Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dad Need Not Apply

Copyright 2009 Elliott Joseph

May 2009

Longer Unemployment for Those 45 and Older

When Ben Sims, 57, showed up earlier this year for a job interview at a company in Richardson, Tex., he noticed the hiring manager - several decades his junior - falter upon spotting him in the lobby.

"Her face actually dropped," said Mr. Sims, who was dressed in a conservative business suit, befitting his 25-year career in human resources at I.B.M.

Later, in her office, after several perfunctory questions, the woman told Mr. Sims she did not believe the job would be "suitable" for him.  And, barely 10 minutes later she stood to signal the interview was over.

"I knew very much then it was an age situation," said Mr. Sims, who has been looking for work since November 2007, a month before the economic downturn began.

The recession's onslaught has come as Mr. Sims and many others belonging to the post-World War II baby boom generation -- the demographic burst from 1946 to 1964 that reshaped the country -- remain years from retirement.  But unemployed boomers, many of whom believed they were still in the prime of their careers, are confronting the grim reality that they face some of the steepest odds of any job seekers in this dismal market.

The New York Times

Finding a job these days is hard enough.  If you're getting on in years, it can be a nightmare.

Take the case of my old friend Phil, whose bizarre tale of a recent job interview sent a shudder through my creaking bones.

"This young woman," he said, "thought I was her father."

"Do you look like him?" I asked.

"Must be.  During the interview she kept interrupting me with the most inappropriate remarks. Asked me how I had met mom.  Had it been love at first sight?  Said she had always been curious about it.

"I wondered what was going on, of course, but decided to let it pass, and emphasized that I was a team player, loyal to my supervisor.  She said she had gotten so used to obeying me through the years she'd feel funny about telling me what to do.

"I showed her the new product introduction plan I had developed that increased the company's market share twenty-seven percent. She responded with a chuckle about the time I had spanked her for speaking sharply to her mother.

"I read her the part of the speech I had written for the CEO  that had brought the National Association of Manufacturers audience to its feet.  She pulled out a picture taken at camp and her eyes moistened.  She said she'd always love me for my understanding about that boy that summer.

"I went through the budgets I had managed, the revenue I had increased, the expenditures I had cut.  She said she'd never forget how I had taught her the value of a dollar, though it had been painful when I had put the lid on her allowance."

"Wait a minute," I said.  "Why didn't you get up and walk out?"

"I thought she was testing me," said Phil, "to see how I would stand up under intergenerational stress.  So I continued.

"I showed her the personnel evaluations I had received, the commendations.  I was about to go into the details of one of my award-winning projects when suddenly her attitude started to change.  Her face took on a cold, determined look, and she accused me of being disingenuous.

"She said I was up to my old tricks, trying to control her life.  She was not going to allow me to dictate to her.  She was a grown woman now.

"Well, I couldn't let that go unchallenged.

"I never did any such thing, I said to her. You were brought up to be independent and assertive.  Your mother and I stood by you and supported you in whatever you wanted for your future.

"Now she was weeping.  What could I do?  I put my arm around her.  She sobbed,  'Oh dad, dear dad.  It's so good having this out at last.  I can't tell you how much this meeting has meant to me.'"

"You pretended you were her father?" I exclaimed.

"I was momentarily carried away.  She seemed so vulnerable.  She dried her eyes and told me I was one of the finalists for the position.  She'd be in touch.  We shook hands, and I left."

Surely Phil was stretching a point with this fantasy, but it was still very scary.

"So then what?" I asked.  "Did you hear from her?"

"I got a letter a week later," said Phil, "thanking me for my time and complimenting me for my background and achievements.  The company had found an individual, however, who did not have my depth of experience but could be expected to 'grow with the position.'

"I felt like sending her up to her room without any supper."

"I guess they were looking for someone at an entrance level," I said.  "You were overqualified."

"That wasn't it," said Phil philosophically.  "People don't mind hiring a brother, or a son.  They simply have too hard a time hiring the old man."

"Next time you should try to get interviewed by someone closer to your own age," I said.

"That's an idea," he agreed.  "Hell of a thing, though, isn't it?"

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