Of all the things that represent me, I no longer have any doubts about at least one: the power of youth.
After several job interviews, I started hiding my age, trying to at least seem five years older. Only after going through a couple more job interviews, did I realize that youth could be an asset when, at the age of 26, you are told that you have the professional experience of a 30 year old. Before joining a huge organization, I had several jobs interviews, and this is what I learnt as a Marketing professional, but first of all — as a Millennial.
I have been working in Digital Marketing for the past eight years. I started my first serious job at 19, after I had already published my first book and had gotten into what I believe to have been the wrong University. Brand pages had only just started being added to Facebook, and the online environment was in the middle of its Big Bang. Somehow, from the neighbour, brother and classmate who knew how to install Windows, I had become “the IT guy”, who worked with web developers on websites, and wrote articles — somehow, the writer in my head was obstinate about remaining a writer. Later, I was assigned to take care of the Marketing department of the brands I had previously worked on, but it took me nearly one year to understand what I was truly supposed to do, and another year, I believe, to learn how to do my job properly.
Time went by, and after a few more project-based copywriter jobs, I realized that I wanted to work in advertising. To be fair, I was also taking graduate classes in the same field, classes which I dropped right before the final examinations. I started applying to copywriter jobs that came my way and to which I considered to have a legitimate chance of success at, in many of the agencies that I had heard good things about. It wasn’t long before I was called in to my first interview. I was greeted by two girls, one of which was to become my manager and the other from the HR department. They smiled nicely and offered me homemade cookies. I had to pretend that I liked them, and to kindly chew on them as if I were in a mushy advertisement where the actor’s lines are just a number of embarrassing onomatopoeia. The cookies were terrible.
The conversation lasted over an hour, we had a few laughs and we covered most topics which you don’t normally discuss in a job interview. They told me that there would be some follow-up interviews, so, in less than 24 hours, I received a nice, almost uplifting email, where I was invited to a second interview. I went there being positive that I would eventually get the job.
While I set out to seem creative, yet down-to-earth in my first discussion, for my second interview I wanted to appear the mature young man who is ready to take on the chaos that I was told would be in an advertising agency, chaos which was described to me nearly academically in our first meeting. However, this time I was asked about my age and I had to answer truthfully: I was 23 years old. They both looked at me with teary eyes, slightly conflicted and scared at the same time. I never learnt if they were about to cry or to start laughing neurotically. That very same day I received an email full of bureaucratic jargon, saying that they have decided to continue the recruitment process with a more experienced candidate.
I left out the year of birth and the first three years of University from my CV, knowing that I could easily pass as being a few years older than I truly was. Several other carbon-copy interviews followed, with the same discussions and the same unhappy ending. In some cases, I was offered other jobs than the ones I had initially applied for, jobs that were under my professional experience. In the most informal and relaxing moments of the interviews, I saw myself forced to divulge my age.
I had become more and more self-conscious about my age. What I had accomplished, or what I had to say had no importance, and the significance of my professional experience and even that of reason — I could say, was made secondary to that of my age. I was 19 years old when I published my first book. I had won a national literary debut contest to the detriment of authors over 30. After they announced the winners, the first thing that I heard from the jury, who knew nothing about the authors of the manuscripts they had judged, was “we are a bit surprised; we thought that the author was over 30”.
One year later, I sent an English text to an American magazine. Barney Rosset, the editor of the Evergreen Review and the one who published Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” for the first time in the United States, sent me an email where he was telling me that my text was accepted for publishing. Among other things, he expressed his surprise that the author of the text was a young man who was born not long after the fall of Communism in Romania.
My age had become a hindrance. I was living in a world inhabited by people over 30, and my greatest disadvantage was never going to fade away I thought, because, even when I was going to be 30, all the others would be 40. In my family, I was the youngest child, in my office — the same situation. The second book I published was written under the sign of this self-consciousness: it is titled “Ninety-one”, the year I was born.
I was gradually breaking away from my dream to work in an advertising agency, and I was literally headed towards the open space corporate offices, on the client’s side. For a couple of years, I worked as a freelancer for two large companies which outsource their Marketing department activities. I was acting like an agency, I was making the important decisions, and I was also the one to carry them out. Around the same time, I was also coordinating the Digital activities of a company which had over ten websites in its portfolio. I was working up to 12 hours a day and I was nearly all the time on the road. I was doing several things at once, maybe too many. The decision to have a full-time job thrust me into a corporation’s meeting room, scared, and with a cast on my arm after a small car accident.
On my way to the interview, the taxi I rode was involved in a small crash, which was serious enough for me to need to go to a hospital. My wrist hurt terribly after I mechanically braced it against the front seat in order to protect my face. I remember calling the recruiter and postponing the interview, to which I went anyway, three hours later, in shock, and with a cast on my arm. Other than that, I don’t remember exactly what was discussed, what I said or what I was told. All I can say is that I finally got the job.
At that time, I had been offered several jobs, one of which was for another American company, where I also had a few interviews over Skype. I had been contacted on LinkedIn by a recruiter for a position in Digital Marketing. During the interview I wore a white T-shirt, and one of the first questions I was asked, was about the number of T-shirts I own. I told him that I didn’t know the exact number, but I assured him that I have enough to only wear T-shirts in the Palo Alto office. He laughed and started telling me about the Ping-Pong games they play during the work schedule. I did not take the job, but — for the first time, I realized that I could use the professional momentum behind my youth as an asset, even though I was failing with a bang.
Being young is an adventure, just as being old is. A society such as ours creates bias, and then complexes exactly because it is dominated, among other things, by complexes and bias.Tweet
We are either fat or thin, either too young or too old. The same way I say that I did not get certain jobs for being too young, I can also assume that maybe I wouldn’t even have had the chance to experience an interview had I been ten years older. Here is the bias and its results. And, in most cases, I didn’t have the patience to also look at things from the other end, where my youth had no superpower.
I’ve been looking for a secret code, for a formula for success. Much more useful to me would have been an explanation as to why I was failing miserably. Looking back now, I may not have been ready for it, and it’s probably for the best. Also, at a point in the recruiting process, I started losing my patience: I wanted things to happen fast. Compared to 24-year-old me, I now started to learn to be more patient, to listen, and to be quiet if I have nothing to say.