(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,
I worked for what I thought was a pretty good guy. He actually hired me. I had the job I always wanted in the industry that I loved. I managed a staff of 5 very talented individuals. Then one day, the tables turned. He was removed from one VP role he was serving in and was now spending 100 percent of his time as VP of my department and function. He began to play me and my employees off of each other. He drove a wedge between them and me. He treated me like a rented mule, put me on a performance improvement plan for what he called a "lack of leadership", and eventually eliminated my position. This took about a year in all. I can't say I didn't see this all coming. He was a VP with only 2 direct reports, and I had 5 as a director. He did everything "by the book" in terms of documenting why he canned me.
My problem is that I was a good manager. I led a team that reinvented the branding and marketing output of the company and elevated the company in the industry. We were extremely successful and had a great thing going. I am 57 years old and I am afraid that I am now unemployable, and have a difficult time trying to "spin" my situation to a prospective employer, when I know I was hosed. I guess I just want your insight. I'm sure this stuff happens all the time.
Your problem is not that you were a good manager, but that you are a good manager -- you just don't have a team to manage right now. Sometimes when we're treated poorly, we start to see ourselves in the terms of our tormenter rather than in reality. This perception problem can be devastating and shows through in interviews and networking.
Now, before I get all warm and fuzzy, let's deal with the harsh realities. The economy is not in great shape right now. And with a major presidential election, I'm hearing from hiring managers that they are holding off on any hiring decisions until after November's election when they'll have (they hope) a clearer idea of how things are going to go. Additionally, my experience is that age discrimination is rampant -- on both ends. Both the over 50 crowd and the under 25 crowd are finding it extremely difficult to land jobs. The former are super experienced, but want money that reflects that experience and the latter have no experience and companies aren't interested in training them right now.
Then add to both groups all the stereotypes that come with being of a certain age (Too old to change, too expensive, won't work for a younger boss, or, conversely, slackers who need constant supervision, internet blocks and praise for tying their shoes correctly.) This all means that even though the stereotypes aren't true for you, you have to fight against them.
Here are six things you can do to aid your job search.
Get out of the internet black hole. It is so easy to sit at your computer and fill out job applications. It is also so easy for those to be ignored by the companies. When job searchers focus on online applications, it starts to seem so fruitless because you work, work, work at applying and never hear anything back. This can add to the depression and despair that can come with being unemployed. Which, in turn, makes it more difficult to present yourself as you truly are, should you happen to land a job interview.
You loved your industry? Reach out to your industry contacts. At 57 you've worked with a lot of people. They have moved around: I guarantee it. Get onto LinkedIn and find these people. Let them know you are looking for a job. Ask what problems they are currently facing. Ask to come in and present a solution. Scary? You bet. But, remember, these people know what kind of person you are. Their perception hasn't been tainted by the vicious VP who tried to destroy you.
Cut 15 years off your resume. No matter how good your ideas are, or how flexible you are, when someone gets a copy of your resume and sees your job as a research assistant in 1975, that date is going straight to their subconscious. And while they would swear on a stack of bibles (or other religious or non-religious text of their choosing) that they would never, not in a million years, discriminate on the basis of age, they'll see the rest of your resume through the "old person" lens. Besides, no one cares what you did 30 years ago anyway.
Reach out to your former direct reports. The ones from your last job are not the best contacts at the moment (give them some time to realize the VP is a jerk), but from previous jobs. If you are a good manager, they will know that. And, honestly, they may still want to work for you. I have two bosses, in particular, that I would love to work for again. And if I could help bring them on board, I'd do it in a heartbeat.
Focus on your accomplishments rather than failures. Since you've been a successful director in the past, you resume needs to reflect that. Show what you've accomplished rather than what your tasks were. Active words -- developed, built, reduced, expanded -- are all helpful in showing your record of success.
Update your appearance. I wish I could say that no one cares what you look like: They only care if you can do the job. But, I can't. If your clothing screams "Grandma!" update it. If your hairdo needs freshening, freshen it. If you need to lose weight, there's no better time than the present. Don't try to dress and act like a 22 year old. That will make you look ridiculous. But, don't discount the very real benefit of looking your best.
Job hunting isn't easy for anyone, no matter what their age. Don't let your last boss get you down. You're smart and capable and can bring good things to whatever company that hires you. Make sure that shows through in your resume, cover letter and interviews.
Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.