CAN'T BEAT EM? JOIN EM!
Q: In interviews, employers let me know I'm qualified. Then two things generally happen. The employer either does the math and figures out that I'm 50-something or the sweet young thing sitting across from me realizes she'll have to supervise me and I know more than she does. You can't prove age discrimination.
A: Age discrimination is difficult to prove, but you can take steps to minimize it.
Keep from sticking out by interviewing in companies where other people over 50 work. They're everywhere.
Next, do an internal makeover (aka attitude shift). Think about "the sweet young thing" as a daughter, younger sister, cousin or next-door neighbor. You'll appear much warmer to her. You'll also be less likely to create distance between the two of you.
That will help convert your distance-creating attitude about knowing more (of course you do) into one of being able to help in certain ways. It will also remove some of the competition your barrier sets up.
Obviously, age discrimination is a real problem. Be smart about where you look and how you respond to others to make working together more possible.
Q: In my time qualifications mattered. I was a classical school graduate. This was a passport to a career. I applied for a teaching job and my uncle took initiative in his own a paternal way by calling for the results.
He decided I was not going to the Academy and declared on his own I was not accepting the offer. "And how am I going to find a job?" I asked him. When I couldn't, I took a secretarial course and became a secretary. I later earned a law degree and today I'm a published author.
A: Being motivated from within, as you were, provides the strongest foundation for a career. It's tempting to seek work relatives think you should seek — or avoid opportunities they want you to bypass — because they often project their values onto your situation.
The secret to finding joy in a career is knowing what you want and going after it. You were extremely young to act with such insight and maturity in the face of authority, particularly at a time when job-hunting wasn't a required skill. People absolutely must stick to their guns, even in the face of career adversity.
Lance Paterson (moonlightconsultancy.com), who's applied for jobs and hired people for them, says you can get hired and keep employers without allowing them to take advantage of you.
He talks about the candidate for a plum in the entertainment industry who didn't dress "smart-casual." Instead, Paterson says he arrived in "a crisp, custom pinstripe — (not) the best choice when your interviewer looks adorably like Abby from NCIS,' and her receptionist looks as if he rolled out of bed straight through a combine harvester. (Bonus tip: Try not to look openly shocked at anything a prospective boss is wearing)."
Even if a recruiter told you where and when to go, and gave you the names of contacts, spare yourself a heart attack. "Call the front desk, because finding out your destination's demolished and the temporary office is 20 minutes up the road" can trigger one, he explains.
If you're doing spec work, don't be a rug or a sucker who unloads valuable intellectual property information over an extended period of time. Paterson advises being wary of the "prospective employer who fails to hire and/or pay you because of everything from a venture capitalist's pet dying to losing a number of emails on his new iPad."
(Dr. Mildred Culp welcomes your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2012 Passage Media.)