Q: I'm a 58-year-old executive assistant who lost her job due to layoffs and can't find a new job. I know that it's all about age discrimination. I feel that nobody wants an older executive assistant. Your realistic thoughts, please. - Mary
Dale: We get so many letters related to age discrimination that we feel we should deal with the subject every couple of months. Yet, I hate to do it, because readers get outraged that instead of just moaning about it, we want people to outwork discrimination. You may have heard the expression "black tax," which suggests that people of color have to work harder to be thought competent and get ahead. Well, there's a "gray tax," too. You pay up by working even harder on the job search.
Kate: But you don't just send more resumes and answer more ads. In your case, Mary, you need to join associations that have to do with your field. (Ask to attend as a guest before you commit to joining.) And put your experience to work by contacting all the local firms in those industries in which you've worked. They're more likely to appreciate your knowledge. Your goal isn't just to submit resumes in response to ads, but to hear about job openings before they get advertised.
Dale: In other words, stop standing in line with younger (and probably cheaper) workers, and start using your hard-won wisdom to find openings before the competition does.
Q: My daughter attends college and should graduate next year. She works part time at a restaurant, but I think she should try for a job that helps her prepare for a career. Any words of wisdom I can pass on? - Emily
Dale: Kate and I both believe in higher education for its own sake, so we advise both parents and students not to be too concerned about an undergraduate major. We feel, for instance, that a degree in history is as useful as one in communications or marketing. That said, there are students who leave college with a degree, and those who leave college with something more - a head start on a career.
Kate: When you are very young, employers just want to see that you have worked somewhere. They don't want to be the first one to teach you how to dress for work, come in on time, not squabble with co-workers as if they were siblings and not give your boss a hard time as if she were your mother. But, by the time you're in college, it's time to start exploring career fields. Sometimes you find your passion, and sometimes your passion finds you. I worked five part-time jobs before I got into computer programming, which I discovered I loved and subsequently worked in after college. Not only did I find a career to pursue, but my part-time programming work in college gave me a competitive advantage when it came time to start a career. Your daughter needs to face up to the fact that she'll be competing with thousands of graduates with the same degree, and probably the same type of schooling.
Dale: Here's an example: A friend of the family is a college student who spent last summer working as an intern for a large retail chain. He got assigned to help with an employee-retention study. He stayed on, working part time during school, and now has been offered a great job in the company's human-resources department when he graduates this May. He had never wanted to work in retail, or human resources, but by being out in the workplace, he discovered a passion for helping create better workplaces. While his classmates were bragging about the great tips they made working at the local steakhouse, he was getting tips of another kind: about building a career. He and his college buddies will all get the same degree; he got a lot more education.