overqualified.jpgValentina Janek, who’s over 40, has heard the “you’re-over-qualified” excuse before.

Janek, who started a networking group for the jobless called the Long Island Breakfast Club, has been looking for a job for a while and believes age bias is alive and well in the job market today.

“Overqualified is another word for disqualified,” she explained. “If you interview with someone not as experienced as you, you won’t get the job.”

It’s something I hear often from people in the mid-stream of their careers, and even though employment discrimination based on age is clearly illegal under the nation’s labor laws, it happens often.

What are these hiring managers and HR folks really thinking when they say “overqualified”?

Carl Wellenstein, and employment strategist and author of “12 Steps to a New Career” thinks he knows.

“They are thinking you are either too old (for them) or you’ll only stay until you find a job more suited to your level of experience,” he explained.

They find ways to justify this, according to Wellenstein.

• They have a very young group of employees in the department/group/etc. you would be in and they believe it would be difficult for an older person to adapt. Or, they may believe the current employees may not easily accept an older person coming in and it could cause friction and adversely affect productivity.
• They may have a high percentage of employees in a department who will be approaching retirement at the same time and they must recruit younger, less experienced people who can learn and grow to fill that vacuum.
• Their customer base is young or their market targets a particular culture and they believe they need to recruit people who could more easily connect with their market.

No matter what the reasoning, you still can’t discriminate against an older worker. But there may be ways to get hiring managers to think less about age and more about what you can do for them.

Wellenstein offered some advice on how to mitigate some of the age bias:

“Don’t talk about how fit you are, how well you keep in shape, or try to convince them that you won’t consider other jobs that might be more appropriate for you,” he advised. “You must focus on what you bring to the table and how it will benefit them.”

He provided some ideas of what to say:

• “I’ve held a similar position with ABC Company and have had to deal with many, if not most, of the issues that someone in this position will encounter.”
• “Using my prior experience, I can anticipate the issues and prevent them from becoming problems that then have to be dealt with after the fact.”
• “I’ve learned the most effective techniques and what doesn’t work. That should mitigate problems and help create a more efficient organization.”
• “I’ve learned the value of building a succession plan and have the experience and knowledge of all the functions in the department. Using that to your advantage, I can organize cross-training and coach people to be more effective in what they do. I can also recognize their strengths and weaknesses more easily and identify those who should be promoted or who need more training.”
• “While I understand you think I might leave when the economy recovers, I have a history of being very loyal to my employers. I never left only because another opportunity paid more. I left for reasons out of my control (headcount reductions, etc.) or, like the majority of people who leave their employer, because of a boss that I chose not to work for anymore.” (Whatever the reason, be prepared to explain it objectively without any hint of emotion.)
• “I’ve learned throughout my career that change is constant and I’ve always been very adaptable to new systems and ways of doing things. My past experience has often helped me to improve upon suggestions made by others.”
• “I have had to work for younger people (or in teams) on a number of occasions and have often helped mentor them. Many of my former younger colleagues have become personal friends.”

What I’ve heard from some hiring managers is that confidence plays a key role in getting people hired. You have to feel confident and proud of your age and all you’ve accomplished. If not, why would they want to hire you, right?

Have you ever been told you’re overqualified, or felt your age held you back? Tell us what happened, and how you dealt with it or didn’t deal with it?

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