If you are lucky enough to land a job interview in this difficult market, make sure you are in control of your message. This is especially important for seasoned candidates who often hear that they are overqualified for a position. With a generation of experienced individuals that were laid off in the recession, organizations are seeing a lot of senior candidates apply for roles below their typical pay grade.
It's up to the veteran candidates to prove their value-add more than ever since many companies are fearful of flight risk and resist taking on individuals whom they believe will only be around until they find a better opportunity.
Age discrimination in the employment arena is still rampant and often veiled with the overqualified term. If you find yourself fighting to prove your worth as an experienced professional, here are some selling points to consider when marketing yourself for a new opportunity.
Think like the hiring manager. Assuage the company fear factor right off the bat and address flight risk and high salary expectations. If you have done your research, you will know the expected salary range for the position and let your employer know you are realistic about what the position pays. If you have a history of longevity or loyalty to a company, share that so the employer understands you won't leave the first chance you get a better gig.
Enthusiasm works -- desperation doesn't. Explain why you are genuinely interested in the position and why you are a value-add to the organization. Be authentic and sell your skills, competencies, and experiences as a return on investment for the employer. Recruiters can smell desperation in all candidates so focus on opportunities that are really a good fit. It will be better for you and the employer in the long run.
Life experience is a good thing. In addition to your education and professional posts, wisdom and life experience are priceless. Develop a compelling story about how your time in the work saddle has empowered you with communication skills and team work abilities that taught you how to play well in the company sandbox and your ability to respond well to constructive criticism.
With age comes wisdom. While newbie hires may be shiny and bright with the ink barely dry on their diplomas, a more seasoned professional is more likely to choose an organization based on the company values that match their own. A recent Harvard Business Review discussed how overqualified employees tend to perform better and don't quit any sooner than other employees. For an experienced hire -- it's more about job satisfaction and fit than merely just finding work.
Ability to handle change. A practiced candidate often brings depth to a position and has experience handling challenge and change in the work environment. Showcase your resiliency and flexibility and your willingness to solve problems outside of the box. Show examples of the positive effect you can bring to the workplace.
A values re-assessment. The corporate sector was hit hard with lay-offs and down-sizing in the recession and many driven 80+ hour/week careerists have re-evaluated their personal and professional values. Often they are looking for more balance and jobs that are not as high on the company ladder, on purpose. The older worker may be happier in a more middle-rung role because it reflects a values shift that better meets their lifestyle.
Be seen before you apply. The power of the informational interview is more important than ever. Most positions aren't even posted and being overqualified might get your CV weeded out by an HR professional or skill scanning software program before you are ever seriously considered. Reach out to company prospects and request a brief meeting to learn more about the culture and company mission. Be on your best and most approachable behavior in these non threatening sessions and wow them with your personality and know-how. Even if no positions are currently posted, these in-person meetings allow you to be seen and heard so when something does become available you will be well remembered and your over-qualification will not be a threat.
The hiring manager may be your daughter's age. Since the person with the hiring authority may be much younger, it's important not to scare them when you do land the interview. Be gentle and use humble confidence to tout your professional accomplishments. Put their fears to rest by illustrating how you are successful at relationship building and maintenance in organizations. Mirror the behavior of your hiring manager and make them feel at ease and most importantly, in control!
In the best case scenario companies should hire for fit, train for skill, and always hire the best talent available, even if they are more seasoned than the hiring manager and other colleagues. It's up to the candidate to sell yourself as the ultimate value-add. Be well prepared the next time someone throws the overqualified term in your direction and spin this into a positive return on investment for the company. In the end, no company has control over who stays and who leaves so seriously considering experienced talent should be a no brainer.
Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name (www.carolinedowdhiggins.com) She is also the Director of Career & Professional Development at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.