These days I find myself in my 60th year, living with my in-laws in Southern California as if I am a just-graduated 20-something, leafing through Craigslist and other sites looking for a job. Any job, as long as it can further my wife and I getting back out into a place of our own as quickly as possible.
I am a journalist of 32 years experience, the last 20 or so with UPI and then the AP. I was part of the AP team that covered the 2000 presidential election mess in Florida, and we wound up as 2001 Pulitzer finalists. I shifted careers, opting for self-employment and becoming a "job creator" in the restaurant industry in New Orleans. We were well-reviewed, but things happen. Economic conditions eventually led us here, living in the house where my wife grew up and back in the job market. For pretty much anything we can find.
Part of what has happened to us is certainly self-inflicted. I made some poor economic decisions. Part of it is health-related, since my wife's struggle with depression left me as the only breadwinner once we had to shutter our business. Part of is circumstantial -- losing our first business in Hurricane Katrina and spending a ransom's worth of money to build a second one. We filed for bankruptcy to save our home after Katrina, and it has been successfully discharged.
Having spent most of the past decade self-employed, we do not qualify for unemployment. Being lucky enough to live with her parents disqualifies us from food stamps. No matter, since neither is an avenue I wish to pursue. We remain, compared to many, The Advantaged because we still had a place to go.
We have been through a home foreclosure, selling all but our clothing and a few boxes of personal items to move to San Diego County. We have since let go of the car, since I can no longer make the payments. Again, at least we could do that much -- and we have the opportunity to start over.
Despite the reverses, this isn't a poor-me story. I believe we mostly make our own luck. My wife is employable again and enthusiastic. I have tremendous experience in two different careers, very stable work history and am very healthy. We know what the prevailing wages are and we're happy to work for them, since our combined income at that leveI would indeed put us back on our own with our own wheels in fairly short order.
But the most frequent word I hear in job interviews (when I can get one, after they see the resume) is "overqualified." Wait a minute.
When I was a business owner, I would have jumped at the chance to find experienced help at bargain-basement wages. Instead of babysitting a 20-year-old, I'd much rather hire a proven pro. "Overqualified?" Hardly.
Certainly, if an older applicant came into my shop, I'd want to know why they're that age and willing to work for $10 an hour. Have they been in prison? Do they have a substance abuse problem? Will they just stay with me for a short time and then bail for a job that pays an extra 25 cents an hour? Do they use a lot of sick days? But, come to think of it, those are questions I'd want answered about any applicant of any age.
These days, it more and more occurs to me "overqualified" is a euphemism for "too old." I know there's a law against it. But too many of my contemporaries are facing the same thing. Perhaps the fear is ol' dad (or mom) might be too opinionated. Or might have a chip on their shoulder about doing certain kinds of scut work. Or they might be simply untrainable or unable to learn some newer technologies. It's stereotyping and it's wrong.
In over 40 years of steady work, I can count my sick days on my two hands (with fingers left over). I can clean kitchen equipment better than a teenager (and cook a hell of a lot better), I don't use a walk-in tub and I don't use a Jitterbug phone. Most importantly for an employer, I know who's the boss (because I've been one) and I'll give my opinion only if asked. Be at work at 4 a.m.? Fine.
I've found interviewers stutter a bit when I ask what they mean by "overqualified." Usually, the answer involves something along the lines of, "We're afraid you'll be bored." Nononono. "Bored" is hanging around the house all day because you don't have money to do anything else. After a little while, one also becomes "frustrated" and "cranky." Believe me, we'd much rather be "employed" and getting a "paycheck."
Give me a fair chance to show what I can do. You've already said I'm "qualified." That "over" part usually works to your advantage.
Craig's story is part of a Huffington Post series profiling Americans who work hard and yet still struggle to make ends meet. Learn more about other individuals' experiences here.
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