Our new copywriter took an unusual approach to his job application – and stood out a mile because of it.
Finding a job is hard enough in the middle of the worst pandemic and economic crisis in living memory, but when you’re 59 and competing with people a third of your age, it’s easy to be despondent. Every time I found a job I was perfect for, hundreds of other people had already applied – and even though some were roles I was almost born to do, I wasn’t getting so much as a flicker of interest.
“Could it be your age?” my wife and daughter asked, tentatively. And perhaps they had a point. For while age discrimination is outlawed in the UK, it would be impossible to prove when the employer has hundreds or even thousands of applicants to choose from, almost all of them likely to have a degree, which I don’t. The algorithms probably weren’t much keener on me, either. And if my application did get as far as being glanced at by a human, my main selling-point of having 40 years’ experience might easily be seen by a young recruiter as a sign that I was way, way past it and almost prehistorically old.
A business cartoonist summed it up succinctly long ago when he depicted a man who’d just been made redundant complaining to his boss that he’d given the company the best years of his life. “Precisely,” the boss replied, unsympathetically. I continued my daily trawl through LinkedIn, but it all seemed pretty hopeless. Until, that is, I decided to throw caution to the wind. My chance came when a job-poster asked for applications by e-mail instead of the usual CV, form and covering letter.
Rather than apologising for my age, I hit him right between the eyes with it and ventured that it might actually be an advantage to him and his company. This is how my e-mail application began: You might dismiss me as a boring old bugger of 59 who doesn’t have anything in common with the thrusting team of professionals you’ve built at your company – or you might consider that someone who’s celebrating 40 years in the media this Sunday could bring four decades of invaluable sharp-end experience as a communications professional to your table.
Up to you, but I identified with every single word in your LinkedIn jobs post and happen to have every skill you’re asking for – in some cases with knobs on. When you’re sifting through the piles of applications from others who’ll tell you they’re great at dealing with sometimes difficult people, see how many of them have had to have lunch with a cannibal and cold-blooded murderer… Many irreverent paragraphs later, I ended it: Yes, Paul, I’m 59. But while I’m over the acne, I’m not over the hill.
Paul replied 22 minutes later – quite possibly a record, even on LinkedIn. “That’s what I call a cover-note,” he said, and confided that I and two others had stood out from what he described as the inevitable deluge of applications he’d received since the jobs ad went live. And he added, encouragingly: “After a hectic week, my thanks for a thoroughly enjoyable read.”
A week later, I had my first interview, via Zoom, and can’t remember any hour-and-a-quarter in which I’ve laughed so much. The second interview, a week later, was with Paul and his MD and, once again, it was fun and irreverent. I even chided them for not having asked the traditional interview question about where I saw myself in 10 years’ time. “Six feet under, probably, “ I told them, “or, if I’m lucky, still breathing.” Twenty-four hours later, I was offered the job. But did I want it? Somehow, we hadn’t got around to discussing hours or salary, and it turned out they wanted someone for four days a week quickly leading to five, whereas I was hoping for three days a week.
An agonising weekend followed in which I e-mailed to say I hoped I wasn’t about to talk my way out of a job so soon after talking my way into it, and I predicted what the unsuccessful candidates would be saying if they only knew how ungrateful I appeared. Another Zoom was hastily convened and it turned out they’d rather have three days of me than none. But the best bit was being told that my application had stood out a mile right from the beginning and that I’d remained out in front all the way through. The lesson I learned from this, and one that I hope might inspire other job-hunters and LinkedInners, is that daring to be different can sometimes pay dividends.
Everyone around me was urging me to be conventional, to play down my age, to just keep applying in the normal way and hope I’d be lucky eventually – but something told me I could and should do better than that. No potential employer was going to call me a boring old bugger to my face, but they might well have thought it, so I decided to put it out there then try to convince them that I wasn’t. And the cheeky tone of my e-mail – talking about having all the skills they needed “with knobs on” – would at least make my application stand out from all the other hundreds or thousands they were likely to receive. It was for. a job as a copywriter, too, so if I couldn’t grab their attention with my opening line and hold their attention all the way to the end of my e-mail, then I probably wouldn’t be worth employing anyway. Some employers would have hated it, no doubt, but if you’re applying for a job in a creative industry, it can often pay to be creative.
I once applied for a job on the about-to-launch Today newspaper where the Editor was sitting in a basement room with 800 unopened applications from people who were mostly far more experienced and qualified than I was. As he didn’t even have a secretary to sift them, and as all the posts would almost certainly be filled before he even got around to looking at my application, I had to find a way of getting his attention.
I was in a pub when whoever was feeding the jukebox put on the Police song Message In A Bottle. Before it had even finished, I rushed off to Boots to buy a winemaker’s bottle with a cork, then W H Smith to buy some parchmenty paper. I tore the edges and singed them with a match, then wrote a castaway-style note telling the Editor that I’d love to come aboard his flagship, etc.
I put the message into the bottle with a handful of sand, then bubblewrapped it to within an inch of its life and posted it to the Editor. Just as I hoped, I had a handwritten reply from him by return of post, inviting me to an interview. In the end, I didn’t get the job, but what I had got was his attention when 800 others, better than me, were still lying unopened in their envelopes while he awaited secretarial support. I’m now almost a month into my new job with Chantry Group, a marketing company that supports the franchising industry, and I’m loving every minute.
And while I’m usually older than any two or three of my Zoom-call colleagues put together, my experience means I’m fitting in perfectly. So if you’re an older job-seeker and feel daunted by the competition out there in these most challenging of times, don’t be afraid to be yourself, take a risk, and stand out from the thousands of others who wouldn’t dream of applying for a job in anything but the conventional way.