Dear J.T. & Dale: I’m in my 50s and have owned my own business for the past 20 years. The business took a huge hit in the pandemic, and I’m exhausted. We’ve survived, but I don’t think I can do it anymore, and my retirement savings are wiped out. I started looking for full-time positions, but absolutely nobody is calling me. I’m assuming this is age discrimination. What do I do to fight back? — Ken
J.T.: While I would never deny that age discrimination exists, I really don’t think that’s the case here. What’s scaring companies off is your 20 years of owning your own company. As someone who’s worked with a lot of recruiters, they often fear that former business owners will be difficult. It’s often assumed that a person becomes a business owner because they’re not comfortable working for someone else.
DALE: Agreed. Hiring managers are likely to assume the worst, and that means they’ll assume that it’s in your nature to give orders and to grab authority. It’s like that old line about cats, how they’ve never forgotten that they were once worshipped as gods. Companies don’t want cats; they want Labradors, maybe bulldogs or Dobermans.
J.T.: What to do? Applying online is a waste of time. You need to do strategic private networking. You need to be able to tell the story of why you’re looking to work for someone else. And you can’t just say that it’s because your savings are wiped out. It needs to be more than that, because they’ll worry that they’ll train you, you’ll save money, then you’ll go out on your own again.
DALE: Right. It’s got to be about “pull,” not “push.” That is, you need to explain that you didn’t fail as an entrepreneur, but, rather, that you realized how you yearn to be part of a team. Explain how you have come to understand that you need the resources and camaraderie of a larger organization. And you prove that in an interview by showing curiosity — go in ready to learn, not to show off.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I got called by a recruiter about what sounded like a dream job. I got all excited, and then he told me the name of the company, and my heart dropped. They’ve been through some 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 are trying to fix things, 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, which is what they were about. — Eva
DALE: That’s good that they are trying to change … or saying they are. You are wise to be skeptical. I’d read all you can about the new executives they’ve brought in. If that sounds promising, and given that it’s a “dream job,” why not talk to them? But remember this: Every department has its own micro-culture. You don’t want to just know that some new execs are enlightened; no, you want to know if your new boss is one of the great ones, one who will help you grow and thrive.
J.T.: Yes, go on the interview. You’re not going to know if things have changed unless you go and talk to the people who are currently working there. The fact that their problems were public says to me they understand and are addressing them. I would ask to speak to some of the employees who have stayed on, as well as some of the new employees. It’s unfortunate that a toxic culture ruined them for a bit, but an established company can bounce back. If you get an offer, you can always say no; but if you don’t go and the company does remake itself, you’ll always regret not going to check them out. Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson, and now they’re hiring people like you to make things better.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site www.workitdaily.com. Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about H.R., “The Weary Optimist.” Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2022 by King Features Syndicate Inc.