Because it’s hard to remember a fake name and other bogus details while engrossed in a telephone conversation with a recruiter about a real job, I made a big sign for my desk with Jessie’s name, telephone number and email address in thick, red letters. And I kept her resume at hand so not to forget the employment data I had invented for her.
It was a grinding bore to come up with two different-sounding cover letters that made the same points for each job listing Jessie and I answered. There are not a lot of ways to write a succinct letter touching on the points in the job ad and giving the recruiter a good reason to look at the resume.
By the time I began The Jessie Project, the bursting of the internet bubble had severely limited listings for the kind of work I do, but over the next three weeks, Jessie and I each sent out 14 inquiries to the same 14 job postings. Out of courtesy (and self-preservation), Jessie was not allowed to contact personal referrals from friends and colleagues, nor did she contact companies I’d identified as more than casual possibilities.
One of Jessie’s email responses, as had been true for me occasionally in the past months, asked for references before setting up a time for a telephone conversation. Obviously, she couldn’t supply them and that ended the dialogue.
(By the way, this is a request I had never run into before, and I still don’t understand the need until a candidate is on a company’s shortlist.)
One corporate human resources person asked each of us – Jessie by telephone and me by email – for college information and rejected us outright when we answered that we did not have a degree. I wish I’d thought to ask if they’d turn down Bill Gates for having no degree.
The telephone conversations with the three recruiters who spoke at length with Jessie had a friendlier, less formal quality to them than most of mine had which, I believe, reflects the youthful demographics of the recruiting world, 20- and 30-somethings thinking they were speaking with a contemporary. Jessie’s conversations were longer than mine usually are, more easy-going than when I was speaking as myself, and the recruiters expressed more enthusiasm.
I was eager to do an in-person Jessie interview to see what reaction there would be to my 60-year old face when the interviewer was expecting a woman in her mid-thirties. It was my intention to arrive with my own resume in my pocket, see what happened as Jessie and if there was real interest, spill the beans toward the end of the meeting.
At that point, I figured, they would either be curious to hear more about why I’d done it, or they’d throw me out as a fraud. Either would be instructive.
But I never got the chance.
During her last telephone conversation, Jessie was about to secure an in-person meeting when I just plain screwed up. Even with Jessie’s big red sign in front of my face, when she was asked to spell her name, I automatically answered, “R-O-N-N-I…” Oops.
The recruiter indicated some confusion (no kidding) and I started to giggle so hard I had to hit the Hold button on the phone. We rang off without pursuing the interview and I’ve sometimes wondered since then what that recruiter told her colleagues.
With the “oops incident” proving that I’m no actor and a lousy liar, I shelved The Jessie Project. It was taking too much time from my real job search and my suspicions about age discrimination had been confirmed.
Jessie’s response rate was faster and totaled nine out of 14 inquiries. Mine totaled two, one of which was quashed because of no college degree (the only time in my life I’ve been asked about college), and the other when there was no response to the references I sent. Jessie received six telephone calls; I received none.
It wasn't exactly a "scientific" experiment, but the discrepancy between the number of calls to us was good enough to prove it to me. There was nothing I could do with my new-found information, but at least I knew for certain my suspicions were not unfounded.
The media have been reporting for several years now that as many of the 78 million baby boomers begin to retire, there are not enough generation Xers, who number 45 million, to take their places in the workforce. They predict that the workplace is about to become a whole lot friendlier to older folks.
Not that I've noticed yet, but if it is going to happen, it won't be soon enough for me.