All I want is a decent-paying job -- what am I doing wrong?
February 26, 2018 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Spent 18 years at a large IT company doing PR before being laid off 3.5 years ago. Life has not been the same since. It seems that nobody wants me. Not whining, just want advice and shared experiences. Thanks.

I'm a 58 year old college grad, in good health, with a background in writing, editing and PR.

Started out as a newspaper reporter in my late teens, moved to PR with an agency before joining a Fortune 50 tech company. Good run while it lasted. Have done dozens and dozens of job interviews since joining the unemployed ranks in mid-2013. Reached out to friends and former colleagues -- some have tried to help, others refuse to stick their neck out or couldn't care less.

I typically get far into these interviews, even having in-person sessions with multiple layers of management, but nothing has materialized. I've come to wonder if I'm doing something wrong (my wife suggested coloring my hair, lol), or is it my age/salary expectations and "old time" work values. I've even lowered my salary target but that doesn't seem to make a difference. I believe I interview well but maybe I'm kidding myself.

As I've continued to apply for jobs, I've supported myself by (1) freelance writing/PR consulting, (2) stocking shelves at the supermarket, (3) working department store retail during the holidays, (4) working non-skilled jobs at a country club, collecting unemployment when I needed to and pulling from my 401K at great penalty. I know many will advise going out seriously on my own as a communications consultant, but honestly that doesn't really appeal to me.

I'm at the point where I would seriously consider any opportunity that pays ok, suits my outgoing personality (no I don't want sales) and presents a challenging opportunity -- even in a far-away place (I live in the Northeastern US). This includes teaching, writing/editing, career counseling, manual labor or anything that energizes me. Maybe this PR stuff is not really for me, otherwise I would have landed something by now. It's something I think about often.

I realize I'm approaching traditional retirement age (whatever that is) but I'm nowhere near ready to stop working. I never imagined things would be this hard at this point, but here I am.

If you have been or can imagine yourself in a similar situation, what would you do? What advice would you give? Any wisdom/experience is appreciated. Thanks a lot.
posted by terrier319 to Work & Money (18 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I suspect you are viewed as "over-qualified". That, and you may also be viewed as having salary expectations beyond what the company could pay someone much younger.
It sucks, I know. I've been there (I'm over 60 myself) - though not for as long as you.
The fact that you're getting interviews tells me that your resume is (mostly) working. Do consider axing anything over 10 years. Leave dates of graduation off. Anything to mask your age a bit (and hey - age discrimination is illegal!).
Also consider finding a recruiter who is also mature and works with mature workers. There are a lot of companies who still value experience, and understand that diversity also means age diversity - and that it can be a Good Thing.
I'd also posit that PR 'these days' seems to be a young person's world - so do consider a career change - maybe even take some coursework to help with the transition! You might do well as as a recruiter yourself!
Sorry I don't have any magic bullet for you - but I'm in your corner, rooting you on.
posted by dbmcd at 9:27 AM on February 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

Well, a few ideas. Don't know what your salary target is.

For some positions, companies are really looking for young people, which will explain why you get in, do great, but don't get hired. They want someone fresh and able to basically work for little as they invest in the careers, in return the company gives them the resume builder instead of more money. I imagine this is especially true with Tech - where they are mainly looking for a LOT of experience, or for someone to work for barely above the poverty line.

However, many positions exist where older people are desired - management positions, from grocery stores/retail to factories, all strongly favor those 40 and up.

Additionally, many jobs might surprise you in how high they pay. After a few months classes as a welder, you can easily earn $50-70K doing welding work. Copy that for any other trade, HVAC etc. Plenty of room to grow, build clients, become your own boss if you want, or you can find an employer that you can work with. A big plus of trades (aside from the easy entrance and high pay) is that you don't usually take too much work home with you.

Lastly, I've personally found success with contracting/recruitment agencies. There are quite a few around, things like trillium, manpower, Robert Half, etc. That's how many companies now hire entry-level, and often at the end of a 9-12mo contract, they offer positions. That's how I broke in!
posted by bbqturtle at 9:46 AM on February 26, 2018

Age discrimination in IT is very real. Dyeing your hair is not a terrible idea. Have you tried getting temporary IT jobs? Many companies like to use that as an extended try-out.
posted by theora55 at 10:15 AM on February 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

It’s your age. Plain and simple, no one wants to hire us anymore. (I’m 57.) Pretty much everyone I know in our generation (and younger!) is dealing with the same thing. We are seen as out of touch, too expensive, and unable to “get” what’s going on in the world today. The way people I know are dealing with this is with either self employment; moving to a less desirable area where they are happy to hire anyone who has a brain (but don’t expect much much money), or by reinventing themselves (again, generally for less money). As an example of the third option, a friend of mine who was an autoCAD designer is now doing demos and tastings for a winery.

Online work is an option, too. And things like driving for Uber, temp work, universities, and civil service jobs.

