‘You feel your usefulness has passed’

Michael O’Reilly talks to www.workingwise.co.uk about his struggles to get back into regular employment after working on a freelance basis and encountering ageism in the workplace.

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Michael O’Reilly has decades of experience working in investment banking, starting as a programmer and moving up to global management positions. Over a decade ago he was working at a major European bank which was subject to new management and a restructure. He took redundancy and was aiming to take a break for six months. He had been working ridiculously long hours as a global manager, across all time zones and he felt drained. However, he was immediately contacted for interim and contracting work. 

So the next few years were spent working on his own contracting business. He would often stay at a place for several years in an interim role. Around three years ago, the work was getting less frequent and he started to look for employed work. However, he has found the search for decent work challenging, whether that is in financial services or in charities, and he believes his age – he is now 60 – is a big factor.

Although he doesn’t put his age or date of birth on his cv and has taken off some of his work history as well as any education or training information to disguise his age, he says it makes little difference when it comes to interviews. He has been told by a recruitment consultant that employers don’t take older workers seriously and are looking for ‘new blood’.  One agent told him that an employer was keen to talk to him until they realised his age, commenting that it would be too much trouble to put him on their pension system. “I was furious about that,” says Michael. He doesn’t think employers will admit this, however.

Giving back

Michael doesn’t care about his pension and is not bothered if he has to work a few levels below what he previously did. “I still have a lot to offer. I have worked at a very senior level and earned ridiculous amounts of money, but I am not career building. I want to learn and give something back based on my experience,” he says.

Michael adds that it can be hard to prove ageism as no employer will admit it, but he often feels in interview situations that interviewers are looking for reasons not to hire him. He has challenged employers about age diversity and set up the Age Diversity Network to help others affected by ageism as he feels so passionately about the subject. Through the network he talks to employers and signposts people to help such as cv writing services and he has written blogs and articles about age diversity and created a podcast. 

But he says most employers are not listening. He adds that the impact of continuously hitting your head against a brick wall on jobs is debilitating. “You feel your usefulness has passed,” he says. 

There are many aspects of the recruitment process that he feels need to be changed – one of them is the requirement for a degree or specific qualifications for every job, even when you have decades of experience doing them. For instance, he has been a project manager for years, leading major projects, but he doesn’t have a degree given it was not so common to go to university when he left school as it is now. He was told he had to have a degree to get a project management qualification. Without the qualification he is ruled out of many jobs which he could easily do. 

Michael adds that he doesn’t want to retrain as he feels that might make it even harder for him to get back into a role where he can draw on his experience. So he continues his job search. He gets interviews, but says that he “comes in second a lot”. He is determined to find something that uses his considerable knowledge and experience and feels he has another seven to 10 years to give. “I just want to work,” he says.



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