MINIMIZE AGEISM issues.
Few comments from prospective employers are so demoralizing to candidates as, “We like you but you are overqualified for this job.” Most people interpret this as, “You are too old.”
Overqualified is the easiest answer to give a candidate when an employer passes on hiring an over 45 year old candidate. It is rarely the real reason; it is the politically correct reason and the safest way to get the candidate to go away. Employers who pass on a candidate don’t want to ‘handle’ the questions and emotions that result from refusal; they want to move on to the next candidate. Same goes for recruiters.
There is never a guarantee, even if you have the right qualifications, that an offer will be presented. Don’t leap to the conclusion you didn’t get an offer because you are perceived as overqualified or too old.
Often the reason seasoned professionals are passed over has nothing to do with qualifications.
If you are invited to interview chances are the employer already knows you exceed their requirements. They saw something of value in your resume and invited you to interview so you could prove why they should hire you. That is what interviews are for. If they pass on you it is because you failed to prove them right.
Before you start writing your flame mail to me that you don’t get a chance to interview, to be tested, because the resume you sent in didn’t generate a response…and you assume it is because the employer sees you as over qualified, I remind you, few executives get the interviews they want by random resume submission. It is the poorest job search technique you can use.
Then there are those who genuinely believe they are or are perceived to be overqualified. The current employees are all younger and it looks like there is a bias. Most companies screen for fit. But fit usually means enthusiasm and energy level; not age. The bias towards younger employees tends to be because younger employees demonstrate an eagerness to succeed and participate.
Do a reality check. Do you come across as weary? Is your posture or tone of voice communicating high interest in the job and company? There are many intangibles that give employers the key to your fit for their team.
Let’s focus on techniques to overcome the ‘overqualified’ or ‘too old’ ageism labels:
ONE: They really want someone younger, cheaper – No employer is going to state that aloud. What every hiring manager wants is a successful hire within their budget. The better able you are to define their needs before you interview, the higher the likelihood of an offer. Interview with their needs in mind and focus on outcomes they need, not your superhero skills.
TWO: The employer fears I will leave for a better opportunity – Employers face turn-over from all sections of the company. Your leaving is no more probable than anyone else’s IF you have discerned you can be successful in that position. Talk about what you will contribute, not what you have done before in excess. Focus on the job they have open, not all the other tasks you can accomplish. Talk in terms of what you can deliver, give examples.
THREE: They think I will be bored – If you communicate enthusiasm for the market niche and the challenges of that particular job, this goes away. Once you discern their top priority, address that with a sense of creative adventure. Be well prepared on their market and the challenges. If you ask good questions about their plans for the future, such as follow on products or market positioning, you demonstrate a keen interest.
FOUR: They think I will be unhappy – Why would they? If you keep the focus on how you can expand what you do and learn a new approach, employers won’t think of you as a misfit. Let them know what you find desirable about their work environment or market niche. Be specific. Don’t use generalities like, “I’m excited about what you do.” Say, instead, “This opportunity appeals to me because xxx.” And make the xxx about them, not you.
FIVE: I think I need to change my resume to remove my more senior experience – Do you know this is a firing offense? If you are not entirely honest, hide or misrepresent, you can be fired on the spot. Plus, these are lies you will have to maintain. Better to be honest and help the employer see that though you have had more senior responsibilities, there are still things you can learn and contribute that are unique. And this means including months and years of previous employment and date of college graduation.
SIX: The manager sees me as competition – Convey how you can make the manager look good. Ask what their priorities are, what their metrics for judging success in the role are and speak only to those. Mention your job is to make them look good and ask what being part of the team would mean. Be sure you are not conveying superiority or a condescending manner. Give examples without stating, “This is how I made my last manager look good.” Talk about the team success.
Not sure how you are coming across? Invite a younger, trusted friend to interview you using a video recorder for later review. Dissect every part of the interview including attire, tone of voice and body language.
It is my experience that candidates often create their own issues by being patronizing, impatient, and dismissive or even conciliatory or apologetic. Be very critical of your interview style. Be self confident but not arrogant.
As an example: Never, ever say, “Oh, that’s easy, I solved that problem,” or similar responses that dismiss the importance and difficulty the interviewer tries to convey. For more information on how to convey your experience without sounding like you invented work, read, “You have an ugly baby” in “Job Search Debugged.”
Read previous articles on age on this thread. For general career advice for executives and technology professionals, use the links on the right side of this page.
Listen to a podcast for tips and ideas on how to manage your job search to avoid the pitfalls of ageism.
Rita Ashley is a career and job search coach for executives. In the last two years 98% of my clients achieved their goals within six months. Is it your turn? Contact me directly to discuss a customized solution.