“Too much of a good thing is wonderful,” said Mae West. But when you’re sitting across the desk from a hiring manager who is 30-something, all they see is their “mother” or “father” or even a grandparent. Relevant work experience, advanced degrees and credentials – while prerequisites for many jobs – can disqualify as well as qualify. If a candidate previously held a role at a higher level than the one she’s seeking, or her education or certifications exceed a position’s stated requirements, she’s unlikely to pass the initial software-driven screen most employers apply before even looking at an incoming resume and are categorized as “over-qualified.” This is the shorthand for “too old.”
That’s the evident meaning when a hiring manager or HR person says an opening is “too junior for you,” when you know it pays more than your last job. (This happened to me a few times.)
Is it Really about the Money? While most of us think that our previous high salary is the issue, money isn’t really all that much of an issue in the decision. Even though age and years of experience map to a candidate’s salary requirement, hiring managers think more about culture and fit. They’re more concerned with the harmony of the existing team members, who might be significantly younger. That’s why overqualified applicants whose compensation need is well within a position’s budgeted range might be rejected. This is the first time in the history of our country that four generations are in the workplace simultaneously. And they’re not always getting along in a professional environment.
Will I Be Challenged? Hiring managers love to ask the “overqualified” if the position will be challenging to them. Be prepared to answer all those sneaky questions that really point to your age:
- Are you too accomplished to be content with starting from ground-zero again?
- Are you just interviewing for this entry level job until you find something more challenging? Are you just looking for a paycheck that will support you until you find your dream job? Is this job just potentially to minimize the gap in your resume?
- Will you be able to fully participate in the team, even though you have years of experience? Or do you think you’ll resent having to roll up your sleeves at this point in your career?
If you are fully prepared with well-crafted answers, you can overcome the real concern – your age. Remember, you still have youthful ideas.
Laurel Bernstein is an Executive Coach working with senior leaders and business owners in the New York metropolitan area. mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org