Friday, November 2, 2007

job hunting, age discrimination, interviewing

I had a job interview earlier this week that has awakened some old memories and a bit of foreboding as far as this latest job hunt goes. I will get back to it in a moment; first the memory.

The first time I encountered age discrimination was almost thirty years ago when we really did not have a label for it. I was finishing my first BA (in biology) and was thinking about what my next step would be. I considered Med School but was a bit worried because my GPA (grade point average) was only a 3.0 or a B. A low B actually. The Med Schools were big on chemistry at the time. Having received a D in Organic the first time out, I took the class a second time to get a B which gave me an overall C. That, of course, would not have impressed a selection committee. However, that was not the factor which decided me against applying. I realized that I had neither the passion nor the temperament to be a good physician.

However, while I was still considering the possibility, my advisor noted that Med Schools at the time limited the number of people entering who were over the age of 25. I was outraged at the thought that, even if I had the grades to make the cut, I was over the hill at 27. My advisor told me that the committees looked for younger people who would spend 30 or 40 years in the field. And they would simply find someone with similar qualifications who was younger. In other words they would employ the same tactics they had used previously to ensure a limited number of women, blacks, and Jews were admitted.

I don't recall being aware again of any kind of discrimination until a few years ago. That doesn't mean I wasn't discriminated against. Just that I wasn't aware of it. I was interviewing for jobs as a paralegal. It was a long and frustrating job hunt; and I just couldn't seem to get my foot in the door. During the eight months of that job search I put in about three dozen applications and got maybe five interviews. One called me in for a second interview. However the constant refrain was they felt I was 'overqualified.' By this time I had two BA degrees, 2 MA degrees and was almost through with the work for an AA in Paralegal studies. It didn't matter how often I explained that I was changing career directions and had no experience as a Paralegal. It didn't matter how often I noted that my previous academic work would be an asset in what was a new field for me. I was over qualified. I didn't realize then what has become a dirty little not so secret fact that 'over qualified' simply means 'too old.' And I was only 52 at that time.

The interview earlier this week was for a seasonal part-time sales. I never expected to get the 'over qualified' routine in this interview. After all, I got my first sales job after my first Bachelor's and first Master's degrees were under my belt. I got my second such job with 2 Bachelors and 2 Masters degrees on my resume and my third with the addition of the Associates as well. My educational background was never an issue when I applied for sales jobs earlier.

However, this time it was almost the only topic of discussion. The interviewer could not believe I was serious about applying for this job. I didn't expect the job to last forever. I knew it was seasonal and all I expected was something to tide me over for the next couple of months while I kept looking for something permanent. I wonder if they were serious in asking me in for an interview and just wanted to meet this deranged person with all these qualifications who was silly enough to apply for such a piddling job. I think 'over qualified' was mentioned in almost every other sentence. I will say that she was very good. She made it sound so like a complement that I actually thanked her.

The only difference between this last sales job interview and the previous one was four years. I am now 58 instead of 54. And now I find myself in the quandary I have been in so often before. If I apply for jobs my education seems to fit me for I either never hear back or they want work experience I don't have because I was getting educated. If I apply for jobs that require no experience and minimal education I am told I am 'over qualified.' I don't know how to win this game. Does anybody??

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