Don’t Be a Jane-of-all-Trades

Dear J.T. & Dale: I’m a 52-year-old female desperately looking for employment. Until a reorganization, I worked as an administrative assistant at a major company, with a salary of nearly $40K. In addition to applying for just about every administrative position advertised, I’ve applied to several placement agencies and lowered my salary requirements to the $28K range. Although employers can’t tell me that I’m too old, I suspect that may be one of the reasons. Advice? - Keri

J.T.: I read your e-mail and my first thought was, “You might be casting your net too wide.”

Dale: My first thought was, “Time for a reminder that ‘Hiring IS discrimination,’” which turns out to be related to casting too wide a net. Sure, there are narrow-minded morons who think older workers can’t keep up. But there are many more hiring managers who worry that older workers are overpaid and/or inflexible. Such managers choose to hire energetic rookies and hope for the best. Meanwhile, Keri, you’ve dramatically lowered your salary expectations, which would seem to be a solution, but actually isn’t. I checked and discovered that senior administrative assistants in your market average about $41K per year, with junior-level assistants averaging about $34K per year. So your new, lower salary requirement is below that of the average junior person. A hiring manager is going to wonder why … and that leads to the silent but deadly question “What’s wrong with her?”

J.T.: So, while it can feel like age discrimination, it’s probably more an issue of not having branded yourself. Don’t try to be a “Jane-of-all-trades” - instead, roll your strengths, experience and interest into a unique package that employers can see fitting into a specific role.

Dale: That way, you don’t have to be shy about asking for a decent salary - you make it clear that you aren’t just begging for any old job, but you have skills that make you worth your salary, and then some.

J.T.: You accomplish that by focusing on those industries/fields where you have knowledge and experience. You’ve worked with a lot of people through the years, and don’t be shy about reaching out to former managers and co-workers and asking them to refer you to hiring managers. If all goes well, they will presell you, and you’ll find a new manager who appreciates your skills, the kind who works to make sure that you love your job

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