Ageism Cartoon

I want to talk about Alfred Powers today. He’s important, even though you don’t know boo about him.

Alfred sent me this note last week in response to a post I wrote about “what recruiters DON’T like to see in a resume:”

I’m old, probably too old to get another agency assignment, but I still have my style. Be succinct, that’s my style.   One page is enough, unless you’re over 80, and I am….I’m not kidding…

He told the truth, the whole truth and nothin’ but the truth in his cover and resume, starting his story in the 1950’s and ending in the present day. His brutal honesty resulted in a one-page resume that highlighted his endeavors and failures without focusing at all on his accomplishments.  In other words, his resume bombed, but the absurdity of it is what makes it one of the most interesting ones I’ve ever seen.

Alfred, who turns 81 this month, fought in Korea for a war I have only read about. He says he’s the first guy to invent the leather sneaker, which was priced too high at $15 when introduced to the world.  He spent some years copywriting in the ad agency world, but left in his 30’s because he knew he didn’t want to climb the corporate ladder and that he would age out after 40.  He is an actor who still appears in television commercials but matter-of-factly states that his appearances have dried up, as he believes he’s past the senior citizen age.

He’s a copywriter and looking for agencies/clients to hire him on a consulting basis to craft their messaging.  This is an 81-year-old man who found my blog on and sent me his resume electronically in a .pdf format. How many folks his age do you know cruisin’ the blogosphere and creating .pdfs? Clearly this man’s got his wits about him.

Some companies are open to hiring aging professionals for executive positions but no one is willing to do so for the junior jobs, like copywriters. So, what happens to the guy who doesn’t have any interest in climbing the corporate ladder?  What happens to the life-lover who wants to earn enough money to live comfortably but doesn’t dedicate his entire existence to serving “the man?” 

We do have the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which the government passed in 1967, to specifically protect individuals age 40+ from ageism in the workforce. Unfortunately, I don’t really see this being enforced.  I can’t tell you how many times, as a recruiter, clients tell me that they want a rising star, a young go-getter. Even when they want experience for any given job, they don’t want to see anyone older than 40 or 45. (By the way, since I turned 40 this year, this fact depresses me quite a bit.)

I can think of a few reasons why people don’t like to hire middle-aged folks and even old ones, like Alfred.  For one, it can be uncomfortable for a 30-something year old manager to tell a 65 year old what to do. (My response to this – “get over it!”) Two: older people are set in their ways and can be overly stubborn if they don’t agree with you.  (So can young, know-it-alls.) Three, if you are in a high-tech situation, older folks are slower to adapt. (This really doesn’t matter much for low-tech jobs.)

Now, what possible BENEFITS could there be to hiring someone older?  Older workers tend to be respectful of their jobs and hard working.  They are punctual and attentive to deadlines.  Older folks don’t have small kids to get home to or school plays to attend.  They can put in the hours you need. Older people have experience and a historical framework to tap into which can be extremely beneficial.  And, they are interested in doing the job they were hired to do, not take yours.

The fact is, we have no “affirmative action” for old people and, although there’s a law, nobody follows it.  By 2015, the number of employees over 55 will reach a record of 31.9MM compared to 18.4MM at the turn of the millennium (source:  What the heck are all these folks going to do if they can’t keep their jobs or get new ones? Can’t we give the Alfred’s of the world a second, or even third chance?

Carpe diem…


  • tangocreative
    June 12, 2009

    Jane you deserve a round of applause! I really enjoyed your latest post and perspective on how viable talent is being discarded and/or ignored. Yes, ageism is “hard at work” in the current economy. I know former co-workers who are opting to drop their MBAs to “compete” with those who are “less expensive.” Very disappointing all the way around.

  • Powers in LA
    November 29, 2010

    Oops. My previous reply, “if I were that age today, I might get hired” was a tedious stretch and not amusing.
    How about “Happy Holidays” instead?
    Alf P.

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