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...
Chuck Jordan, 56, was retired and looked forward to living the good life after 28 years as a federal sales rep for a communications company based in California. But as the economy slowed and his 401(k) shrank, Jordan, who lives near Sacramento, began to get nervous.
After a five-month sabbatical an opportunity for a high-level sales position at Northrop-Grumman opened up, and Jordan went back to the workforce.
After only a year, however, he says he was back to Square One, as the entire division for which he worked closed. More than 700 people lost their jobs that day, Jordan recalled, including him.
“I liked what I was doing, and it was such a shock to think, ‘Oh, well, I’m back in the job market again,’ ” Jordan said. “I didn’t want to make a career change –and there wasn’t ever a question of whether or not I wanted to get back into the job market. I had to do it because of my inability to continue to live comfortably on my retirement funds.”
Making the pitch
Jordan’s first instinct, as with many job seekers, was to blanket the known universe with resumes and cover letters and hope that sheer quantity would sway the odds in his favor.
“If you looked through my e-mail, there are probably over a hundred different versions of my resume and cover letter that I modified slightly to align with various requirements of jobs I applied for,” he said.
Jordan signed up for “all the different job-search sites,” scanned local newspapers and magazines and networked furiously in attempts to land a position. One incident, however, offered him an astounding perspective and permanently changed the way he went about his job search.
“I’d applied for a job I found in the paper with a solar-energy products-manufacturing company, and I realized one day when I was out that I was right around the corner from the address. I decided to stop by,” he said. It wasn’t a field in which he was interested or experienced, but it was a job, Jordan said. What he found was a nearly empty office space and a lone receptionist.
He explained his situation and asked if he could get some additional information about the job, the benefits and salary. The receptionist informed him that the company had received more than 300 applications for the position, and that only $35,000 had been budgeted for the position.
“That was really sobering to me,” Jordan said. “A job that wasn’t that great, with lousy pay, and they had over 300 applications.”
But that experience was a blessing in disguise, he added. He realized that it made more sense to rein in his search and hone in on specific markets and companies with which he knew his skills and experience aligned.
“You’d think that it would make more sense to apply for anything at all you could possibly do, but in reality, if you don’t differentiate yourself in some way, one of those other people will get a job and you won’t,” Jordan said.
Deal or no deal?
As a sales representative with a career focused on the government market, Jordan says he’d been under pressure most of his working life to move to the East Coast. But he was adamant that he could do what he loved and stay where he was.
For more than a year, Jordan was employed at a number of companies in California. His first position was with a company that did work for the State of California itself, where he was assured he’d be the only salesperson working with the state. When he started work, he realized they’d left out some crucial information.
“It was a big culture shock,” said Jordan, who’d worked much of his career in business casual environments or from a virtual home office. And, he said, he discovered that far from being the head salesperson at the firm, he’d been hired to handle overflow work from an existing employee. Needless to say, it wasn’t a fit.
“I thought, ‘OK, I work in a cube, I have to wear a tie, and I’m a second-hand salesperson!’ I realized shortly that it just wasn’t gratifying,” he said. After moving to another position, he encountered similar issues.
“My next company hired me and rehired an employee who’d left the company some time earlier. He took over existing accounts in preferable sales territories, and I was given new accounts who’d never worked with the company before,” Jordan said.
To make matters worse, the company appeared on a federal non-approved vendor list because it had entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a few years earlier, so most of Jordan’s efforts were futile.
“I had new territory with skeptical, hard-to-sell customers that weren’t allowed to buy from me,” he said.
Closing the sale
After 13 months, Jordan signed up for SalesLadder. Out of all the job-search engines he used, he said, TheLadders was the most effective, since it allowed him to fine-tune his search and weeded out positions and companies that didn’t fit his criteria.
“It did a lot of the qualifying and handled the elimination process for me,” he said. “What was taking me ten hours a day was made so much simpler.”
His refusal to give up or to give in paid off, when Jordan landed a position as senior account manager/consultant with Valencia, Calif.-based Nexus IS, which works on many federal government contracts. After only four days on the job, Jordan said he’s happy about the choices he made and feels he’ll be content and successful in his new role.
While his base salary isn’t as high as it was in previous jobs, Jordan’s not complaining. He said he understand that base pay rates have declined because of the economy, and adds that he has no salary cap in his new position, so his total earnings are up to him.
Jordan said the key to surviving and thriving was tenacity and a positive attitude, and he hopes other job seekers like himself will take his advice to heart.
“Once you realize that complaining and moaning aren’t going to help, you just have to stick with it and never give up,” Jordan said. “Once you get past that, fighting depression and suppressing the urge to just give up is the hardest part.”