scorecardI was laid off at 57. I've been rejected from hundreds of jobs — even after knocking $50K off my salary expectations.
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I was laid off at 57. I've been rejected from hundreds of jobs — even after knocking $50K off my salary expectations.

Ella Hopkins   

I was laid off at 57. I've been rejected from hundreds of jobs — even after knocking $50K off my salary expectations.
Careers4 min read
  • Donna Kopman was laid off from her job as a sales operations manager in December.
  • After having only two interviews from 400 applications, she's relying on benefits and savings.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Donna Kopman, from Portland, Oregon, about her experience getting laid off at 57 and her job search. Business Insider has verified her previous salary. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I managed a sales support team of 15 employees for a software company, Milestone Systems, for three years.

The company told people managers there were going to be layoffs in November. I found out on my birthday. I spent my Thanksgiving holiday worried about being laid off. I had a gut feeling it was going to be me. When I got back, I found out it was.

I didn't have any hard feelings, but it sucked.

Job searching is a full-time role

My first thought was that finding another job at this age and stage in my career would be difficult. The older you are when you get laid off, the harder it is to find an equivalent position.

I took a break to clear my head and started my job search in January. I updated my résumé and looked on LinkedIn, Indeed, and job posting apps. From Sunday to Tuesday and a bit of time on Wednesday, I spend eight hours a day researching and applying for jobs. I treat it like a day job. Then, I take a few days off, which keeps me healthy.

I'm applying to jobs around Portland, where I live, and some remote jobs, too.

I've found a few jobs that are very similar to the one I had. Half a dozen times, I spent two hours tailoring my résumé to a job, showing how my qualifications directly matched the role and then got back an auto-generated rejection response within the day.

It's frustrating. Some days, I've felt a little defeated. But I have to remind myself it's not a human at the other end of the line. It's probably AI.

I've applied for 400 jobs and landed 2 interviews

Since January, I've applied for around 400 roles. It's a numbers game.

I've broadened my search to include some junior roles, such as executive assistant jobs. Part of that is a choice: I'm not sure I want to manage people again. The other part is simply to get a job that gives me a paycheck.

I've had two interviews with hiring managers. It feels like an employer's market in the US. For every job I apply for, there seem to be hundreds of other applicants. When I was a hiring manager in my previous role, we'd be lucky to get 20 applications.

I don't think employers have time to screen all those applicants, so they're relying on AI. I understand why they have to automate the process, but it removes human beings from it.

Employers can be ageist

Employers might look at an older person and think they'll require a higher salary because they have more experience. They might automatically screen older people out for that if they have to balance their budget.

But many older people would be willing to get paid less to stay in the job market.

Hiring managers might also assume that older people are stuck in their ways and can't learn new technology. But it's a misconception. I take pride in challenging myself to learn new things to stay relevant.

More junior employees might also have doubts about hiring someone more qualified than them if they feel insecure in their careers. They might worry that an older person will replace them. I try to balance that in interviews and not come off too strong.

Ageism is everywhere in US work culture, but people don't seem to want to acknowledge it. How do we change that? Having a diverse team creates a better work culture.

I'm willing to be paid less

In my previous role, my salary was $110,000 a year, including bonuses. I've been applying for jobs for as little as $60,000 a year.

It's a balancing act. I'm willing to accept that to stay in the workforce, especially given healthcare is tied to employment. I'm paying $900 a month for COBRA right now to maintain the same health policy I had before.

I'm getting unemployment benefits, but they don't cover my expenses, so I'm having to draw from my savings. I hope I get a job before I no longer get the benefits.

Since being laid off, I don't go out to eat as much. I'd love to take advantage of having the time off to go on vacation, but I have to watch my expenses and don't know how long I'll be unemployed. It's a strange limbo.

Being unemployed delays my retirement

I was hoping to retire in my early to mid-60s. But I won't qualify for full Social Security payments until I'm 67. That's 10 years I need to bridge, and if I wanted to retire earlier, I'd have to find a way to build my finances.

We need to do more to keep older people in the workforce. People are drawing down from their 401(k) out of necessity, and that's scary.

Taking longer to find a job or accepting a lower-paid job might delay my retirement. I hope I don't have to do that.

But I remain hopeful. I know I've got a lot of value to add to employers, and I know I will land somewhere that is good for me.