We recently started an apprentice program for those looking to learn more about advertising, branding, and agency life — but this is not about that. This is about one woman who torpedoed her own interview to ask two of our designers a vulnerable question: “Why won’t anyone hire me?” Katy and Sharon were not exactly sure what to say, but they came to me afterward and asked that I speak with her. I did. She asked me the same thing. She had been rejected for full-time positions — which she was more than qualified for — over and over again, and she had had enough of the auto-rejection emails and the polite excuses. She asked for the truth, so I told her. “You’re older, and your work is starting to look old, too.”
I turn 40 in a couple of months. Which is scary and encouraging at the same time. It’s certainly one of the major milestone birthdays, and for good reason. I am likely halfway through my life. That’s the scary part. I like life and would prefer to keep on having one. However, my life has never felt more fulfilled than right now, and that’s why turning 40 is also encouraging. What is not so encouraging is the way we treat people once we have deemed them “old.”
“So older people have just as many rights as younger people?”
Ageism isn’t new, but being on this side of it is new to me. In my 20s, I viewed anyone over 40 as old. Which is fine, but I also saw them as a finished product. If they were a sales manager with three kids and drove an Acadia, then that was that. It wasn’t necessarily a negative perception, but it sure as hell wasn’t positive. But, to me, I was the opposite. My youthful associates and I were exciting new products set to take the market by storm. We were Zima in 1992. I still think that young people are unfinished, exciting new products — but older people are just as unfinished and full of exactly the same potential.
The woman in the interview’s name is Melissa Maxwell. I asked her what she wanted. She said, “I want a job at an agency, (Point for the “oldies”: They know what they want) and I just need someone to be honest with me.” So we systematically and mercilessly went through her portfolio, and I told her what to keep and what to toss. It was like an 80s montage, and I was the mean girl telling the new girl what clothes to keep and what to toss. It was fun for both of us. (Well, it was fun for me, anyway.)
Less than two weeks later, she had completely redone her portfolio, taken a new headshot, updated her logo, and launched a new website. Because Melissa Maxwell means f’n business. So if you want a designer who knows her stuff, will work her butt off, and will be filled with gratitude while doing so, you want Maxwell.
Ageism — like all the negative “isms” — sucks, and we have to be aware of it. I was, but I wasn’t really. As I roll into my 40s, I will soon be judged by something I have no control over for the first time in life. I am a white dude. I have literally never suffered for my outward appearance. Never. And, if I know one thing about myself, when and if I get judged for my age, I am going to raise a massive stink about it. Because being judged sucks, but being judged for something you have no control over is criminal.