a fruitful job search and age discrimination in america

When I returned home to America after being abroad teaching English for a year in Korea, I went right to work applying for jobs. I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to try to stay in the U.S. or go abroad again so decided simply to apply all over the world.  Whichever place made me a decent job offer would determine my future and where I would go.

In May 2008, when I completed my Master’s degree in International Commerce & Policy, I applied for 250 jobs.  Most days, except weekends, I spent filling out long and tedious online applications or tailoring my cover letter to a particular position and company, or tweaking my resume, or researching new jobs to apply for.  I got exactly 4 job interviews.  One was with the Export-Import Bank, which tied in nicely with my Master’s and my past banking experience, but they called off the job search and changed what it was they were looking for.  That interview was my first, and then I went 4 long months before I had another.

I passed the initial phase of a phone interview with Freedom House for a job dealing with human rights and freedom of the press in Egypt.  After the phone interview, they called me in for a face-to-face interview.  The interview went very well, I thought.  At the end, my interviewer said, “You know, you’re kind of a hybrid.  You don’t have any experience in this field, but you’ve worked outside in banking for a long time.  We’re worried you might be bored in this kind of position.”  I answered that though I have experience in banking, my interest is in getting work in international development.  Since I have little experience (except my State Department internships!) in this area, I fully expect and want to start at the bottom, to learn everything there is to know.

After that, they kept giving me the run-around: they were still interviewing, it was the Christmas holiday, blah, blah, blah.  Ultimately of course I didn’t get the job.

I honestly believe the reason I wasn’t considered for all these jobs, the reason I was REJECTED, was because of a combination of age discrimination and motherhood.  I believe no one wants to hire someone over 50 for an entry level position, even if that person has a plethora of experience to bring to the table, just completed a Master’s degree in the appropriate subject, and is willing to start at the bottom and move progressively up the career ladder.  I also think it’s ridiculous that 15 years of motherhood should count for nothing, since motherhood requires too many applicable skills to count.

Management Systems International ~ where I had a 9 month internship
Management Systems International ~ where I had a 9 month internship

Finally, after all my efforts, I got an internship with MSI, which lasted 9 months and never turned into a permanent position, though no one could or would tell me why.  I figured they just wanted to keep a person with an M.A. for the cheap salary and no benefits they were giving me.

One of my co-workers at MSI applied to teach in Korea, and since my job search in America was so fruitless, I applied to teach in Korea as well.  They hired me almost immediately and off I went.  I am forever grateful that when no one in America would hire me, despite my experience matching word-for-word hundreds of job descriptions, the Korean government gave me a job.

Teaching English in Korea ~ not where I intended to go
Teaching English in Korea ~ not where I intended to go

This year in Korea has led me on a different path than what I intended.  My dream was to work on international economic development, human rights, freedom of the press, or democracy-building in the Middle East.  Teaching English in Korea was never my goal.  I saw it possibly as an end to the goal of working abroad, as it would give me one year of experience living and working abroad.  However, it would fall short in giving me any international development experience.  And being in Korea would not lead me to the Middle East.

When I returned home in March, 2011, I ended up applying for 31 jobs.  In America, I applied at ICF International, to whom I’ve applied multiple times with never any response, InterAction, CSIS, Abt Associates, University Research Company, IFES, and Northern Virginia Community College.  I got an adjunct position as an ESL teacher at NOVA for the 10-week summer semester.  Finally, the program coordinator at NOVA saw things in my resume that no one else wanted to look deep enough to see.  I guess all it takes is one person who is open-minded and smart enough to see how someone’s breadth and depth of experience could be applied to the particular position desired.

Abroad, I applied for jobs in Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Japan, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Kurdistan in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman.  I got immediate requests for interviews with Berlitz and the Wall Street Institute, in Turkey.  I found the Istanbul Berlitz mentioned numerous times on the TEFL Blacklist as a horrible place to work.  And when I asked the Wall Street Institute about their pay, I found they paid half the salary I got in Korea, only paid part of my housing, and didn’t even cover my plane fare! I didn’t even follow through with the interview.  Turkey was the #1 place I wanted to work, but I couldn’t afford to work there.

