When I was in my twenties, I was in a final round interview for a financial advisor position at a large brokerage firm. The interviewer told me his concern in hiring me was that I looked too young. “You’ll look great when you’re forty; if this was the cosmetics industry, it would be different.” I didn’t get the job.
I remember coming home and having tea with Helen that afternoon and telling her about it. I wasn’t sure what to think of what happened. Job searching had worn me down; I didn’t have the energy to be angry. I was disappointed and somewhat surprised he actually said what he thought versus just thinking it and keeping it to himself.
I didn’t even consider making a fuss of it. I could have raised the issue with HR, but where would that have gotten me? I didn’t want to work somewhere I’d been hired to avoid a controversy. Looking back, I feel a bit guilty I didn’t bring it to light, as if by letting it go I didn’t give due to all those groups – women, minorities, immigrants – who made it possible for me to get as far as the interview in the first place.
Sexist and ageist it may be, I knew what he said was true – I did look young. Hopefully I will look great when I’m forty, and if it had been the cosmetics industry, it probably would have been different. It wasn’t the truth I wanted to hear; it wasn’t the truth of my ideal reality, but it was the truth for that point in time. Part of me was glad he told me the truth. If I wasn’t going to get hired, I wanted to know why, and I preferred the reason to be looking too young versus something within my control. I had tried so hard – I had networked, made cold calls, and created spreadsheets of contacts until I ran out of ideas of how to find a job. If someone had told me the reason I didn’t get hired was because I hadn’t been persistent enough or I hadn’t worked hard enough, then I really would have been devastated.
So Helen and I drank our tea. “Next,” I said, like a casting director weary from a series of amateurish auditions. That was our favorite word to describe our job search. “Until I get too many gray hairs for anyone to hire me – Next.”