This morning I was honored as one of six women with “enviable careers” by my alma mater, Central Michigan University. It’s the second time this year that they have recognized me for my accomplishments that have spanned three decades since graduation.
This afternoon, I received a rejection letter from a 24-year-old CEO of a podcast company saying that I “didn’t have the experience they were looking for” for a freelance podcast producer position I applied for, even though I have spent two decades working as an on-air talk radio host and producer for some of the most iconic stations in the country. Not to mention the fact that I host, record, edit and market my own podcast, A Girl On The Go. (Note to CEO: I was hosting an afternoon drive talk radio show in Los Angeles when you were in kindergarten).
Irony? Comedy? Tragedy?
Whatever it was, I believe what this recent college grad was trying to say was, “You’re too old to work for me.”
You see, I’m over 50 (yes, I said that out loud) and, even writing this, I know that someone out there reading this is right now saying, “Ahhhhh...yeah...no. Time to cash it in, sweetheart. We don’t need your kind here.”
Age is the last [legal] form of discrimination, often disguised as “we’re looking for someone with different qualifications.” “Different” meaning younger. Employers can get away with it because it’s the easiest form of discrimination to hide.
According to a 2017 study published in the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Economic Letter, age discrimination in the workplace most definitely exists, and it’s much worse for older women than it is for older men. Not only are older people not getting hired, but - if they get an interview at all - the callback rate for older applications is considerably lower than that of younger applicants. Female applicants for administrative assistant positions had a 47-percent lower callback rate than younger female applicants and older applicants for sales jobs had a 36-percent lower callback rate than those applicants in the 29-31 year range.
Throughout my career, I’ve landed just about every job I’ve ever gone out for. (Except for that one job as Will Smith’s personal assistant post-Fresh Prince era). Most jobs have come to me by either referrals or “who you knows” throughout my career. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve won awards. I’ve dined with world leaders. I’ve worked alongside world-renowned rock stars. I’ve interviewed legendary sports figures. I once had to find Madeleine Albright some turkey chili when she was a guest on our radio show (and I found it!). I even spent an afternoon zipping up corseted costumes for Playboy Bunnies (Take that young CEO!). Though I love my current job, I’m always keeping one eye open to creative side projects to keep my right brain occupied.
I like staying busy. I love new challenges.
Growing frustrated at the radio silence I’ve experienced over the past year applying for jobs through LinkedIn, I decided to consult a recruiter to see if there was anything I could do to shine a little brighter. The second sentence out of her mouth during our phone call was, “You’re too old.”
(I get up after being knocked down, dust off my pants, straighten out my shoulders and reply), “But I still have a good 15 years left in the workforce. How can I be “too old”?
“Well, for starters,” she said, “you need to completely erase 25 years off of your work history.”
“Wait, you want me to completely erase my life? My career path? My experience? My history? My wisdom? My knowledge? Erase me?”
“Yes. Get rid of it.”
“But my wisdom and experience is what makes me valuable. It’s the honor badges I wear proudly. It’s what fills my brain and drives my ambition. It’s all I bring to a job. It’s what makes me a well-rounded and seasoned employee. How can you tell me to erase everything I am?”
“Erase it. Take it back 10 years and leave it at that.”
“But I’ve been at my current job for seven years. That doesn’t make for a very beefy (or interesting) resume.”
“You should have had more jobs in the past 10 years. Millenials stay at jobs on an average of 15 months. You need to be more like the millenials if you want to stay relevant.”
“But I like staying at jobs. I like security. I like being loyal.”
“Frankly, I don’t think any of that is going to benefit you. In fact, if I were you, I would stop looking and just start your own business.”
“So what you’re saying is that I’m completely unhirable?”
“What I’m saying is that you have far too much experience to be of value to anyone. Your experience shows your age. And age isn’t valued in today’s workplace. I’m just being honest.”
This was the point where my brain melted.
“Okay then, thank you for your input. I appreciate it. I’ll get back to you when I revise my resume.”
As I stared at my resume, and at all I had done since my professional career began in 1984, I couldn’t decide what to cut out. Why would I redline my 15+ years as an advertising copywriter when the freelance projects I was going for were writing jobs? How could I possibly expunge 20 years in broadcasting when my current podcast was my main focus and I was trying to find producing opportunities to help others? To me, it was an impossible task completely whitewashing my past. And then I wandered off in thought. If everyone in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond had to erase all of their life experience up to ten years prior, our world would be short on a lot of genius.
Michael Jordan would be a just guy who owns a basketball team.
Madonna would be a stay-at-home mom.
Bill Clinton would simply be known as the guy who was married to that woman who ran for president.
J.K. Rowling would be known as an author who wrote a book called The Casual Vacancy in 2012.
Never mind any of that “She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah” or “Hey Jude” stuff, Paul McCartney would simply be known as the father of the designer Stella McCartney and the old guy who recorded a song with Kanye West.
And Jesus? You’re going to need to remove that “water into wine” bit from your resume. It’s outdated.
You can’t nullify your personal history. We’re not better for it. An employer is not better for it. The world is not better for it. And if anyone asks you to diminish your accomplishments and to make yourself smaller so that you won’t show your age or experience, give them a fine “thank you very much,” but perhaps consider using that word that starts with an “F” and ends with a “You” instead.
If what I am and what I’ve done is not of any value to a future employer, then what you are as an employer is not of any value to me.
Oh, and to the recruiter. Don’t hold your breath waiting to hear back from me.
Lisa Goich is a manager for the GRAMMY Awards, a twice published author and. is the founder of A Girl On The Go, a creative production company that helps showcase incredible women in the world doing extraordinary things. She is currently working on The XXperience Project; a place for women of experience to thrive. Check out her website at www.agirlonthego.com.