If you’ve been job hunting lately, you likely share my frustration. Job hunting in middle age is NOT the same as job hunting was in my 20s, with a shiny new college degree, a list of awards and honors as long as my arm, and internship experience from respected companies. No, job hunting in my (early) 40s is a completely different beast even though I am not a completely different person.
I was forced to become a stay-at-home mom when my firstborn was only six months old. I was the only woman, with a new baby, and on the East Coast after my division got sold to a company in California. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the early-morning phone call that cut my employment ties, but I was anyway. After all, I’d gone to a four-year women’s college and knew my rights and the laws, but with a warm, smiling baby snuggling in my arms, I admit that I didn’t fight it. I was happy for the freedom.
Because finances are always top of mind, I became a freelancer, with both short-term and long-term clients. Truthfully, I can’t even remember every client I did work for, but suffice it to say that I’ve edited, proofread and written a lot of stuff. I’ve also managed people and projects, promoted events, organized meetings and fundraisers and taught myself a whole heck of a lot of software programs.
I kept my skills current, and stayed up-to-date on technology and social media. I made sure not to under-price my skills or over-represent my experience. I started a company when I began to sub-contract out my extra work. I learned both QuickBooks and about self-employment tax, the hard way. I volunteered for various things, running the Scholastic Book Fairs at my children’s elementary school for four years, spearheading Tricky Tray/Gift Raffle auctions, and recently stepping up as Co-Director of my temple’s women’s group. I don’t sit still–life is far too short for complacency.
And I learned repeatedly that jobs don’t always last as long as promised, clients can say “yes” and then drop out of sight before the project starts–or worse, when payday rolls around–and freelancing is a roller coaster with very little security. You either stay on and enjoy the ride or you get off as soon as the car stops.
After ten years and another unexpected ending of a long-term job, I recently tried to get off. I looked at the jobs posted on Craigslist, Monster, SimplyHired, Indeed, Idealist and so many others. I applied for the ones that required the skill sets that I had honed to perfection over the last two decades of working in the non-profit sector, publishing, broadcast media, independent films, higher education, small business, consulting, and more industries than I can even count.
I updated my resumé, revised it, rewrote it, then updated it again. I changed the style and then changed it back. I created resumés for different jobs. I crafted cover letters. I tried to get across the fact that I’m talented, versatile, detail-oriented, and loyal to a fault. I would have been happy to hear crickets–I heard almost nothing.
It’s true that I’m likely overqualified for many of the jobs I applied for, but I tried to make it clear in my cover letter (without begging) that it was okay: I was willing to do anything that would utilize my skills and keep me busy. I hate boredom. I went on a few interviews and even got a second interview for a Social Media Manager. I got the callback after I designed a series of social media campaigns for the company–much better than their current ones, if I can be so modest–but in the end, I never heard back. I signed with an employment agency and reached out to networking friends.
I know I’m hoping for the impossible: That a potential employer will see more than just a RESUmé–that they’ll see ME. I’m so much more than a piece of paper. I’ve done amazing things and picked up skills that employers should desire.
I’ve hiked across Israel, ridden a camel along a crater, watched the sunrise at Masada, floated in the Dead Sea and swum with dolphins in the Red Sea. I’ve sailed across the English Channel and up the canals in Holland, on a 30-foot boat with five other university students, on our own for a week. I’ve conquered my fears through hot air ballooning and spelunking. I’ve spoken passable French to a watercolor artist explaining her dreams to me and my sister in Italy. I’ve seen things both wondrous and horrible and I still have faith in the world.
On top of all of that, I’m a mother and a wife and a former animal rescuer. I run a household of 3 humans, 2 cats and 1 dog. I manage the finances, delegate the money, clip the coupons, make the lists, buy the groceries, do the laundry, vacuum the floors, dust the knickknacks, make sure the projects are handed in on time and shepherd the sheep to soccer, piano, doctor appointments. I make sure things have replacements at the ready before they run out and somebody needs more peanut butter, hair gel, deodorant, socks. To quote perhaps the only memorable quote from FSoG, I make “the ordinary extraordinary.”
A friend recently said to me that employers like to say they’re looking for somebody that thinks outside the box, but that their mindset is really much smaller than that. I, like so many others, fall somewhere between entry-level positions and the next tier up, and that’s a hard place to be. Overqualified and underqualified, with a breadth and range of skills that they should be thankful to find. See ME, for a change, not just that piece of paper. I am more than two-dimensional.