If we didn’t know it before the appearance of The Who in the Super Bowl half-time show, we know it now — people over 40 years old may be heard, but they certainly shouldn’t be seen. Really! Even the most liberal, least ageist among us will long be haunted by the high-definition images of Roger Daltrey stuffed into his jeans, not to mention the memory of the wardrobe malfunction which revealed to an audience of several billion horrorfied innocents, the pasty white contours of Pete Townsend’s tummy.
Yet, here in my mailbox is a new book from job expert Robin Ryan with the suggestive, if unlikely title, “Over 40 and You’re Hired.”
I suppose one could argue that any 40-year old who has the chutzpah to actually go out and look for a job in this economy, deserves a guidebook, if not a gold metal, but while author Ryan makes a valiant effort to pump some energy into atherosclerotic job market for seniors, I’m afraid it’s going to take more than “the leading job search expert in America today. ”
It’s going to take a miracle.
Even Ryan admits that finding a position for a 40-something is not exactly a slam-dunk. “Age discrimination does exist,” she writes in her preface. “So when you reach 40 you have a new career problem to worry about. Job hunting for most people is always a daunting task, and the older you get, the harder finding a new job can be.”
Surprisingly, Ryan’s research among hiring managers does suggest that the 40-plus candidates may have certain advantages. They “exhibit a more mature attitude,” is one entry on the plus side, suggesting that the ability of a 40-year old worker to keep their head in the face of a high-pressure situation could be signs of experience and a cool temperament. Unfortunately, it could also be a sign of ongoing cardiac arrest.
“Being unlikely to need maternity leave” is another nifty advantage of the over-40 employee, since pretty much everyone knows that after 40, the sex drive disappears completely, and is not likely to return, unless someone foolishly tunes the break-room TV to the Larry King show and then look out! Those over-40′s are going to orgy-down.
Perhaps the most useful section of “Over 40 and You’re Hired” is the chapter on “Overcoming Concerns Decision Makers May Have.” Ryan surveyed a whole passel of “DMs,” and offers specific advice on each mental roadblock that stands between 40+ you and a new job.
“Declining productivity levels” is a concern best expressed by a DM who admitted that “during an interview, I watch carefully for a candidate who seems lifeless.” Ryan suggests countering productivity prejudice by dazzling the DM with your accomplishments. A better strategy is to start your interview by providing the DM with a note from your doctor pointing out that a candidate who seems lifeless may be highly qualified and extremely motivated, but simply, dead. In the same spirit, you might attach a “Do Not Resuscitate” form to your job application. At your age, you can’t be too careful.
“Everyone who replied to the survey brought up this concern,” writes Ryan when turning to the perception of a “lower level of expertise using current technologies and the inability to be trained quickly.” Totally understandable, and easily countered. Forget Ryan’s charming but unrealistic idea of taking a computer course. Instead, simply interrupt the interview to email your cardiologist on your Blackberry, or order a case of 100% Bran Flakes using the Fun-With-Fiber app on your iPhone. It’s a great way to show your techy side and stay regular!
Perhaps the most bothersome over-40 DM “concern” is the perception that people of our advanced years have a “disregard for personal presentation.” Apparently, if you go to all the effort to put on a pair of spats, you can still be considered an “old fashioned fuddy-duddy.” What makes this situation even more difficult is that going in the opposite direction is not going to help. You would think that an over-40 woman who can squeeze herself into a micro-mini would erase all concerns of “personal presentation.” Not so. “A woman dressing like a teen-ager comes off looking ridiculous,” says one DM.
My advice — wear whatever you want. After 40 years on this earth, you’re old enough to be hired on your merits, not your wardrobe. Just remember that these interviews can go on for a while, so be sure to bring a full box of Depends.