Recruiters and hiring managers can make sweeping generalizations about experienced candidates that have stemmed from either their personal experiences in working with experienced professionals or have been influenced by what they read in the media. Either way, it causes a formidable obstacle for experienced candidates to overcome in the job search process. To begin to conquer ageism, we need to look at what is going on in the minds of the hiring managers who are interviewing you.
Here is what hiring managers may be thinking when considering an experienced candidate.
- You will leave when you find a better job than the one they are offering.
- You ultimately will not be happy with a less important title compared to titles you held in the past.
- You most likely will require an expensive salary, and it is not in their budget.
- You may want their (the hiring manager’s) job.
- You could make the prospective boss look incompetent or inadequate. They do not want to bring in someone who will upstage them.
- You may not be willing to work extra hours.
- You may not be fully up to date on technology, and the manager doesn’t have time to train you.
- You are knowledgeable about previously successful practices but may not be experienced with current trends and practices.
- You may not be open or flexible to learning new ways of doing things.
- You may not be receptive to receiving instructions from a younger and/or less experienced boss.
- You won’t make their life easier—regardless of age.
In citing these, I am not saying the hiring manager is right with these beliefs and assumptions, I simply am bringing them to your attention so we can devise a strategy to combat and conquer them during the job search process. These are valid concerns on behalf of the hiring manager and must be dealt with to formulate a strategic plan to proactively address these throughout your search.
I will talk about tactics you can employ with your resume, social media profiles, and other communication documents. I will make suggestions on job search tactics that can enable you to seem current and contemporary when compared to other candidates. Lastly, I will give you interview strategies to use that can put your hiring manager at ease with you and your experiences.
These topics can be broken down into three areas to address beating ageism once and for all in your job search:
- Making your resume ageless
- Practicing active job search practices
- Overcoming the overqualified question in an interview
Making Your Resume Ageless
As a former recruiter and hiring manager, I outline these four resume tactics to avoid, as they focus on your age and date your resume. If you use these tactics, you can ensure your resume will end up in the trash folder:
- Don’t include the phrase “…. with more than 25 years of experience…” in the beginning of your resume. When I read this statement, I picture a pigeon-chested, over-inflated executive resting on his or her laurels and looking backward. Companies want to hire leaders, soaring eagles, who are looking forward, regardless of their age. Organizations want to hire those who view their most recent accomplishments as a mere memory and are hot to move on to the next huge accomplishment. Don’t be the pigeon stuck pontificating on your past accolades.
- Do not call yourself a “seasoned executive.” I only like my French fries seasoned. Enough said here. Don’t do it. Companies want to hire the best-level experience. Don’t bring your age into the mix and then be disappointed if it is used against you.
- Refrain from using a dated resume format. You know the resume format you had when you graduated college in 1988 that you keep adding on your most recent experience to? It is time to retire that format and utilize a contemporary resume format. Gravitate from a responsibility-based resume to an achievement-based bulleted format.
- Don’t place an objective at the top of your resume. Resume objectives are the kiss of death. They speak of what you want and need. Frankly, most hiring managers do not care what you want and need—they want to know how your skills and experience add value and fix issues within their organization in the form of an Executive Summary. If you are not employer-focused in your summary, your resume will be ignored.
Practicing Active Job Search Practices
Overcoming ageism in a job search and getting results from your efforts is achieved by utilizing the most contemporary tactics, embracing the tools available to you as a job seeker in today’s employment landscape, and simply connecting with people. Do not let technology rule your search, but use it to enhance your relationship-building activities to gain traction finding the right jobs for you.
Only submitting to job postings and not talking to people is not an effective search strategy. When this strategy does not work for experienced job seekers, they can tend to blame the lack of response on ageism …and it is not true. Ageism is not often the cause of the lack of results. The reason is that submitting to job search postings only is the least effective job search strategy out there. Here are ways to embrace technology to deepen your existing connections online and offline and get responses from your efforts:
- Be able to communicate via technology, for example, via e-mail, Twitter, text, and Skype. Familiarize yourself with how to communicate using the various technologies available to you. When someone is over 40 and they do not know how to Skype, hiring managers assume they are dated with technology and do not get today’s world. So don’t give them a reason to make their assumptions come to life.
- Study online marketing concepts to have your communications capture attention in an online world. Understanding the nuances of subject lines, 140 character limits (Twitter), and best time of day to send a message can help you communicate more effectively in technology, and, frankly, make you look like you “get it.”
