64 and unemployed: One man's struggle to be taken seriously as a job applicant
by David A. Wimsett
It's an unpleasant routine. I send out resumes. I am careful to make sure my details go back only 20 years. There are no dates attached to my education history. Phone calls come. We talk about my background and experience. Some respond enthusiastically. We arrange a physical meeting.
I dress in a suit. My hair is cut in a business style. I rehearse answers to questions I will likely be asked and practice responding in a professional, personable manner.
I arrive. "Hello. I applied for your position as a software project manager." I extend my arm.
The interviewer pauses and looks at me for a moment. "I'm the head of human resources. Please sit down."
They work hard to maintain a blank expression. They're trained to do that. But I can see past that right away. Their eyelids drop slightly, almost imperceptibly. So do their inner eyebrows. Few would notice. But I am a project manager. I've learned to constantly and carefully observe people to detect subtle, unconscious facial expressions that reveal hidden emotions.
The signs I inevitably get from interviewers are ones of disapproval and disappointment. The decision has already been made: too old. Out of touch with technology and youth. Not with it.
Actually, I am very much with it. Every year, I read the equivalent of a university semester's worth of books and attend seminars to keep up with the industry and its latest trends. As a project manager, I work well with younger colleagues and form effective teams. My experience of nearly four decades allows me to spot patterns and trends to deliver effective solutions through wisdom and good judgment.
This does not seem to matter. I am 64. I am too old.
"We'll get back to you," they say. They never do.
I have used all of my savings, including retirement accounts. I've sold everything I own of value. The one asset I have left is a 10-year-old car. It is my only means of transportation to job interviews out of my area. I have extended my credit to pay bills and purchase prescription medications. I am now deeply in debt and behind on payments. I get constant phone calls from the bank.
"Sir, you are behind on your scheduled payment. When can we expect to see the money?"
"I don't have any money I can give you at the moment. I have been unemployed for a long time."
The caller's voice takes on a belligerent tone. "You have a contractual agreement to pay a minimum amount every month. When will you make a payment?"
"As I said, I have no income and I don't know when I will have any."
Now, the voice become threatening. "If we don't see a payment soon we will be forced to send the account to an outside collection service, who will sue you."
"If you do, you will be paying lawyers and getting no money because I have none. But I have an interview next week and they were very enthusiastic on the phone."
A pause comes. The voice returns with authority. "Very well. We will check back in two weeks."
The calls come from a different person each time. I have to repeat the same story over and over. A credit counsellor advised me to be polite and answer truthfully. It takes huge effort to control my anger when callers insinuate that I'm hiding money somewhere. I only lost my composure once.
All my efforts are focused on getting work. I subscribe to internet job boards and make contacts every day. It can take hours to craft a custom version of my resume and cover letter to hit all the right points a company has put in its job description. And whatever I write has to get through automatic screening programs that look for keywords before they are ever get into human hands.
I work to nearly midnight, seven days a week, to reach as many people as I can.
Of course, not having a job takes much more than a financial toll. It causes me deep emotional distress. It is highly embarrassing. I don't talk to anyone about it. It can sometimes take me half the night to fall asleep while my mind runs over my situation and I search for options. When I do doze off, I sleep for nine or more hours. I question my worth and abilities. The stress is unrelenting. It affects my blood pressure, my heart and my digestion. My usual disposition is positive, but I have felt the smothering claws of depression on more than one occasion.
In my twenties I went through a divorce, at which time I took sole custody of my six-year-old son and raised him on my own. I entered the computer industry. The pay was good and the work steady.
That was then.
I am now 64 years old.
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