I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. It sucks, and while ageism is illegal, the fact is that nobody cares except the people it’s affecting. I wish you luck.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:26 AM on February 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Age discrimination is real everywhere. Workforce50 supposedly specifically lists jobs where the employers are looking for older workers. The only thing I really know about this site is that it exists, but it might give you another place to look. There might be other similar sites, but I don't really have time to do a thorough search right now.
posted by FencingGal at 10:27 AM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Have you applied for any university communications jobs? My suspicion (based on no evidence, just a guess) is that they would be more open to an older applicant than a corporation would be.
posted by pinochiette at 10:34 AM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Age discrimination is real. It sucks but doing things like dyeing your hair and leaving details off your resume to come across as younger can help. Some slow moving industries like banking/insurance as well as higher education are a little more friendly towards older IT workers.

Do you have current enough skills in web development that you could do freelance work there? I know some older people that got laid off and make OK livings doing things like Drupal or Wordpress work for small clients.

Do you have current enough skills in IT or development that you could teach continuing education courses in them? Some of the companies that do it out there are pretty slimy but there's some decent ones and if you find the right ones you can make good money at it.

pulling from my 401K at great penalty

If this is something you're likely to have to do this year, you might look at 72(t) Substantially Equal Periodic Payments (SEPP) distributions to avoid the penalty. I'm not sure if you're too close enough to the standard retirement age that it's viable for you but it's worth considering.
posted by Candleman at 10:38 AM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Age. I'm 47 and from a specialized field. No one wants to pay a real salary when they can hire 3 20-somethings for the same price. Plus, many companies want to appear young, forward-looking, hip, etc. I'm in the same spot as you, basically.

It goes the other way, too: I've applied at places like Costco, and doing work in a retail greenhouse. they see the resume and think "This guy is gonna leave as soon as he finds a job in his REAL field"

Truth is, I don't care about salary right now. I just do not want to go back to what I've been doing for the last 20-some years.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:40 AM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

In all seriousness, look into civil service gigs with your state and local governments. Many of them are based around testing—pass the test with a high enough grade and you're gonna get at least an interview, and government jobs are serious about non-discrimination stuff. If you meet the requirements, you're in.

The downside is you might have to wait quite a while for a position to open up. Check the websites for your state, country, and/or city for civil service jobs and testing dates. You got nothing to lose.
posted by SansPoint at 11:16 AM on February 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

PR and marketing these days are all about social media and people think only kids can do that. Are you into that at all? Do you have a track record? We have a mix of both and the young media savvy people are great at getting eyes on issues but they are awful at doing their due diligence and communicating internally and the only metric they live by is the number of views, even if the information is wrong. I've had to do some serious work to rein a couple of them in. The main PR person I work with now is your age and both media savvy AND a good collaborator so there are people out there who will appreciate you, just maybe not hiring committees.

If you're looking for a more traditional PR job, I'd try politicis, crisis management firms and government/ university jobs although they are going towards Instagram hits too.
posted by fshgrl at 11:38 AM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I lost a job at an IT company in the dot-com crash when I was about your age. I had no luck in the job market for a quite a while. I spent some of that time sending a letter + resume to all the companies in the local Better Business Bureau. After a while, I got a consulting job that paid a pittance and had a horrendous commute. That lasted 5 months. Just as it was ending, I got a call from a guy that had kept one of the these letters for year. That led to a great job that lasted until I retired.

So, get over your discouragement, keep working at getting a job. The unemployment rate is nearing historic lows. Someone needs you.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:21 PM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Are your skills current? Is there a way to sharpen them if they're not? I'm not super familiar with the PR field, but in general, sometimes candidates think they're qualified because of the things they accomplished in the past, and while past accomplishments do matter, it's also the case the job you're interviewing for isn't your previous job. It's a new and different job and employers want to see that you can do the new job, not just the job you previously did.
posted by phoenixy at 12:47 PM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've come to wonder if I'm doing something wrong (my wife suggested coloring my hair, lol),

Why LOL? You're 58. Ageism is absolutely a hurdle in the job market. Men generally age more gently than woman but if you are going for in-person interviews and not getting gigs, it is time to consider all possible contributing factors. I would also limit your CV to the last 15 years and leave dates off your education.

PS: Get your hair professionally coloured. At all costs, you must avoid looking like those men who colour their hair!
posted by DarlingBri at 3:45 PM on February 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

I work in the same general field and ageism is rampant. I suspect that's what's tripping you up.

What about doing communications for a large institutional nonprofit like a university or hospital? They are more likely to be friendly to folks with some seasoning. My father spent the second half of his career in communications for nonprofits and I believe he got his last job, doing comms at a senior level for a union, when he was in his 60s. He finally retired at 70 and immediately started picking up part-time contract work. This might be the direction for you.

