Yesterday I found myself on one side of the desk, and an older, unemployed man on the other. However, before I tell you what happened next, you need some background to this scenario.
A couple of months ago, another Employment Counsellor with whom I share an office and I were talking. He said he had this guy in his class with a first and last name that really rolled off the tongue in his opinion and sounded really stately and impressive. I’d love to share it here so you’d understand but that would break confidentiality and I love my job!
More than a guy with a cool name, he presented well too.He dressed himself very neat and tidy, was well-groomed and really engaged in conversation and participated fully in the workshop. I had a few interactions myself with him in passing, and I concurred with my colleagues assessment.
Last week in our Resource Centre, I was sitting down helping another client when he walked past. I looked up and said hello without really saying anything else as I was helping this other client. What struck me in a five second look however was that he appeared rough however.
So I was surprised to learn that this man who appeared to have it all together and was on the surface quite confident about gaining employment was now enrolled in a life-skills workshop for the next three weeks that focuses not on job searching, but self-esteem, setting goals and getting one’s self together. I was even more surprised when the Facilitator of that workshop and my office colleague were discussing him and his poor behaviour. In fact, they were discussing removing him possibly, as he was being disruptive, talking out of turn, making remarks at inappropriate times etc. He apparently keeps sharing his age with everyone in the group and often.
I shared my brief assessment, and told them that in my opinion, something has happened that’s prompted a negative change. I suggested talking to him privately and finding out what’s going on because it could be anything from being rejected for a job due to age or a health scare. Who knows until you ask and kicking him out wouldn’t really do anything for him.
Ah so you can imagine my surprise when at lunch break, he plunks himself down in front of me in our Resource Centre just to say hello. So when opportunity walks in and sits down….and not being one to shy away from saying it like it is….
He told me within 30 seconds that he was 62 and didn’t think there was much left for him to do. So I asked him if I could be honest and frank with him and once receiving his permission, launched right in. I told him that when we first met, how impressed I had been and others with him. There had been pride in his appearance, a positive attitude and today he was sitting here in jeans and a sweat top, unshaven, hair unbrushed, and looking defeated. He told me that, ‘defeated’ was a good word, ‘deflated’ would be good too. “So what’s up?” I asked.
Sure enough, he was rejected from a job competition he had been in, and suspects his age might have played a factor. On top of this, he was told a month ago that his age wasn’t a problem by one person he respected, but then told he was too old and should just stop looking for work by someone else he also respected. Now I know both of the people he is referring to, and I suspect what he heard was not the message actually sent, but that’s how he’s interpreted it. How powerful an influence someone can have on another.
Interestingly, he told be that I was right when I told him that although he can’t change his age, he can change his own attitude and how he brands himself to an interviewer. In other words, talk about his life experience, maturity, a wealth of work experience, stability, freedom from child care commitments, networking and interpersonal skills.
This one little chat that lasted all of 4 or 5 minutes before I was pulled away with another client request for help, may or may not have a lasting impact. He did say however, that he’d be back to his former appearance when he arrives later today. I for one am going to make a point of hunting him down both to check for myself and if possible, to praise him in front of the class he’s in so he gets that boost of praise and public recognition.
This is more than just a nice story to read and move on. There are lessons here whichever side of the desk you sit on if you think for a few moments. From the job seekers point of view, take some pride in yourself all the time, act on suggestions for self-improvement, seek out multiple opinions and remember people are always watching you and you never know when an opportunity will be presented or you’ll be passed over because you make a poor impression.
As a professional, be reminded of the impact off-hand comments can make for good or bad. Your ability to influence is often in direct proportion to the fragility of the person you are interacting with.