Published Wednesday, March 28, 2001 .. Tacoma News Tribune, Editorials Page

Your Voice: Age no asset in bricks-and-mortar job world

By Kathy Fisher (with photo)

I've got a bone to pick with an article that was in Monday's (3/26) Business section: "Baby boomers find their age can be asset ..." by Lisa B. Song of the Chicago Tribune.

Maybe life is different in Chicago, but I can assure you that my age (52) is no asset looking for paying work in the Puget Sound.

Here's the story: For the past several years (nearly 6), I was happily cruising as an independent contractor on the dot-com-gravy-train ... designing Web pages, site graphical pieces, and ad banners; writing website content (e-zine articles and the like); hosting chatrooms on Talk City; whatever I could find on the World Wide Web. I didn't get rich, but it was a comfortable work-at-home lifestyle with enough income for my needs.

Then, nearly a year ago, the gravy-train derailed. Ensuing dot-com-carnage took my nice little income with it. So, here I am, at 52, looking for something else to do to make money ... out there ... in the "real world."

And I can tell you, being in my 50's is no asset. I've had recruiters and employment agents say that companies aren't really interested in hiring (training, insuring, etc.) someone in their 50s ... someone who might retire soon or who might get sick with some "old age" maladies.

I've even had two companies tell me outright that although I was very qualified for the position advertised, my age worked against me: in one case, the person who would be my boss was not interested in having an assistant twice her age, old enough to be her mother; in another, the company was concerned that I might be inflexible, too set in my ways. (Mental arthritis?)

A friend said I should have sued them both for age discrimination, but I didn't see it that way. I was grateful for their honesty. Most companies wouldn't admit in a million years that my age was the determining factor.

I apply and apply and apply for positions I am overqualified to do, downplaying my age, focusing on my "wealth of experience" ... but I usually don't even get as far as the interview. I receive "we're sorry, but we had so many applicants that we had to be very choosy" letters; I can't help but read "and you were just too old."

The few interviews I've had have been tense, to say the least (including the two companies mentioned above) .. there's this uncomfortable look on the interviewers' faces, as if trying to get out of it gracefully. One asked me "Doesn't it bother you to consider being the lowest-rung assistant in an office where everyone is half your age?" I replied "No." But obviously it bothered her; I got the rejection letter a few days later.

So, off I go ... to keep looking, searching newspaper ads and job Web sites ... hoping that a door will open that doesn't consider my age a handicap. Meantime, I'll be praying that the dot-coms recover and can start paying contractors once more. I'll be the first in line to board that gravy-train again, an accepting world where only your skills matter; a place where outward appearances (including age, sex, race, handicaps, and body-shape) are meaningless. Take a lesson from that, brick-and-mortar working world!

P.S. If anyone out there is interested, my resume is at http://www.kathyayn.f2s.com/kfresume.html