One of the things I was most surprised by when I got into the jobs business over a decade ago was the prevalence and practice of age discrimination in hiring right here in the USA. Oh, sure... we're not like some overseas markets where job ads explicitly demand youth, or a particular gender, or beauty(!), in the applicant, but there it is...
It seems I continually hear this complaint, "They aren't hiring me because I'm overqualified." One man e-mailed me about this problem:
"I have a lot of incredible extracurricular professional activities, publishing expertise, project management experience, board leadership skills, etc. I have an MBA, and am a CPA. All of this info is on my resume because it sets me apart. However, I am concerned that people are viewing me as overqualified for lower-level jobs and eliminating me. Yet, the jobs I am truly qualified for are fairly high up and there are only a handful of openings. Help!"
So what should you do if you're credentialed with good experience and advanced education, are looking to become re-employed and are even willing to take a lower-level position? Here are a few tips:
This strategy moves your career backward. You typically end up frustrated, not hired or worse — you find a new job you can't wait to move out of. Most employers today actually want you working at your highest ability level since productivity is key to everyone's success. They also want to retain you past the many months it takes to train you for the job, so you can begin to make a contribution to the company.
Acknowledge that employers are reluctant to hire a person who is overqualified because they think the person is unlikely to be happy, won't stay long, might want the interviewer's job or may expect fast promotion. Remember that you can be threatening to the interviewer, especially if you are truly suited for the interviewer's job! He may think you aren't seriously interested in doing the job for which you're being hired — nor do employers want someone who's burned out or sees the job as an easy paycheck.
Examine why you want the position. "I need a job!" is not a response that will endear you to him. You must use your communication skills to convince him why a demotion is a good option. You must create a reasonable explanation. Try this:
"My current position as Regional Sales Manager requires me to cover 14 states, and the job had grown into 15 nights of travel per month. This has become an increasingly difficult sacrifice for my family. I have decided to seek a major accounts-rep position that allows me to focus on my strengths — selling, sustaining top-notch client relationships and up-selling — but also allows me to go home most evenings. This is not an option at my current job. It requires a lot of out-of-town travel to do the job, which I am no longer willing to do. I believe my extensive marketing and sales skills would greatly benefit your organization in a positive way. I see this as a win/win situation for both of us."
You may feel it, but it will work against your getting hired if you show how frantic you are to get a job. Too often an executive says, "I'll start at any job just to get my foot in the door." That won't work — it's an outdated strategy. Being willing to take any job often makes the interviewer disqualify you. She needs a competent person to perform the specific job she's hiring for.
So, you must show not only that you can do it but also that you want to do it. You can offer some advantages, gained from your experience, such as: "My ability to solve problems and train others would be a major plus in the position." Many employers are slow to hire, yet pay well when they select someone for the position, so patience is essential.
Employers want a good fit and an individual who delivers results. Customize every cover letter you write and tweak your resume to match the opportunity. Be sure to address the major needs required and demonstrate results you've achieved in line with the level requested. A former CEO at a smaller company might only be a midlevel executive at a larger organization, so be clear as to how you're leveraging past experience and leadership to help a potential employer excel.
Ask colleagues, friends, former employees, college alumni, and other contacts for referrals to new people who can help you uncover unadvertised positions. An introduction to a senior executive can open new doors and even create a job when no advertised one was available. Department of Labor statistics reveal that 63 percent of all jobs last year were found through contacts, so network, network, NETWORK!