For many people in this country, 65 is a magic birthday – the beginning of retirement and receiving the one thing the U.S. government has ever given us that I’ve viewed as a true benefit – Medicare. But in the business world, that age has apparently made me Mr. Irrelevant (the title given to the NFL’s last person picked in the draft.). And frankly, it’s just wrong.
In 2006 I launched my own public relations agency, Pitchnoise. After 15 years as a reporter and radio talk show host, I ran communications for nine global industry units for a Fortune 100 company and needed to get off the plane. Then I was the head of marketing for a Detroit area law firm that split after two failed merger targets walked away at the last minute. I decided the only way I’d have the time to watch my kids grow up was to start my own agency. It worked, and I will never regret it. In the past 17 years, I’ve worked with tech, professional services and education entities, political candidates, churches and more non-profits than I can remember. But suddenly, in this golden year of 65, that experience means nothing to those hiring full, part-time and remote workers in 2023.
At this stage of my career, I’m not retiring. I’m not disappearing and I think I’m as sharp as I was 30 years ago, only smarter — because of the great clients I’ve worked with. But I didn’t want the stress of an agency anymore and moved into the communications and marketing consultant world. Unfortunately, something happened in this country a few years ago, which has stalled that endeavor.
Despite the fact I’m a military veteran (which used to mean something), have over 20 years of marketing and public relations experience, write for national publications, and have served well over 200 clients since I started my agency – I’ve become a vocational dinosaur according to HR departments across the country. My friends tell me not to mention how much experience I have because the HR people will brush my resume aside. This, unfortunately, is a national trend.
I’d be in client meetings with millennials who would condescendingly and out loud say things like, “Okay, Boomer,” after I made an observation. Major players in several industries also started (illegally) sweeping anyone over 50 out of their offices with buyouts and false paper trails. To them, we’re both expensive, viewed as out of touch and a stress on their company medical plans.
A 20-something insurance broker at my house a couple of months ago praised me for my ability to fill out online forms and find web addresses independently. She said, “Most of my clients can’t do this.” My god. These people don’t know that I set up, monitor and develop client strategies for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and even Tik Tok. I can even post my own stuff without help from Gen Z!!
A guy I know in his 30s, whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, approached me the other day at an event and asked me if I still had my PR agency. I said yes, and he said, “Well, we lost our communications director a few weeks ago and were wondering if you knew anyone YOUNGER we could interview.” I knew this guy well enough to know that using the term YOUNGER meant his perception was he couldn’t afford me. I just walked away. Recently I was having coffee with a friend of mine, a media general manager two years older than me, and he told me he had been approached by a headhunter in his own company looking for a GM in another, bigger town. He asked the headhunter, “What about me?” The guy started laughing and said, “No, not you.” My friend knew what that meant.
I’ve known John Anderson in Grand Rapids for many years. He has turned his retirement into making sure those of us who are nearing retirement age don’t forget our value. His Replace Retirement book and website encourage those of retirement age not to spend the remaining years doing nothing more than working on their golf short game. Now we need a book to tell companies the same thing. My word, we have the potential of two people in their 80s running against each other for President next year. Why is a 65-year-old viewed as irrelevant?
I read headlines daily about companies that can’t find workers, but I’ve gone after at least 50 part-time, full-time and/or remote jobs this summer and have received two “we’ve moved to the next level and you’re not going” emails and nothing else. I know the problem. I’m competing with recent college grads who will gladly take a full-time job for $40,000 or $20 an hour because they don’t have kids or bills and might be living at home. This shouldn’t be a competition. Experience used to matter to companies. But now it’s a fluorescent banner telling HR you’re too old and expensive. I’m neither. I just want to keep working.