I got a call several months ago from a recruiter who asked me if I knew a younger version of myself who would be interested in a PR position in a scientific organization.
Wow. I have my own business, although periodically I do look for a full-time job because I’ve got a kid going to college in two years, an ex-husband who thinks he should pay much less child support than is needed, and a house that is pretty costly to run.
So is there age discrimination in PR? Is there air? Over the past six weeks a massive conversation that I believe is up to 420 comments has occurred over this topic. The original question was actually Age Discrimination in PR Recruiting posted by Mark Schumann, former IABC International chair, on his blog.
The debate ensues on The Public Relations and Jobs Community LinkedIn page. There is a photo of a man who appears to be in his 70s and it doesn’t even show his whole face. But we get it. This guy is older and wiser.
The answer from all of us who are above the age of 40 is DUH. Of course there is age discrimination and not just in PR, everywhere. In this recession, companies have basically decided that 10 years of experience is enough to do pretty much anything except the CEO’s job. Highly experienced is 3-5 years. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know anything about anything when I was 25. I was all raw talent and a lot of bluster.
Getting a Job When You’re in Your 40s plus
The discussion on the LinkedIn page is more about getting a job in PR, which unless you somehow manage to get incredibly lucky and find a state or federal government position, or something in non-profit many of whose leaders understand that age means experience, you can kind of forget about it. The discussion has centered on a number of topics some of which I’ve listed here.
Social media and it’s meteoric rise has elevated the 23 year-old to a new status. Even though they don’t often have a clue how to use it for business. Youth means social expert, everyone under 25 is a social media expert. It’s not true, but hiring managers buy it and so do their bosses who think Twitter is a fun thing that no one else looks at. Yes Congressman Weiner, I’m talking about you.
The HR people who are the first round of filling many senior PR positions, knock out older people because of cost and because we refuse to give up our dignity. They ask for references (to a blind ad are you kidding me?), salary requirements (I wouldn’t provide those to someone who didn’t even interview me), etc. If you don’t put those in, you get deleted. Well you know what, that’s their loss, but it’s also ours.
They make you fill out endless forms and produce your college transcript. My college transcript is probably in a crypt somewhere and the idea of giving it to anyone is ludicrous. I mean really. Twenty five years of experience and you need to see that I got a C in geology. They also make prospective candidates fill out the same application that an entry level person would fill out. How demoralizing is that?
The 35 year-old Executive VP. PR is famous for inflating titles, particularly the agencies. If you’ve got ten years of experience you are a veteran, an expert, a genius. What they don’t bother to think about is you are also getting ready to start a family (which limits a woman's potential depending on what her mothering beliefs are), and means the dad has to go home too if he wants to see his kids.
Wouldn’t you be better off with a 55 year-old whose kids are grown and can work late into the night and travel when needed?
Europeans don’t do this. I’m not sure this is true, but many who’ve chimed in from England, France, Italy, etc. have said that there isn’t that much age discrimination in their countries. Experience equals wisdom. Well good for them. In the USA experience often equals the person who wins the Apprentice. Paris here I come.
How to get around the age issue
Shave everything but the last 15 years off your resume.
This is actually decent advice because something you did 25 years ago is pretty darn irrelevant right now. Don’t put down your college graduation date – even though it’s a dead giveaway you are older when you exclude it and anyone who knows how to Google can find it in 30 seconds or less. But maybe they won't bother to find out you were a child of the 70s.
Keep up to date with new developments in the PR profession.
If you don’t understand social media, aren’t at least doing it for yourself, don’t have a blog, don’t get what digital means, you’re of another generation. Get your skills up to today’s market. Read what’s going on – attend seminars, learn how to walk the walk and talk the talk. Do you know what SEO is? If not, learn, and I don't mean just what the acronym means but how to do it well.
Update your technology, music taste, celebrity knowledge, etc.
I guarantee you most 50 year-olds have no clue who Justin Bieber and Usher are, think kids admire Lindsay Lohan, have never seen a Harry Potter movie (the last one is due out this summer), have no clue that an eight year-old can get around any computer security device on the planet, don’t take and edit video, and cannot name an X-Box game or define virtual reality.
Brush up people. I am lucky in this regard because I have an 11 year-old and a 15 year-old. I even listen to the Kane Show, watch Jon Stewart and haven’t seen David Lederman in years. Oh that’s right, you’re already in bed.
My final question is for the people who keep saying we should raise the retirement age to save social security. Yes of course we should save it. But if you cannot get a job at 48, how are you possibly going to work until 70? No one will hire you. Maybe it’s time for them to get a reality check too.