no place in a modern office. But mature workers do. See yourself as a reserve of experience, calm, and yes, even wisdom. Don’t let the naysayers say nay to your life, make of it what you want it to be. And trust that you, too, will find that position out there looking for someone mature to fill it. I did.
Post script: I wrote this with voice recognition software. Speaking of staying on top of technology! Not bad… Save comma colon PERIOD STOP! STOP! I SAID STOP!