Dear JT & Dale: I’m in my 50s and have owned my own business for 20 years. The business has been hit hard by the pandemic, and I’m exhausted. We survived, but I don’t think I can anymore and my retirement savings are wiped out. I started looking for full-time positions, but absolutely no one calls me. I guess it’s age discrimination. What should I do to defend myself? —Ken
JT: While I never deny the existence of age discrimination, I really don’t think that’s the case here. What scares companies is your 20 years of owning your own business. Having worked with many recruiters, they often worry that former business owners are difficult. It is often assumed that a person becomes a business owner because they are not comfortable working for someone else.
VALLEY: OK. Hiring managers are likely to assume the worst, which means they’ll assume it’s in your nature to give orders and take authority. It’s like that old line about cats, how they never forgot they were once worshiped as gods. Companies don’t want cats; they want labradors, maybe bulldogs or dobermans.
JT: What to do? Applying online is a waste of time. You need to do some strategic private networking. You must be able to tell why you are looking to work for someone else. And you can’t just say it’s because your savings are wiped out. There has to be more than that because they’ll be afraid to train you, you’ll save money, and then you’ll walk away on your own.
VALLEY: To the right. It should be a “pull”, not a “push”. In other words, you must explain that you have not failed as an entrepreneur, but rather that you have realized how much you aspire to be part of a team. Explain how you came to understand that you need the resources and camaraderie of a large organization. And you prove it in an interview by being curious – be ready to learn, not brag.
Dear JT & Dale: I was called by a recruiter about what sounded like a dream job. I was all excited, then he told me the name of the company, and my heart sank. They’ve been through bad lawsuits and have a reputation for having a horrible corporate culture. That said, I know there’s been some turnover in the executive suite, and the recruiter said they’re trying to smooth things over, and that’s why they’re hiring. What do you think? Should I even bother? I definitely don’t want to work in a toxic bro culture, that’s what it was all about. — Eva
VALLEY: It’s good that they try to change…or say they are. You are right to be skeptical. I’d love to read all you can about the new executives they’ve recruited. If it sounds promising, and given that it’s a “dream job”, why not talk to them? But remember this: each department has its own micro-culture. You don’t just want to know that some new leaders are enlightened; no, you want to know if your new boss is one of the best, the one who will help you grow and prosper.
JT: Yes, pass the interview. You won’t know if things have changed unless you go talk to the people currently working there. The fact that their problems are public tells me that they understand them and deal with them. I would ask to speak to some of the employees who remained, as well as some of the new employees. It’s unfortunate that a toxic culture has ruined them a bit, but an established business can bounce back. If you receive an offer, you can always say no; but if you don’t go and the company gets a makeover, you’ll always regret not going to see them. I hope they learned their lesson and are now hiring people like you to make things better.
Jeanine “JT” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and founder of the leading career site www.workitdaily.com. Dale Dauten is the founder of The Innovators’ Lab and the author of an HR novel, “The Weary Optimist”. Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can email questions, or write to them c/o King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2022 by King Features Syndicate Inc.