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November 18, 2011
Advice for the Job Worn
Advice from H R. D'Rector
Dear H. R.: I apply to many online job postings and I just received another email rejection from a potential employer. I'm furious! I matched up to the job description line by line, wrote a dynamite cover letter, and answered all their posted questions thoughtfully. Yet I get the impression that the company didn't even take the time to read my documents or give me any consideration, much less an interview. Did I mention how angry I am about this? I feel like driving to their headquarters and slapping the individual who does the hiring or at the very least, sending them an email or letter telling them what I think of their lousy company. Any thoughts?
Frustrated Candidate
Dear Frustrated: I get your pain. Really, I do! As difficult as rejection is, especially when all your skills and the job requirements seem to be in alignment, it's never a good idea to become confrontational and set those bridges on fire. Sometimes a position will be filled and the person doesn't work out. Six months later, the company revisits the resumes of previous candidates. If you feel the need to vent, I suggest putting your feelings into a printed letter — not email — and then sitting on it for a couple of days. Or physically send the letter to a friend if the need to deliver something is too compelling. But warn the friend that the letter is coming so that they're not offended when they open it and read "Dear Mallet-Head…" Most of the time you won't have a returnable email or contact name from the company, but if you do, a nice thank-you letter to the company or individual would be appropriate. Under the guise of improving your job search process, you can ask what they saw in your background that didn't match with their requirements or ask for advice on improving your presentation. You may not get an answer because HR departments are usually overwhelmed with work, but surprisingly, sometimes you will. Be aware that employers will be not be very candid because of the reality of legal restrictions, but an honest and thoughtful inquiry on your part may keep you on the list for future job openings. Remember, the key is to be nice! Keep your frustrations and attitude out of any correspondence.
Dear H. R.: I feel like I'm a victim of age discrimination when I apply for jobs. I'm over fifty and eminently qualified for the openings I apply for, but if I get an interview, the look on the face of the interviewer when we meet tells all. That expression where they look like they've just seen someone who's been raised from the dead? Yeah, that one. Needless to say, I'm not seriously considered any further. What can I do about it without resorting to time travel or plastic surgery?
Not Ready to Retire
Dear Not Ready: It's a sad state that age discrimination in the job market does exist. It's illegal, but it's impossible to prove because a company can merely say that they're looking for a "candidate that better fits their criteria." And it's a contradiction because many companies post job listings with requirements that seem to dictate the desire for an "energetic" thirty-year-old prospect with twenty-five years of experience. The only person with that level of experience is a candidate over forty-five years old!
Having said that, there are a few things that can be done to improve your chances. On your resume, list dates for only your last two positions if you worked at each for less than ten years, and don't list college graduation dates. There's conflicting advice on this from recruiters and HR experts, but I feel that you should give it a shot. Your resume should include short statements about qualified successes you may have had by increasing your former employer's sales, developing a cost-saving procedure, or other accomplishments. And your cover letter should speak to what companies want to hear. Can your experience help them save money, increase productivity, increase sales, save them time, or some other attribute? Drop in some text about your energy, loyalty, work ethic, problem solving, reliability, or whatever strengths you may have that are better than, or coincide with, someone ten or more years younger than you are—your competition. Keep up with the latest technology. You may not own a smartphone or tweet, but know the ins and outs and be able to speak intelligently about it. Keep your software skills sharp even if you do a few projects just for the exercise. And this may seem shallow, but work to look younger. Take a tip from the TV commercials and color your hair — but not all the gray. Color facial hair if you're a man (or woman!), whiten your teeth, and take care of your facial wrinkles as best as possible. No need for anything drastic like surgery. And dress better than your competitors, who are likely to show up for an interview in jeans and dress shirts hanging out. I wouldn't say this if I didn't witness it!
Ultimately, all this may not help if the company is already populated with kids. They're not going to hire their parents to begin with. But in most cases, the older candidate needs every weapon these days in the job hunt. Take aim and good luck!

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Steve James owned and creative directed an advertising and design studio in Buffalo, NY with the un-snappy name of SteveJamesDesign, Inc. Steve and his family now live in Indianapolis where he worked as a Creative Director and he is currently in transition, flux, metamorphosis, segue, or whatever looking for work is now called.

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