My First Interview – Unintended Ageism
Spoiler alert! I did not get the job.
I want to share the very first face to face interview I have had since my layoff and my first encounter with ageism. I was interested in the job because it called for skills and experience selling on eBay and Amazon. In the last several years I have sold quite a bit of merchandise on eBay and Amazon, so I was excited to see the job. The short job description wanted customer service experience, and “required” two years experience selling on eBay and Amazon. Pretty cool huh! What a great job this would have been.
First Interview – Fairly typical.
On the day of the first interview I met with the office manager and the support manager for the company. The company ran several businesses on line, and what they needed was a customer service person to take over some stores and interact with customers. Really a piece of cake for me and so much fun to do! I love working with customers of online stores and coming up with the product entries.
My initial interview with the support manager went well. I was able to answer her questions and we talked back and forth about online stores. We also discussed a bit about what the company did. The Support Manager was about my age, so we had a lot in common considering the number of years we had been doing support.
When I met the Office Manager however, he was probably about 30 years younger than I was. He was very nice and we exchanged the usual pleasantries. He asked me questions about my experience, then some questions about my online businesses for about 30 minutes. When he was satisfied I was offered me a tour of the business which I accepted. When we were done I was asked back for a second interview, and I was hopeful about the job.
Second Interview – Not quite so typical…
The second interview was given by the business owner who was probably in his middle thirties, and made the final decision. This meeting was a little more interesting and started with him calling me by the wrong name. Showing me his products that were scattered all over the office in piles, he indicated that he was desperate to have someone get them listed and sold.
Waving a hand around the room, and picking up one or two pieces, he explained how important it was that the person he chose be able to come up to speed quickly. Reiterating this requirement several times, he said he did not have time to train someone. As the interview progressed, we discussed the businesses I had owned, what products I had sold, and how they had fared. Chatting about his business and mine, we started to feel fairly comfortable. We talked about online businesses and the importance of keeping those customers happy for quite a while.
The interview got a little weird.
Feeling comfortable, and chatting away, he explain to me, how he had always hired young people straight out of college. He complained about what drama queens they were. How unreliable they were. How they came in at 11:00 AM everyday and left when they pleased. He felt they did not seem to care about their jobs, and would leave after a year to go start their own stores. I listened and commented as necessary.
He continued chatting easily about how he wanted to talk to at least one “more mature” person because he was tired of all the drama younger people had. “But,” he said, “his office manager was more interested in some of the candidates straight out of college. What can I do?” My stomach sank and I realized these thoughts had probably just slipped out as he was chatting about his business.
Talking about the job, and the people he had hired in the past, he told me he had two more young people to interview that afternoon. Then, strangely, he proceeded to tell me about a young man he had interviewed that morning who was “fantastic”. He said the candidate was everything he wanted for that position, but that he drove a $70,000 car. Why would an intelligent young man like that want with a job that paid so little if he could afford a car like that? He said it was suspicious and he could not figure it out. Then as he continued, he told me he had offered the young man the job and the kid had said he would have to get back to him. Throwing his hands up he was disgruntled by that because he gotten no answer. The young man said he would have to get back to him.
I knew, of course, at this point I was not going to get the job. But none the less he wanted to gave me the test he said he always gave his candidates. Sitting me down behind his desk, he brought up Google on the computer. Then he handed me a black mesh business card holder and said “Find this for me as fast as you can on the internet to purchase.” So I looked at the card holder and typed, “purchase black mesh business card holder”. It came right up on the screen. I looked at him and said, “You want this one?”, and clicked the Google Shopping link. Several of them came up with various pricing and deliveries.
The owner looked a little shocked, and asked me why I had looked for it that way. He said he wanted to know my logic. His younger candidates, he said, usually took three tries to get to it. I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “That is the way I look for everything. I type exactly what I want and usually find it.” The owner mused, that he had not seen anyone get it first try because everyone starts with “black cardholder”. I just looked at him.
He gave me a 24 oz blue Nalgene water bottle and I did the same thing, but failed to get the correct bottle because did not type the size. The bottle that came up was the same but it was 16 oz. The owner insisted that I would not be able to find the 24 oz size because they no longer made it. It was supposed to be a trick question he said. I changed the descriptor to 24 oz anyway and it came right up. It was $16.00 and it could be purchased new.
After the test we said goodbye, and he said he would let me know by Friday about the job. I already knew. He had made that clear already even though I don’t think he meant to.
My first interview introduced me to ageism first hand, and what I am up against in looking for a job. I honestly don’t believe this business owner knew that he was being discriminatory. He was interviewing me with a bias, because he believed that I was too old to understand his business. He felt that I would not be able to quickly learn how to set up e-stores for his products even though I had shown him I could. He was afraid that I did not understand how to use the internet even though I could easily find his test subjects. In his mind I was not suitable. He had that opinion before I walked in the door. And as studies have proven, I was not going to be able to change it.
Luckily, not all business owners and recruiters are like this man; so I will not give up. I was not angry with him, he was very nice, personable man who had built his business from nothing. But I was struck by how I was not given a true interview, because he had not entered it open minded or age blind. He had just wanted to say to himself that he had looked at a more mature person and found them not capable. I just have to be able to accept it, chalk it up to experience interviewing, and move on.