Tuesday, February 07, 2006

You're Overqualified

Todd Raphael is the Editor in Chief of the Electronic Recruiting Exchange. He also finds the time (where I don't know) to also have his own blog on the site called appropriately enough: Todd Raphael's World of Talent. He recently posted some thoughts which he titled You're Overqualified. It brought me some smiles as in it he shared some feedback snippets from a career conference he attended in LA, some of which as an aside had to do with housing prices in Southern California. If you are thinking of moving there any time soon, you'll want to check this out for sure, but that isn't why it caught my eye.

His last entry in the post was to share a some cute comebacks to a couple of issues that come up for most candidates all the time. Salary expectations and being "overqualified."

He apparently was talking with Carleen MacKay a Director at Spherion, and here's what he reported she said:

Spherion director Carleen MacKay was asked by one candidate what to tell employers who early on in the process ask him what his salary expectations are. "Say to the employer, 'How much you got?'" she joked.

Another candidate asked what to do when employers tell him he's overqualified. MacKay suggested he say, "I may be overqualified, but I'm an underperformer."

When I saw the joke with regard to being overqualified, it reminded me of the hundreds of folks I have talked to over the years and the reaction they had when they first woke up to the reality of age discrimination.

My own "awakening" came when I was 48 and was in the process of trying to figure out what my next gig was going to be. It took me more than 6 months before it started to dawn on me that my age was an issue. I was speechless (which for anyone who knows me takes a lot). I had just finished running in the NYC marathon for Pete's sake! What in the hell was going on here?

So now it is some 18 years later, and I while I am no longer speechless, I'm still pretty ticked off, and the passing years have not reduced the number of members that we talk to all the time who suddenly face this issue. They are pretty ticked off too.

So what's to do I am often asked. My answer usually goes something like "Well, I am only one person, but here's what I think."

You ultimately have to make choices about how you want to spend your time and energy. At this stage of my life, as we are all too painfully aware, the world doesn't lack for biases of almost any flavor you want to name.

My own feeling is that while we all have them, if you throw out each end of the spectrum (bleeding heart liberals on the left and big time bigots on the right) most of us are somewhere in between which means that while we may have the bias for whatever reason, we are willing to listen and can be influenced. That's where I would spend my time and energy.

Our stats here at ExecuNet clearly show two things:

1. Age discrimination is alive and well, and

2. While it usually takes longer, (the 35 year old ends up getting about twice as many interviews as the 50 year olds) it is not insurmountable. Once one starts to manage the anger and realize that the skill and experience you have acquired over time is simply not available by googling, taking pill or injection, you have a USP that is really worth a great deal. What you bring to the party is matuity, experience, and judgement that has been gained out there in the market place where they shoot with live ammunition.

Said differently, you aren’t going to get past someone’s age bias if you approach your search with an attitude that telegraphs, “I know I’m older, probably overqualified and would really rather be retiring than reinventing myself.” What does convince (at nearly any age), is projecting energy, commitment and genuine interest in the opportunity at hand. An up-to-date shirt, good grooming and eye glasses from this century don’t hurt either.

1 comment:

Rick Schwartz said...

There's no question that age discrimination is out there still but I have a slightly different take on it.

If someone has a prejudice against a job seeker for any reason - be it age, gender, race, whatever - I'm not interested in saving him from his own bias. I'm interested in getting a job.

So I simply try to discern early on if there is an age bias and if it really exists, I move on. I know that there are indeed some folks who don't have such a bias so I just keep looking until I find them.

The way I find out is to bring up my age in a casual way in my first phone or face 2 face interview.

I don't bring it up in an apologetic way but in manner that, I think, makes me a more desirable candidate. If it doesn't get a positive response - so be it.

I usually say something along the following lines and btw, every word is true.

I say, "You know, I'm in a great place right now. My house is paid off, my kids are grown, and my wife has a great income. I'm being very fussy in what I'm looking to do. I know that my 25 years of experience gives me an opportunity to really make an impact somewhere. I am looking for a great company with great people where I can use everything I've learned to give something back and help an organization be all that it can be."

This lays it out there plain and simple. If the conversation continues and I get a follow up interview after all that then I know that age isn't going to be a problem.

If I never hear from them again it and it's something that I know I'm qualified to do then I take a guess that the age issue was a problem for them. I'd rather find out sooner than later when my own time investment is minimal.