One of the things I was most surprised by when I got into the jobs business over a decade ago was the prevalence and practice of age discrimination in hiring right here in the USA. Oh, sure... we're not like some overseas markets where job ads explicitly demand youth, or a particular gender, or beauty(!), in the applicant, but there it is...
When Robin Rothrock was laid off from her position as market-research director in February 2008, she did something unusual: She did nothing for 30 days.
Rothrock, who is in her early 50s, said the layoffs were a complete shock after six years with BioInformatics, a boutique market-research and consulting firm for the life-sciences industry.
“I know others who’ve been laid off probably don’t have the luxury of doing what I did,” Rothrock said. “But I knew that after such a shock, any job search or any new position I would take wouldn’t be coming from the right place, and I didn’t want to jump into something ‘on the rebound,’ so to speak.”
After a month of soul-searching and relaxing, Rothrock felt her head and heart were in the right places, and she was ready to get her job search in gear.
“Once I had time to let it sink in and deal with it, I decided that my job was to find a new job,” she said.
The art and science of self-marketing
Rothrock started by tapping an existing network of colleagues, recruiters and friends and was able to secure a few interviews. But after being “off the market” for so long, she said, she made some mistakes.
“I had a couple interviews that didn’t go well, but I was able to figure out why they didn’t go well,” Rothrock said. “Because of that, I saw them as learning experiences.”
As a market-research professional, Rothrock knew she had to revamp her image to make a stunning impression on potential employers. To do that, Rothrock had to rewrite her resume and play up her experience and industry knowledge.
“I’d been using the same resume template and format for many years, but I was now in a different place in my professional life,” she said. A friend suggested she sign up for TheLadders; she became a member of UpLadder and signed up for a resume rewrite.
“TheLadders.com was incredibly helpful,” she said. “They were the only online search site I used, and they really helped me to ‘repackage my personal product,’ so to speak.”
While checking out career advice on TheLadders, Rothrock stumbled across an article that caught her eye. One international businessman noted that for many companies looking to hire, age can be a detriment. Rothrock was stunned.
“That was the first time I’d ever thought about the fact that my age might work against me instead of my experience being an asset,” she said. Reading articles like the one she found helped her turn what may have been a potential negative into a positive in interviews and gave her a substantial edge.
“Companies want to know, if you’re a certain age, will you have health-care issues? Are you really rigid and set in your ways after so many years in the workforce, or are you able to be flexible and open-minded?”
The extensive search capabilities were also helpful, said Rothrock, a native of Bethesda, Md., who did not want to relocate.
“My preference was to stay in this area, since I’d been here all my life,” she said. In addition to restricting her geographic search, she was able to search by function, by industry and by vertical market, she said. But even as her search narrowed, her horizons broadened.
“While I was focused on market research, I also included communications and the life science space,” she said. “It allowed me to broaden my search and explore paths that I didn’t end up taking, but were helpful just the same.”
Two months after being laid off, Rothrock found a listing for a position that seemed made for her. At her previous position, Rothrock said, a limited customer base and cash-flow issues prevented her from moving upward, but the listing indicated that she would be able to build on skills she already had and expand from strategic to a more tactical marketing approach.
“This was a little bit of luck, but really, this was the right position for me, and I knew it,” she said. “The name of the organization was blanked out, but when I saw the description, I just knew it was perfect.”
A new beginning
That company, The American Type Culture Collection of Manassas, Va., began interviewing Rothrock in April 2008. On June 16, she started as a business unit brand director at ATCC, a nonprofit biological resource center and research organization that “provides biological products, technical services and educational programs to private industry, government and academic organizations,” according to a company profile. Since then, she’s made a lateral move within the company to director of product line strategy.
Rothrock said she truly believes that her layoff happened at exactly the right time, and that she’s much happier where she is now.
“Certainly everything that I learned in my previous jobs about research, about industry awareness, was preparing me well for this new position,” she said. “While it was a shock to be laid off at the time, looking back, it was time for me to go.”