I was on a course this week from Monday to Friday here in Oslo with people I have never met before. A lovely group of 20 people, around 15 of them were Norwegian or Swedish and then the rest of us had lived here in Norway for varying amounts of time. As is usual in these situations, we had a round-robin with the class on Monday morning, to introduce ourselves and share some hopefully pertinent information about ourselves in terms of professional background. In term of age, about half of them were older than I. There were marine engineers, marketeers, teachers, accountants, project managers, a right mixed bag and all for some reason or another out of work and looking for gainful employment. That is exactly why we were gathered there.
In my experience, if you sat in a similar situation in London or Dublin, each person would happily introduce themselves as they did here. They would give a little schpeel about who and what they were, never mentioning their age as that information is not really for public consumption. And it would be very impolite of anyone to ask. So as a result of never mentioning age, you may indeed have a whole roomful of people with steam coming out of their ears as they try to silently do the maths and guess what age each person is, based on how they look and any sort of chronological information that is coming out of their mouths. So let’s see, 10.34 years work experience in telecoms, 11.25 years in media IT and then 2.89 years backpacking until they ran out of money. OK, so he is clearly in his late thirties, great, we figured it out. Next! And so on. Nobody ever needed to know your age, unless you were a teenager in a pub, or looked like a teenager in a pub.
The same thing applies with CVs in the UK and Ireland, as far as I know. There is no age or date of birth usually. I have interviewed and offered jobs to people in London without ever knowing their age. On a CV, I would never expect to see someone’s age or family situation; to my mind, these pieces of information are not considered to be relevant to how well you can do the job. Your experience, skills and education display that, with no grounds for making additional assumptions on your suitability based on your age or how many kids you have. Now, of course you can figure out age based on when they went to school or college or whatever, but that’s different, that’s on page 2 or 3 of your CV and requires calculation. It means that age is not an instant eliminator.
And as for a photo on your CV? Absolutely not, as again, what does how you look have to do with how you can do the job. It’s always nice to see what someone looks like but with a picture, isn’t there a danger of some reaction, conscious or sub-conscious to the visual image you see in front of your eyes? You may find this person pleasing or not, appealing or the other. So no photo.
Well, that’s how I always figured it anyway. And as for me personally, I am probably weird but I never talk about my age. It has become a very private thing since I entered my thirties and I never admit it to anyone unless I have to. I don’t admit it to myself most of the time. If I have to write my date of birth, my hand hovers over the page a bit as I am tempted to take a decade off. Will I, could I, what do ya think, sur’ go on. I never do. Of course.
In those instances, maybe my mind scans through what is gone and what is left. For me, I interpret my age always in a way that is relative to my surroundings. Am I older or younger than my colleagues, am I where I wanted to be in my career at this age, am I older than most mothers with young kids and so on. It’s not self-doubt, it is ego and a sense of mortality and a ludicrous involuntary measurement against societal norms for my given age. Kids, house-owner, car, good job – I rebel against this stuff but somehow I measure myself against it too. Somewhere deep down, I have been afraid that people will unjustly categorise me because of my age and say I am too old, too set-in-my-ways, too deluded, too out-of-line with everyone else, too everything that is good and youthful. Yeah, I know, it’s horsesh*t really.
Well, then I moved to Norway, possibly the most honest upfront country in the world. Let’s go back to my Monday morning course in Oslo. No cranial calculations required here as everyone happily stands up and states their name and their age, 54, 63, 31, 40 and so on. It’s like those 2 pieces of information go together like Adam and Eve, Samson and Delilah. And if I looked at any of their CVs, of course there were nice photos smiling back at me.
You see, they are very pragmatic and transparent here. There seems to be a belief that it is fundamentally expected that age or looks would never be used to discriminate against you. If you are 58 and looking for work, it is expected that the value you bring in experience and in who you are outweighs any concern about you fitting into an environment where many people are younger. Everyone has something to contribute, regardless of what stage they are at in life, and it is expected that everyone gets a chance to do so if they want to.
In previous similar situations in the last few years here in Norway, I have never said my age, somehow trying to protect myself sub-consciously from my fear that I am too old to start a new career in a new country. But I am settling in and therewith, changing my view on life. Maybe these Norwegians don’t like playing complex pyschological games with themselves on life and their place and stage in it. Maybe they believe in their environment to be fair because that’s how they live and breathe it. Maybe they just couldn’t be arsed with denial, what the hell is the point. OK, screw it, here I go. Jeg heter Carmel og jeg er 45 år gammel. My name is Carmel and I am 45 years old.