Point of View

Demoralized and overqualified: looking for work at 56

"Sorry, you're overqualified." Those are the words Brenda Tesser hears over and over when looking for work. Now, the 56-year-old Hamilton mother could lose her home, and faces a reality many people in an uncertain economy endure. Here she tells her own story of her demoralizing search for work.

Brenda Tesser tells her story in her own words

"Sorry, you're overqualified." Those are the words Brenda Tesser hears over and over when looking for work. Now, the 56-year-old Hamilton mother could lose her home, and faces a reality many people in an uncertain economy endure. (Rich Kareckas/AP)

I never expected my life to turn out this way – looking for work at 56. Can it get any worse?

I come from a fairly normal family, with a single mother most of the time. She taught me to be loyal, do my best and do whatever it took to support the family. There was no money back then for college, but most of us didn't go to college back when I graduated high school anyway.

The guys went to work for Stelco or Dofasco, and the girls worked in retail or in the banks or credit unions. That's what I did – I worked in the Credit Union until I met my husband, and then the agreement was I’d stop working and raise the kids.

Brenda Tesser and her son, Jason. (Photo courtesy of Brenda Tesser)

I raised them and when they were in the higher grades I ran my own daycare out of our house, which most of the moms did, just so we could supplement the household while the husbands were out earning the big bucks and usually doing the backbreaking work.

In our case, my husband was really doing the backbreaking work. He was pretty much killing himself working 80 hours a week for his employers. This was the start of the companies being bought by people in the United States and abroad and they were getting rid of the employees up here in Canada. If you wanted to keep your job, you worked long hours and you worked hard. 

Then it happened – my husband's company was bought, and bam, he was out of a job. It was time for me to go back to work, which I thought would be no problem. I had skills, and I found another job, but only part time.

The hubby found another job no problem because he was a good worker – a personable person and loyal, plus he was willing to kill himself when the younger guys weren’t. Then he was laid off again. He went back to work but shortly afterwards, he got hurt while doing his job. Then another company closed and he was bouncing around from job to job, so I had to find full time work.

'I feel like I had been sucker punched in the stomach'

I thought it would be a piece of cake. I had kept up my bookkeeping skills and everything, so no problem. I found a part time job for a property management company. I loved it and loved the people, but then it happened – my boss retired and turned over the business to his partners in Toronto.

I felt like I had been sucker punched in the stomach. We – my co-worker and I – met with the partners, and they assured us our jobs were safe. But soon after, they decided to move everything to Toronto. I felt like an explosion had gone of in my head. I was numb! 

By this point my husband was having major back problems and was lucky enough to have a decent boss to let him take it easy at work – but that company was closing and he was going to be hard pressed to find work again in his condition. 

So bam, that was it, I was out of a job. No offers of moving with the company, just a severance, and not a great one.  

That’s when the circle begins – the humiliation, the despair, the desperation, the abandonment, the depression.

I started to send out resumes immediately, knowing that I didn’t want my situation to become desperate. I thought I had skills, I wouldn't be out of work long right? I whipped resumes out, but got no replies.

I sent out 250 resumes, and not one reply. I became depressed. Why didn't anyone want me? I had bookkeeping skills, I had worked in retail, I had worked in a Credit Union – what was wrong?

'I was overqualified'

My friend looked at my resume – take off the dates, she said. But shouldn't they know I'm mature, not a fly by night kid, but someone with experience? Either way, I took off the dates – and I got an interview. That was it. I just had to take off the dates.

I was interviewed by a girl who was 18, if she was a day. She thought I was overqualified for the position – this was my introduction to those words that I now hear every time I interview for a job. 

It used to be who you knew, and someone could always get you in somewhere. I know people, but now they fear for their own jobs. Older people are getting replaced with younger people, and they can be paid less, it seems.

I had that sucker punched feeling a few more times. My family was supportive each time, they never blamed me, but I became more withdrawn and started thinking it was my fault. Even though I am intelligent, it does something to your head and you blame yourself – you didn't work hard enough, you didn't stay late enough, you didn't make yourself indispensable enough.

Depression is a nasty thing, I tried not to show my family when I was down. I kept the facade up for them, but I had low, low days. I would get in my vehicle and think, “who would miss me? I’m not bringing anything to the table anyway.”

But my mom didn't raise a quitter and I would snap out of it. I have a couple of good friends who knew just when to call or message me on the computer. It was kind of uncanny actually, but it is hard times. 

Totally demoralizing

I have 10 different resumes to suit all the different jobs that I might apply for. You can't put everything on your resume, because then you’re seen as overqualified.

I have no dates on any of my resumes, so they don’t know how old I am. But as soon as I walk in to the interview you see their eyes glaze over. That hurts. I cry at night because I can't support my family. My husband feels like he is nothing because he can't even get Canada Disability. He was turned down even though we have surgeons reports and doctors that say he can never work again. 

My two children try to find me work, but it’s demoralizing to have to rely on your children to put feelers out on their Facebook pages begging people to help get you a job. How embarrassing is that? I can't face people anymore. I have said many times I am worth more dead than alive, and that is true.

I interview well. I am told I am a personable person. Currently employers are looking for individuals who have university educations to be such things like receptionists so they can pay them minimum wages. I would even take a minimum wage job but can't get one because I am overqualified! I have applied to Walmart, Target, most of the restaurant chains – but with with no response.

What is our government doing for me, the over-50 Canadian? I have worked since I was 16 years old. I know I haven't gotten all the money back that I put in to employment insurance! I don't qualify for Second Career and even if I did, who would pay for my household bills while I was going back to school? 

No hope

Is there any hope for people like me? I am a very loyal person who is willing to learn new things. I don't take time off to recover from hangovers, or to go camping for the weekend. I show up for work, I just want to earn a decent wage, have a few benefits and keep the job. Is that too much to ask?

It is just so darn hard to handle. I thank god my Mom brought me up to be strong, or I think I might have caved a long time ago.

So here I am at 56 years old. I worked my whole life but have no employment insurance, no savings left and I am soon to be another recipient of Ontario Works – but first I have to sell my house that I worked for all my life.

Oh, and the waiting list for Hamilton Housing is about three years long. So after I sell my house where shall we live while I am waiting for Hamilton Housing? On the street?

Is it any wonder I am depressed, despondent, humiliated, demoralized, oh – and most definitely:


– Brenda Tesser


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