I have 30 years of professional experience; I have no small children at home who will keep me out of work with sick days and school events; I can work early and late; I have patience, a broad vision, and I could do this job in my sleep. And I want this job!
Sorry, you’re overqualified.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately, this type of exchange — spoken or implied — is all too common. It can be incredibly frustrating for a competent and experienced professional to be discriminated against because of those very qualities.
Why won’t they hire you?
If you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of applying for a role that is professionally lower tiered than your previous experience, the hiring manager may fear that you would either be bored and unchallenged, or that you would threaten the authority of your less experienced managers.
Perhaps the manager is new at his role and would be intimidated by an employee who knows more about the field than he does. Or perhaps the thought of managing someone his parents’ age is just too daunting.
Another reason you might not be the top choice in this situation is that your application for a lower level role raises questions about your competence and professional success. The hiring manager may assume that you want this job because you have been unable to secure a higher level one, due to past professional mistakes or a poor reputation.
What can you do about it?
Try for a face to face meeting
Since most of the reasons why a senior professional will be rejected in favor of a more junior one stem from fear, insecurity or even prejudice, it’s hard to overcome these obstacles long distance; your best bet is to try your utmost to meet face to face.
I know it’s very hard to get an interview when the hiring manager thinks you aren’t what s/he is looking for. But if you have any inside connections in the hiring organization or company, use them to try to get a chance to show them, in person, that you are really a pleasant, friendly and nonthreatening person who just wants the job, and would be grateful and committed if you got it.
Revise your CV
If your CV demonstrates very senior experience in your field, and the position you are applying for is lower on the totem pole, I suggest two central changes to make your CV more attractive. The first is to explain, as part of a brief (1 – 2 sentence) professional profile at the top of your CV, why you are interested in positions that appear to be beneath you. Is it because you have discovered that you truly enjoy the tasks in the lower level position more? Is it because you are looking for a job that comes with less pressure and more teamwork? Whatever it is, just say it; you will be answering the obvious question even before it gets asked.
The second thing you can do is revise the titles and job descriptions on your CV. I am not recommending altering the truth about what you did and were responsible for at your previous positions; however some jobs titles and descriptions are more flexible, depending on which elements of the job you would like to emphasize. Small changes such as changing your title from Director to Manager or Coordinator, coupled with a description that emphasizes the elements of the role that are relevant for your current application, could help you garner that interview.
Don’t shout your age
Of course, it’s illegal to discriminate against a job applicant because of their age; however it’s very hard to catch someone doing so. You can’t really hide your age on your CV because you must present the years of your experience and training in order to be considered. However you can avoid shouting it from the hilltops: don’t write that your hobby is taking care of your six grandchildren; don’t put your year of birth at the top of your CV; and don’t add a picture of yourself that shows your smile lines and distinguished hair.
A word to the hiring managers: don’t miss out on your best employees!
Hiring managers, stop for a minute and listen: that experienced professional who really wants this job brings tremendous value to the role. They will most likely stay with you for the long term, as people who are more senior tend to be seeking stability more than a fast career climb. Their life experience has made them patient and able to handle conflicts and pressures with grace and dignity. And their lifestyle will allow them to be much more available than a younger person who is juggling a job and a young family.
Don’t let your concerns disqualify more senior professionals in advance: meet with them and see if your fears are valid or unfounded. If you give yourself the time to discover that the person opposite you is not the threatening or problematic figure you imagined, you will have gained a truly valuable addition to your team.