by Bill, Management

On Being ‘Overqualified’ – Job Hunting Tips for Baby-Boomers and Others

1 Comment 02 April 2009

For readers who are not looking for jobs at the moment, be thankful, and please pardon the posting of job hunting tips two days in a row. It just seems a bit relevant at the moment. Today’s post is directed largely at the over 50 crowd (or over 40, or whatever age you have to be to start worrying about your age, ‘er being “overqualified” being an issue.)

Before proceeding, here’s a shout out to Michelle Goodman, who recently wrote a really good piece on this same topic for ABC News.

From an employer’s standpoint there is no such thing as “overqualified.” Under qualified yes… mis-qualified perhaps… once qualified, sure – but not overqualified. I’ve never heard anyone complain that their doctor, airline pilot, plumber, teacher, or lover had too much talent or experience.

As an HR executive during the high growth years of FedEx, and ADP, I was responsible for the hiring of perhaps 70,000 employees. We worried a lot about things like:

  1. whether or not we’d be able to keep people whose skills might not be fully utilized right away
  2. whether or not someone had done something for so long that they would be unable or unwilling to try different approaches
  3. if an exceptionally well qualified candidate would become bored
  4. whether or not those credentials would cost us more, and if not, why not?

I can assure you though, I never once worried, and the companies we work with today don’t spend one nanosecond worrying about people bringing too much talent to the game. The question is, is that talent fresh – is it relevant to the tasks at hand? And, perhaps more importantly, what kind of attitude do they bring to the game?

What hiring managers do mind is someone who has been around the block a few times and doesn’t want to listen or learn new stuff. To be sure, a lot of managers are intimidated just a bit by the prospect of hiring somebody who may be older, smarter, more experienced, or all of those things.

That said, a lot of people are in fact told by prospective employers that they are “overqualified.” Put bluntly, that’s code for “I’m not going to hire you, and I want a short, polite, non-confrontational, legally defensible explanation for it.”

And yes, there’s a bit of a dark side to this. The odds of folks over 45 years of age (like me) hearing the “O’ word are a lot greater than my 34 year old son hearing it. What is said is “overqualified” but what is sometimes meant is another word that starts with “O” – old. That may have something to do the significant increase in age discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC in the last decade. Can you as an individual change that? No. But here’s what you can do.

1. You can make darned sure that you don’t waste one precious minute of your life getting bitter about it. You didn’t get to this ripe ‘uh age still believing that life was always fair, so get over it. Besides, you’ve got better things to do, like conducting a job search, which, by the way is about as close to a full time job as any.

2. The 1st place to invest your time and energy is in doing a targeted job search. We are in corporate classrooms just about every week, training managers to hire those people (and only those people) whose temperament, preferences, and values will allow them to be happy, productive and successful working for a given organization. You need to do the same by identifying those companies (and even individual managers) with whom you will be successful. One of the major tenets of our work is that just as people have reputations, companies have a reputation as a place to work. The more successful businesses and even individual managers have figured out that their reputation as an employer matters, a lot. If I’m on a job search, those are the businesses I should be targeting. Sites like GreatPlaceJobs.com can be a good place to begin your search.

3. Do not, repeat, do NOT apply for jobs that you feel ‘overqualified’ for. Translation:  You believe going in that the job is beneath you. Doing that is committing fraud against your psyche, your resume, and a potential employer, not to mention the folks you’d be working with.

4. Your resume is your ticket to the dance. It needs to look like a ticket to a dance that is occurring in the year 2009. On the one hand, there have been enough football coaches caught putting their resume on steroids to suggest that falsifying documents is not a very smart thing to do. On the other, you need to worry – a lot about how that resume presents you. How does it look electronically, for example? Email it to yourself and find out.

Though you should never fabricate the data (dates, positions, degrees, etc.), there is nothing wrong with choosing how you want to allocate the white space on your personal billboard… which particular talents or experiences you should emphasize for a given job or employer. You should definitely consider adapting your resume for specific jobs and situations. Skills and experiences that are no longer relevant in the job market, or for a particular job don’t bear mentioning on your resume. You wouldn’t wear a thirty year old suit to the interview would you… would you?

Yet, selective creativity is perfectly legit. I once hired a sales rep for ADP  whose resume listed outstanding qualifications – as a baseball player. His resume listed his last position as “Catcher, Kansas City Royals” and his reason for leaving as, get this… “couldn’t hit a curve ball.” Upon seeing this, I just had to talk with the guy, and he had his foot in the door. Think of it as one-to-one marketing.

5. Once you do get an interview, show up prepared – something most people don’t do. Companies that are particularly successful at making acquisitions do very good due diligence on the business they are about to acquire. An applicant’s failure to conduct that same basic research on a place they might spend 8 hours a day working at is fundamentally stupid.

Similarly, show up prepared to participate in an interview. Practice being interviewed, and in particular, answering the obvious questions about why you are willing to consider a job you were qualified to do ten years ago. Get with an interview coach who is skilled at behaviorally-based interviews, have them videotape the practice interview and give you some bone-honest feedback. Watch the tape, throw up, make some changes, and do it again. This is serious business, and your first practice session shouldn’t be on the day you need to have your best stuff. Even Mariano Rivera warms up before he pitches.

6. On the big day, go into that interview brimming with confidence, secure in the knowledge that you’ve done your homework, are well prepared, and happen to be exceptionally well qualified.

This post has been excerpted from articles available in The Fridge at ContentedCows.com.

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com

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