Mary shares her account of suddenly becoming unemployed aged 63 and finding the self-belief to continue pursuing her legal career in the face of a tough job market and an undercurrent of age discrimination.
“At the age of 63, I have unexpectedly found myself searching for another job. The process has been uncomfortable, when the first question from recruitment agencies is asking why.
My initial reaction after the job ended was a certainty of being soon employed, giving way to a gradual acceptance that this would take some time, then a realisation that a closer analysis of my motives and rationale in my job search was important. Above all, I was conscious of my age and the need to present myself in as youthful a light as possible. Older job seekers are helped by recent legislation but above all one’s face has to fit and in fact this legislation can only help so much.
It is an employer’s market at the moment, with mergers causing the market to be flooded with legal secretaries. Of course current age discrimination legislation means that potential employers are not allowed to rule out applications based on age and to be fair, an applicant’s age cannot be stated on a CV. However this creates a certain amount of pressure for the older candidate, in part to look younger for interviews but also to ensure that their years of experience in the workplace are not seen as a negative by highlighting their age.
When in a long-term job, with settled office relationships and where the dynamic works, it is easy to forget how many years one has spent in work. It is not until one experiences a life changing event, such as redundancy or unfair dismissal, that one realises the difficulties that can be encountered in the job market.
There is security in working for one firm for any length of time. However, if one leaves or has to change jobs for whatever reason, it quickly becomes apparent that one’s workplace practices have been geared to that firm, to its IT capability and systems, to the office routine practised between boss and support staff and the requirements of the firm in general. It is disquieting to realise that previous experience can have limited relevance in a new role.
Readiness to adapt and learn is equally, if not more important than longevity. It takes time to build the relationship between colleagues which enables the smooth and efficient running of an office or workplace. Hence, when recruiting, an employer is looking for someone who will be able to create a strong working relationship by bringing good working practices to a role. The rest is down to working it all out over time.
Flexibility and adaptability are largely seen as traits of the young, and this perception can disregard and devalue years of experience that allows someone of my age to hit the ground running.
This time round, I have had rather a different experience in the job market. Whereas previously temp worked filled the gaps, not only have there been very few permanent jobs available but the temp market has been flat as a pancake. With bills to pay and the cost of living a life, I have had to contain my anxiety about an uncertain future and trust that my years of experience would bring me new employment.
My age has certainly forced me to think carefully about my priorities and the kind of lifestyle I want during the next few years. While my primary focus was to search for employment in London, this time I have extended my job search to local areas with a shorter commute in mind. I am fortunate to have found a good temporary role reasonably locally which bridges the gap and has given me fresh experience in a new area of law.
Working in a variety of roles at difference companies has taught me to be more flexible and adaptable in my approach. Apart from the pressures I have put on myself regarding my age, I don’t yet feel discriminated against for this reason, at least not so far. Responses to job applications have been positive throughout and at this time, I am waiting to hear from 3 firms, with an interview booked with one other.
Should I have considered retirement at this point? There are definite attractions, such as being able to spend more time with my children and grandchildren. It’s such a personal decision, with practical as well as personal circumstances dictating it: whether one is married, single or divorced; fit and healthy or otherwise; with enough savings and a pension; or just with financial commitments which necessitate an income. For me - practical reasons aside - perhaps I’m just not ready to throw in the towel yet on the career I have worked so hard for. Regardless of age, it’s my life and any major change in direction should be my decision alone.”