- Communicate the way hiring managers request to engage. Don’t insist on in-person meetings or phone calls if the hiring manager requests e-mail or scanning. And do not ask to fax over a resume. If hiring managers are communicating via e-mail, then communicate via e-mail and get good at doing so fast! Saying, “If I can just get in front of them!” or “If I can just talk on the phone with a human, I know I can make an impression” isn’t going to help you land an interview. You have to “speak” to people in the medium in which they speak. I have seen jobseekers finally get traction with a contact who is constantly on Twitter—after e-mailing or dialing him or her with no response. Try all different mediums, not just the ones you are familiar with.
- Embrace and master the online job application. Do not begrudge it or fight it. It is here to stay, like mobile phones. I challenge you to embrace it and master it. Generally speaking, attempt to embrace what you fear, whether it’s online applications, the interview question you hope they don’t ask, etc….
- Practice phone, Skype, and video interviewing to ensure you are most effective when it is most important. If you are nervous about interviews using technology, such as phone interviews, video interviews, or Skype interviews, then practice with a friend or a coach so the first time you do it is not on the interview. The real interviews should not be practice sessions for you if you are not naturally comfortable in these mediums.
- Communicate concisely and clearly—no long cover letter manifestos. Contemporary cover letters are short and concise summing up in three to four bullet points what skills/expertise you have that make you the right person for the job. They are not to be a verbal regurgitation of your resume history. Long manifesto cover letters are a thing of the past.
- Make social media social. Call social media contacts you follow online. Participate in chats (Twitter), hangouts (G+), and online live events. Comment on blogs and status updates. Promote your connections’ wins on various social media channels. Give information to help to start a dialogue and then take that dialogue offline.
Overcoming the Overqualified Question in an Interview
You want to be prepared when the hiring manager asks the frustrating question, “Aren’t you overqualified for this job?” If she could tell you are overqualified for the job from your resume but asked you in for an interview anyway, here is what that tells me: The company has interest in you. As an overqualified candidate, you need to convince the hiring manager how your situation will benefit them if she hires you—and don’t focus so much on why it is good for you to take this job. How you handle the question determines if you are advanced through the process. Here are some unique ways you can answer this question:
- “I have hired and overseen ‘bad’ overqualified people and I simply won’t perform that way, if hired. I have hired talented, overqualified people who seemed to have brought in their Mr. Hyde side upon starting work and have acted badly on the job: i.e., being bossy to others; undermining of management; taking on initiatives without communicating; usurping duties from others resulting in redundancies of efforts; taking credit for other people’s work; not being a team player since they clearly were above it all; and even more. In hiring me, I would ensure you would be benefiting from what I learned from such mistakes.”
- “If hired, I believe it is my job to make my management team look good. If you look good, I look good. I had great staff working for me, and I would be conducting myself in the same manner working for you. I would hope you could benefit from my experience when applicable and know that I would give generously to the group’s efforts however I can.”
- “I know it is important to follow direction at times and just run with it at times. I have developed the judgment through my experience to know when each of those instances need to happen at the right time.” As a previous director, I know there were many times I wanted my team to simply run with it and leave me out of the minutiae of the decision. On the flip side, I remember instances when I wanted to remain in the loop or even give direction. The employees who had the judgment to know when to run with it and when to bring me in became my go-to people. I would aspire to be that person for you.”
- “I would never take a job I was not interested in nor one where felt I would not make a long-term contribution. To be blunt, I have made hires that were not the best match before and it was because I did not thoroughly ask about what the employee needed and so they just focused on what I needed throughout the interview. I am glad we are discussing this, and I appreciate that you are asking me about what I need in evaluating this match between us. I really do not want to be a bad hire within a firm. With that said, I am interested and very much able to do this job as offered. I feel it would benefit us both greatly if you hired me.”
Every job seeker needs to come to the hiring process prepared to discuss why he or she is right for the job, no matter how under-, over-, or perfectly qualified for the job. If you do not get moved to the next step after the overqualified question, it is because the hiring manager was not convinced you would be a good employee match—whether he is right or wrong is not the issue. It is the job seeker’s job to convey the message he or she is properly qualified for the job. If you show the hiring manager how she will benefit from hiring you, you increase your chances of getting moved on to the next level of interviewing. Good luck!
Lisa Rangel, managing director of Chameleon Resumes, is a former search firm recruiter, paid LinkedIn contributor, certified professional resume writer, and holder of nine additional career certifications. As a former recruitment professional for more than 13 years, Rangel knows first-hand what resumes get a response from reviewing thousands of resumes and identifying high-caliber talent for premier organizations. She is the author of the books, 99 Job Search Tips from An Executive Recruiter, Beat Ageism In Your Job Search eBook – Strategies for the Overqualfied and Interview Confidently, Get Hired and Don’t Sell Out.