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Job-seeker put off by sloppy, ‘half-his-age’ recruiter

Dear J.T. & Dale: I am 55 years old, and I’ve never had trouble getting a job. But the past year has been terrible. Most recently, I came across a job where I had two people refer me in. I had 85% of the requirements. When the recruiter finally called me, she was unprofessional – 30 minutes late and all over the place. She followed up with several different emails, because she kept forgetting to ask me for things. Two weeks later, I was rejected. I feel like I never really got a shot. How do I get around some of these less-experienced, dare I say incompetent recruiters who are half my age? – Evan

DALE: First, this is not an 85% job market. You need to meet every requirement, especially when working with recruiters – they don’t want to bring in candidates who let hiring managers think the recruiters weren’t doing the proper screening.

J.T.: Yes, you need to be a 100% fit. But notice I didn’t say 110%, because that actually would be too much.

DALE: That’s the dreaded “overqualified” zone, which is especially worrisome for older workers.

J.T.: Speaking of which, Evan, I get the impression that your frustration in trying to find work was taken out on this younger professional. You wouldn’t be the first seasoned pro who has been frustrated and felt like they were dealing with someone beneath them. But that’s where the problem starts. If that’s how you feel, then I guarantee that it came across in your conversation.

DALE: Agreed. If you hate the thought of age discrimination, you can’t yourself discriminate based on age. The “tell” in your question was that “half my age” remark. We both know that there are plenty of unprofessional and disorganized people at every age.

J.T.: So, the solution here is to start doing a lot more networking. Getting people your age and your skill level to refer you into the company usually helps you bypass entry-level recruiters. But, if you do encounter these younger employees in the future, focus on trying to be as helpful and understanding as possible. They know they are dealing with somebody who’s been working for a while, and the last thing they need is to be given an attitude that makes them feel unappreciated. Use this opportunity to actually make an ally and be passed along in the process.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I recently moved into a new studio apartment to save money. When I had my first Zoom call for work in the new space, my boss called me immediately after. I was shocked to hear that she was upset because she could see my bed in the background. I told her there’s nothing I can do: It’s a studio apartment. She told me that I need to find a way to not have the bed in the video because it was unprofessional. Is she being irrational, or do you agree? – Grace

J.T.: I don’t think she’s being irrational at all. More and more people are realizing how important it is to have a professional backdrop. Let me put it to you this way: If you were doing a job interview, would you have your bed in the background? Of course not. My advice is that you should respect your boss’s wishes and work on creating some kind of backdrop. There are green-screen options these days, and even just using a neutral-color sheet hung up behind you can create a backdrop that is not distracting.

DALE: I don’t share J.T.’s strong opinion on this – after all, you get all sorts of backgrounds on Zoom calls, including beds in what look like hotel rooms but could be studio apartments, and those beds are less distracting to me than those digital backgrounds or whatever. BUT, if it bothers your boss, it’s not worth a debate. Instead, take the time to watch some online tutorials on how to do video at home. Get the lighting and framing right, and a blank wall behind you will work just fine, eliminating distractions.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about H.R., “The Weary Optimist.” Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2021 by King Features Syndicate Inc.