Diary of an older jobseeker

Stephen Burge starts a regular column on his attempts to find a job in the UK after several years of living abroad.


When I learned a few weeks ago that my current contract will come to an end this month, I was only slightly concerned as I have tremendous experience in management, sales, account management, food service, hospitality and many other industries. Surely this would allow me to secure a new position without too much difficulty, I reasoned. How wrong I was.

The experience as an over-60 looking for a new job has so far been challenging, to say the least, and the level of rejection at the first stage is beyond anything I have experienced before.

To date, the statistics are grim reading. I have completed over 120 applications, and I have received nearly 90 rejections (some within 48 hours), and some of my applications have received no reply or response at all. For balance, it is true that I have had seven interviews, but I did not envisage or anticipate how ageist the UK job market had become or how hard it would be to get work.

Of course, I don’t expect to be greeted as a conquering hero riding in to save a company’s falling sales or unworkable business development plan, but I am being rejected for even the most basic sales jobs, although I have been a sales manager and account manager.

In some cases, I am getting very obvious AI-driven responses, I guess because I have not ticked all the boxes and maybe the system decides that I am overqualified. But more and more, I am becoming firmly of the opinion that as soon as they see my age, the system or the recruiter says: “He’s not for us.”

In interviews, I have also experienced eyebrows being raised when I walk in the room. Now I am no Brad Pitt, nor do I possess the fashion sense of David Beckham, but I am smart, clean and very presentable, so what would make them feel immediately that I was wasting their time?

I don’t have a degree, but I have a degree equivalent qualification in engineering maintenance, so I’m really struggling to find any other explanation other than age. I have used Google and YouTube, as well as a free review from one of the large job sites, to tweak my CV and cover letter.

I suspect that many modern-day employers simply see a newly acquired degree as more valuable than years of industry experience.

So, what does this mean for me?

Well, I am ok financially until January or February, but things will get a little sticky from then on. Governments over the years have embarked on a strategy of extending people’s working lives by pushing the retirement age up, and there is further talk of yet another extension, seemingly based on the fact that we are living longer and that the state pension is becoming a burden to the Treasury.

But if they want the over-60s to be working longer, there have to be initiatives or incentives for employers, and governments need to work with UK employers to significantly change how they view older workers and change the thinking on how they can utilise the experience older employees bring to the workplace as well as their fantastic skill sets and build jobs that older people can benefit from.

Older people bring so much in terms of experience, including more empathy and understanding as they have been through a greater number of life experiences. Employers could be getting much more from their workforce if they valued them more in later life and used them for training, experience mentoring, and, in some cases, counselling for those young people who need a shoulder to lean on in their working environment.

My story

So, there is always a story behind how someone like me ends up on the job market at over 60, and briefly, this is mine.

When I was 53, I went through a relationship break-up and decided to have one last adventure. I took a career break, and much to the amusement of my children, I purchased a backpack, bought a one-way ticket to India and worked my way through India for three months before travelling for 10 months around Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and China.

I met fantastic people and learned a huge amount about cultures, food and people’s way of life. I saw tragedy and poverty as well as wonderful, heartwarming moments and was touched by some of the poorest people on the planet. I loved every moment, even the uncomfortable night buses.

So, the savings ran out, but I was not quite ready to return to the UK, and with my children’s blessing, I threw my CV out despite my age!

Within two weeks of posting my CV, I was offered several roles and settled in Thailand as a sales manager for a digital marketing and transport software company. Then I went to a music event and met a man who was opening a music bar. He asked me to be his general manager, and we opened up a chain of bar restaurants with guest rooms, and later I built a mod-themed bar in Phuket from the ground up and helped get Scooters Bars online and with their SEO and
marketing. I returned to the UK last year, working remotely for my Thai employer.

I have not had a traditional career, but I have a lot of skills. If I could just get to talk to people, I feel I could show them what I have to offer. It has been a hard slog so far. The other day, I was contacted by an agency offering me a trainee call centre role for £18,000.

There is no recognition of anything I have done before, so many companies are missing out on the experience and level-headed problem-solving that older people bring to the workplace. They are also losing the benefit of people who have a stronger work ethic than some of today’s young employees, and we don’t have a day off for a cold or mild stomach upset.

The thought of complete retirement scares me to a degree, and I cannot imagine a day when I am doing nothing. I want to work, but it’s not going to be easy as an over 60 in today’s United Kingdom.

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