I had a phone interview with Al Khaleej, a training institute in Saudi Arabia.  They made me an offer right away.  I talked with my friend Ed from the State Department, who worked for a year in the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia,  and he told me to ask them if they hold your passport because there have been problems where there have been labor disputes and the employer won’t return the passport.  I asked and they said, yes, they hold their employees passports.  I wrote to the embassy in Riyadh and they told me that yes, in fact, they have had problems with Al Khaleej.  They said “the problems U.S. citizens had with this company resulted from labor disputes which further developed to ban of travel.  However, retention of passport and potential ban of travel is not unique to this company.”   I saw this in essence to be slave labor, and I backed out of the offer I had accepted.

the University of Nizwa
the University of Nizwa

Later I started getting decent job offers, the first one being from University of Nizwa in Oman.  The fact that it was in the Middle East and at university level made me want to accept initially.  Later, as I have read about Oman and heard about the country from others, it has turned out to be my first choice.  However, once they made the offer, their Ministry had to approve me.  So, in the meantime, I kept my other channels open and got 3 more very nice job offers.  I got a high-paying job offer at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but ultimately I wasn’t sure I could handle the living conditions there.  I got an offer from Westgate Corporation for universities in Japan, but it was only a 3 month contract and thus would have no tax benefits.  I love Japan but it wasn’t the Middle East, where my heart was pulling.  Finally, I got a good offer from SABIS University in Erbil, Kurdistan, which I would have been happy to take had I not already accepted Oman.

So, once again, here I am, going abroad again.  It seems no one in America ever wants to hire me, yet foreign countries are happy to have me.  Thank goodness for that.  Right now, I don’t see much benefit to being an American unless I’m going abroad.


10 thoughts on “a fruitful job search and age discrimination in america

  1. Dear Catbirdinoman, I also received an offer with al khaleej to teach in KSA. I am unsure now especially because of your information. I have a Master in teaching and I need a job because I am not having much luck herebin the states. I want to make a .visa for my daughter once I get there but have read negative posts about not being able to know where or having time to do it. How is your experience in Oman and what do you advise? I would like to teach ESL at a University. Thank you I appreciate any insight. You seem so intelligent and experienced.

    1. Hello Gina, Well at the University of Nizwa, they do not hold your passport and you have the freedom to leave the country whenever you want. That is a lot more appealing than what I heard about Al Khaleej, which sounds a little like slave labor to me!! Oman has lower pay but much more freedom than Saudi Arabia; thus I made my decision to come to Oman. You can see what kind of life I have here by reading my blog. Good luck!

  2. Thank you for your response. I really appreciate it.
    I had similar circumstances with job prospect in the U.S. You seem like you are having a ton of fun in Oman. 😛
    So I got another offer from the Saudi British Center and I need to make up my mind. How do I find out if they will hold my passport. The. way I understand,it, my passport belongs to the Department that issued it and that is the U.S. Embassy. Do I just ask them?

    1. Gina, overall yes, I do enjoy my time in Oman. It’s tough sometimes and the expat life can wear me down, but I try to keep active and make the best of it. I would just ask the Saudi British Council if they hold your passport. I understand it is quite common in Saudi for employers to hold employees’ passports, but most will return it readily when it’s needed for travel. The US Embassy told me there were problems in this regard with Al Khaleej. I think life in Saudi would be very difficult, but many people seem to be fine with adapting. In Oman, I have my own car and I drive, and I don’t think I’d be willing to give up that freedom in Saudi, no matter how much money they pay me!

  3. By the way, according to the UN, there is a specific law in Saudi forbidding firms from taking passports – spread it around.

  4. okay, now the pieces are falling together. I had wondered how you ended up in Oman. how interesting about your job search. I think we are about the same age and I recently went through the job search and may have been discriminated against at one place. I was pretty careful not to reveal anything about my age but let it slip at one interview at a job I really wanted, was bummed that I didn’t get but now see it just wasn’t meant to be. I have an advantage of having had a child later in life and taking after my mother who at age 90, still is not completely gray! thank goodness for genes as I probably look younger than I am. anyway, sorry to go on and on! sorry you had such difficulties getting a job in your own country. but it sounds like that led to some interesting adventures!

    1. Yes, I’m actually glad that I didn’t get the job in the USA at that time, or I would have never had the chance to live in Korea and Oman and to travel to 12 additional countries! I guess things work out how they do for a reason. 🙂

      I still think it’s a shame that people don’t value the skills and maturity and experience that an older person can bring to a job. It seems to be all about youth these days!

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