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I went for a job interview recently that was quite illuminating. Although I had applied for a plethora of positions in my field, it was rare to get a bite. It's not that I lack experience, it's just that as a woman in her 50s, I am part of an invisible demographic. They don't know what to do with us.
Look around next time you are at your bank, your gym, your local coffee spot. They won't even let us serve coffee! It is a sea of fresh-faced, eager, young millennials. So when I applied for a marketing position with an up-and-coming digital marketing firm in downtown Toronto, imagine my surprise when I was booked for an interview. I had somehow managed to slip by the "bots" that launch red flags on a résumé that dates back before 1990. (Was it the term "word processor" that gave it away?)
When I arrived for my interview, I shared the creaky loft elevator with a gaggle of young hipsters. I was sure that I must be in the wrong place. One of them asked me if I was here for the interview and assured me that I was indeed in the right place, as he guided me through the door.
What I arrived in can only be described as a daycare for hyperactive young adults. I was told to wait on a nearby bench, a bench with no back I might add. As I surveyed my surroundings, I noted, there was not one inch of private space. There were Ping-Pong tables, candy stations, a variety of snacks, organic coffees and green smoothies in mason jars. Young staffers whipped by, paddle in hand, ready for a quick game before their next meeting. Was it just me or were they actually wearing roller blades? I couldn't help but wonder when the workplace transitioned into a playground. In my day, we weren't entertained or fed at work. We arrived and worked. Sure, we had some fun, a few jokes here and there, but we were responsible for our own entertainment and nourishment. Apparently, the new workspace is designed so you never want to leave. Why would you?
I noticed a couple of other men sitting on the bench and wondered if they, too, were here for the interview. I didn't have to wonder for long as a young woman wearing high-top sneakers and her baseball cap turned at a jaunty slant approached and asked us to follow her to a table that sat awkwardly in the middle of this fairway. It was then that I saw a curtain suspended from the ceiling, the kind you see in the emergency room at hospitals. She pulled the curtain around for a modicum of privacy and told us to take a seat and feel free to move the Ping-Pong paddles off the table. The table was your basic café table for two, so we sat uncomfortably close. It became clear that we were being interviewed as a group. "Awks," as the kids would text.
She asked us a bit about ourselves, which we answered, competing for the floor as the sounds of a nearby pinball machine chimed. She described a bit about the company, a new digital/app marketing company. The philosophy being, we are all in this together, we work, play and play and play together to reach a common goal. I was already wondering which one of these kids had the rich parent who set them up in this business to shift them out of their basement. The only thing I could imagine myself doing here was sending employees to the corner for timeouts and cutting the crusts off their sandwiches. I was just too old for this.
When our gum-smacking interviewer mentioned that a large part of the senior marketing position involved spending evenings canvassing door to door to promote the product, I felt my co-interviewees' thighs seize up. I was the first one to throw in the towel, telling her I was not interested in door-to-door sales and thought it best I just skate on out of there. The other two guys agreed that this wasn't their thing either. She took it well, no biggie, and flung the curtain open to release us. I had the distinct feeling that she had been through this process many times. We all beat a hasty retreat out of there.
When I entered the job market way back when, I learned from my peers, my mentors, those who had been in the business and had garnered experience and respect in their field. That was how I shaped my career. But things have changed. I imagine it has a lot to do with the rise of the digital space that is moving at such a rapid pace. It changes all the rules on employment hierarchy.
We raised our kids to believe they could do anything, be anything and, by God, they actually listened and did it! They not only rose to the occasion, they changed the playbook, which is now housed in clouds and cyberspace.
It's a young person's game and they are holding the keys to the crib. So what does a fiftysomething invisible woman do?
We are still here and, yes, we would like a place in the sandbox. Sure, I can learn to tweet, gram, post, chat and swipe as good as the next guy, but it isn't where my value is best placed. Surely, there must be a middle ground because frankly, I'm not ready to take my toys and go home. Somewhere, we can merge knowledge and experience with technology and invention. Until then, our invisible demographic will be forced to reinvent ourselves, forge our own path or continue to cut the crusts off the millennial sandwich.
Vickie Fagan lives in Toronto.