Another idea: I had a session with a career coach who sees a lot of people who work in tech and communications (we're in Seattle) and she said she always suggests people in your situation look into fundraising. A lot of the skills are similar (creating a message, lots of writing, building relationships) but the field of development/fundraising is a LOT less ageist - in fact, it can often be reverse-ageist, as a lot of times big institutional donors like foundations feel more comfortable dealing with a "grownup." It's loosely related to sales but the kinds of jobs you'd want to go for (major gifts officer, grantwriter) are pretty far from cold-call sales-type work.
posted by lunasol at 4:04 PM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Nth-ing get your hair colored! And do NOT do it yourself. Get it from a specialist who knows coloring. $50 - $75 US. Don't do it the day before... give it a few weeks. A good specialist can make your color look 100% natural, and you should give yourself a chance to get used to it. Good luck!
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 4:23 PM on February 26, 2018

As noted above, age discrimination actually happens. That it is illegal doesn't prevent it from happening. Also, sometimes you are blameless; you are not doing anything wrong, you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Remember when the steel industry died in the US? As you know, Craigslist killed off a bunch of newspapers and, with it, journalism and journalism-related jobs. (Apparently India is the only place that has growing newspaper circulation and a healthy job market for journalists.) I suspect the PR industry is also vulnerable, like all industries, to technology. The US advertising industry is in a slump, apparently, so maybe PR is at risk as well. So this doesn't have to be a personal thing at all. That is good to remember because as Americans we are raised to believe that our jobs must define us, and if we don't have a job that is our fault. Both of those ideas are ubiquitous as well as unhealthy and untrue.

I recently applied for a content marketing job and was turned down because I wanted the same wage I had been paid 10 years ago. (The man who interviewed me pointed out that less experienced younger person he had interviewed the week before was much less expensive. And then he admitted that candidate didn't get hired because they couldn't write well.) I am a former journalist looking for content-related marketing jobs who is forced to be self-employed. If you are going after content-related jobs, consider doing that.

These days I get most of my work from creative agencies via former colleagues who have started or joined said agencies. Have you approached agencies in your area and elsewhere? Also, if you can swing it, consider spending 99 bucks to join, which has many business writers and editors (also other types of writers) struggling with the industry shifts that have resulted in so many job losses so there is often lots of support and good advice to be found there. (It is like the opposite of Mediabistro; little backstabbing, mostly warm and friendly support.) Also check out the writing and marketing jobs that hit WeWorkRemotely from time to time. Jobs currently listed include Senior Writer and Content Marketing Editorial Manager (which kind of looks like a managing editor job).

I also took an online class from an established medical writer that helped me hone my own different, speciality areas. I wanted to do that because having a niche is often the difference between getting work and not. (PM me if you want to know more about the class.) Finally, last year, in order to make my work samples more current, I volunteered to do the PR for the launch of a new nonprofit I admired. It got a lot of earned media and made me feel great about the work I had done. That hasn't translated into a job yet but it did feel like the most worthwhile thing I had done in a while.

I truly admire your willingness to do whatever it takes to keep the money coming in. Don't forget to nourish your soul in whatever ways are meaningful to you, with exercise, music, sports, church, whatever. It is really challenging to be unemployed and/or underemployed. It can eat away at your sense of self. And nourish your relationship with your spouse, too, in whatever ways you can because unemployment/underemployment for either spouse can also be hard on a marriage. Best of luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:18 AM on February 27, 2018

I think it's ageism. I don't know the PR industry, but I do know IT, and can offer some advice. Sorry in advance if this sounds ageist or any other -ist. My intent isn't to blame the victim, but I think you have to deal with the world as it is and not how it should be. One way to fight ageism is to come across as younger.

* Dress younger - If your suits are older, meaning they fit loosely, buy a new one (or two) that fits better/closer, or have them taken in. There are various places online that make custom suits for less than $500. Macy's actually has decent suits that are very often on sale for $200 - $300. If the suit maker can't make it fit well, take it to a good tailor who can. Same with your shirts. If your shoes are old or fit huge or aren't crisp around the collars, replace them with something more modern. Nothing tight, but fitted. If your briefcase is old and worn, replace it. If your watch is old, replace it. If your glasses aren't fairly modern, replace the frames. You don't have to go full Elton John, but having something modern looking can only help you. ( is good for all of this.) None of this has to be expensive. Just not obviously "old."

* Weight - Body discrimination is real. Thinner people are more likely to get hired, especially if they're older. Not right, but happens every day.

* Social media - Immerse yourself in social platforms and how they're used in PR. Be able to talk in detail about the major social networks, how they're used by the general public and how companies reach people through them. Bring this up even if you aren't asked. Same with search results. If you don't know what SEO is, I'd think that would be a red flag. (Not that you should *game* search results, but you should know how to *optimize* for them. It actually isn't super complicated).

* Software - I don't work in sales/PR, but it's entirely likely that companies track their PR campaigns in Salesforce or something like it. Know what software is out there and how it's used. Some of them offer free trials. If you don't know an important piece of software, try it if there's a trial. Put some data into it so you have a feel for it and can talk a little about it.

* Hair coloring - I don't know much about this, but it doesn't sound like bad advice.
posted by cnc at 9:56 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for the terrific insights and advice. I have been digesting the info posted her with great interest, and now have a better understanding of what's at play for someone in my age group who is looking for work. I can always count of my friends at ask.mefi. Thanks again, and very much appreciated.
posted by terrier319 at 7:53 AM on February 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

« Older my aching bed   |   What are your favourite subtle emotions? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.