Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Middle Aged Woman Seeks Employment

Having failed to secure an interview for a job I would have been really interested in, I'm back to scouring the job ads.

I've been out of the workplace for four years now. My voluntary severance in 2009 coincided with M's transition to high school, something we knew was going to be hard for her, so my being at home for a year was actually really useful. It was never my intention to become a full-time carer; that just happened as her needs became greater and her ability to cope with education diminished. That one year turned into two, three......

Now, though, we are a no-income family, eking out the OH's redundancy pay and permanently at the mercy of IDS, the Witchfinder General of the Coalition, and his latest bout of cruelty. One of us has to find work pretty soon, and the other will have to carry on in the carer role. So far, I've been looking at jobs that I know I can do, in fields where I think my strengths lie - school admin, and public/third sector.

I'm not being greedy or unrealistic. I appreciate that in today's jobs market, my absence from the workplace, together with my advancing years (!), mean I shouldn't expect to go back in at the level I'd reached after 20 years, so I've been looking at jobs I think I have a realistic chance of getting. 

I've had a couple of interviews, both of which have been fairly positive, but worryingly the feedback suggests that I am possibly overqualified/experienced - one comment was "You have a great deal of relevant experience, but much of it at the corporate level." In other words, "You were a manager. Why on earth are you applying for jobs on half your previous salary?". 

What's a woman to do? One politician tells you that you're a Job Snob for not accepting a minimum wage job  you could have done with your eyes shut when you were 18, while another simultaneously tells you that your problem is a lack of entrepreneurial spirit and ambition.

Well, I'm not 'entrepreneurial'. An entrepreneur is that exceptional person with an original idea and the the ability/confidence to risk all to bring it to fruition so we cannot, by definition, all be entrepreneurs. Even if I had an idea for a business/product, try building a business when you're caring for an autistic teenager. To enable her to have the independence she wants in adult life, we have to hover permanently in the background, supporting, advocating, protecting (from a distance). Just about the poorest business model I can think of for a new venture.

What I was, and could be again, was a diligent and conscientious worker; not wildly ambitious (at least not in terms of salary), but happy to do a good job for a decent employer. That seems to be out of fashion, though, especially the 'decent employer' bit. I'd be a great PA - I'm organised, can act on my own initiative, am personable and approachable. I have lots of transferable skills and can turn my hand to most things.

What I can't do, though, because of my particular home circumstances, is devote my every living breath to my employer and sacrifice the needs of my family to my job, which appears to be the subtext to most person specs which specify "flexibility." Regular routine is important to M's wellbeing, which means not having to work odd shifts, weekends, etc, at short notice. My previous career with a local authority allowed for this. A 35 hour week, without overtime or weekend working, with reasonable pay and annual leave entitlement. True, I could probably have earned more in the private sector, but I was happy to settle for less in return for the routine. 

So, it's going to be a challenge. Discrimination legislation notwithstanding, I know my age is against me (although annoyingly, the older I get the further away successive governments move the retirement goalposts). There are plenty of bright young graduates with seemingly worthless degrees fighting for the same jobs, and it feels unfair to be denying them a future when I've already had one crack at the career whip. The saddest thing to come to terms with is that I have peaked - I'm unlikely ever to reach the same salary or position that I worked so hard to achieve in my first 20 years of work. Social mobility has gone rapidly into reverse.

So, if anyone is looking for a diligent, if disillusioned, new employee I'll happily provide you with a CV. Maybe I should take out an ad....?

Educated and articulate woman seeks meaningful employment. Over 20 years' varied experience in public administration, but no experience at all in flogging stuff no-one wants or needs over the phone. Hard worker, but resistant to exploitation, and with challenging home circumstances which may result in regular physical and mental exhaustion.  Used to dealing with challenging situations, so unlikely to be fazed by some 19 year old 'Area Manager' who feels like throwing his weight around.