“I think she is overqualified for the job.”
I have heard that phrase far too many times during interview debriefings. It tends to frighten me. What does it really mean and how did the reviewer come to that generalization in the first place?
Overqualified is one of those catch-all words that employers need to shy away from. Think about it – if a person is overqualified then how is it that a more qualified person is hired into the position? It seems more often than not that the overqualified candidate is the older candidate and many assumptions are being made about them. The Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone age 40 or older in hiring, firing, promotions or pay. Unemployment for those 50 years of age and older is the highest it has been in over sixty years. Much scrutiny is now being given to age bias in the workplace. Telling somebody they are overqualified could be the hook for an age discrimination lawsuit. Employers beware.
So what’s a candidate to do? Well, first and foremost a resume should focus on the marketable skills and their relevance to the current market. Filing a six page resume going back to your first job out of college thirty years ago is probably not the first best impression (sort of like telling your life story in minute detail on a first date; it’s best to hold back and save some mystery for later).
Every single word of a resume should be scrutinized by the candidate before being submitted anywhere. Lead the person reviewing your resume to conclusions about your skills not about your age. I know of a career counselor who insists that her clients only go back fifteen years on their resumes and omit the completion dates from their education. Be aware, also, that many of the social sites on the web allow for posting of pictures. Be sure to post as fresh and appealing an appearance as you can, especially on the career-oriented sites like Linkedin and Monster.
And finally, stop applying for multiple jobs with the same company even though you may qualify for all of them. Stay very focused on the job you truly want. Applicant tracking systems store data on candidates going back years and years. I’ve worked on-site at major corporations where I could easily review a candidate’s application history going back a decade or more.
Age and experience should be reasons to hire somebody, not reject them. Sadly, the reality is that we have a marketplace ripe with bias and assumptions of every kind especially when it comes to age. Paying attention to subtle details at the beginning of a job search will go a long way towards mitigating some of this prejudice and help position an older candidate for employment success.