This is one of the posts I published that generated some terrific conversation and a lot of feedback as well as requests for additional articles / stories… it’s part of why I wrote Sometimes You Have To Eat A Crap Sandwich. If you haven’t already read the post, it’s about looking for a job after reaching a certain age… and the challenges associated with it. If you enjoy this article, you will probably like the book.
Sorry, You Are Too “Experienced”
I challenged myself to post something that would make me even less desirable to potential employers – not sure you can dip below zero interest, but here’s an attempt : )
After 20+ years of working in the healthcare industry, 19 with the same company, a reorganization at the company impacted me. I was definitely sad, as I was leaving a job I liked and the people I worked with were the best. But some things are beyond my control, so I chose to look at this as an opportunity. Animal advocacy is important to me and my family, and I believe there is a much-needed offering for many families with pets, so newly out of work, I embarked on a journey to build and launch an iOS and Android app called Mollycoddle (if interested, you can learn all about it at www.homevetvisit.com). But this isn’t about my new venture, it’s about my attempt to re-enter the workforce.
During this very creative time, I worked hard to keep my skills current – I actually think they’ve improved since becoming an “entrepreneur”. As the small company I stood up now takes less time to oversee, I passively started to look into corporate positions again. I knew I didn’t want to just be a warm body picking up a check, I still wanted to contribute. Knowing this, I focused on roles that I believed would be professionally challenging, and only applied if I knew I had the skills to be successful in the role. I discovered several things (in no particular order):
1. Some jobs could have been written by copying and pasting my resume, yet during those rare instances when a company actually gets back to me, the notification generally states something to the effect of “…other candidates have qualifications that are more closely aligned with the job requirements”. Really…how, the job description is basically my resume lol. I’m not naïve, and realize this could mean many things…like we already know who we want, but due to legal or policy requirements we have to post the position…or, your experience is impressive and it scares the hiring manager…or, we see you started a small business and we hate that because you will most certainly be distracted, and of course the unspoken but real – we have other candidates that are younger and likely cheaper than you.
It’s also comical when you get rejected for a role, but the company continues to send automated emails letting you know the role they said your skills weren’t a fit for is open and fits your skills…huh?
When they say “We’ll keep your resume on file and will let you know if it fits other positions”…no they won’t, which is fine, but why tell candidates you will?
2. Several companies interviewed me and showed interest. One in particular brought me in 4 times, then complete radio silence. Nothing from HR or the hiring manager, and this is after I was told “you’re the guy”. I get that things change, but a simple call or email letting me know would take very little time, is low effort and seems like a good business practice. The actions of this company made me realize I did not want to work at a place that treated people this way, so not a devastating loss. The irony is that this type of treatment violates several of the “values” proudly displayed on their corporate website – very hypocritical.
3. I applied for roles outside of healthcare. I discovered that many industries don’t understand the concept of “transferable skills”. I understand some industries may require unique skills (for example, tugboat captain), but the reality is many skills are transferable, especially soft skills that can’t simply be taught…and I’m pretty sure Excel (and many other tools) work the same in (fill in the blank industry) as it does in healthcare. Anyone external will have to learn the company regardless if they are from the same industry. And by the way, even though I’ve been working in healthcare, it doesn’t mean I don’t understand how other industries work or how to manage or lead people and projects.
4. People that said they would help you when you left your previous role may or may not. When there is a reorganization, I believe many people’s only thought is “thank goodness it wasn’t me”. To be clear, no one owes me anything, but if you are not willing to assist, it’s probably best to not offer. You would also think I was contagious, or by engaging with me somehow makes former colleagues guilty by association …which is silly, because I was not “guilty” of anything, I left on very good terms. Don’t get me wrong, several people have been terrific, and I was pleasantly surprised by some unsolicited assistance offered by colleagues and acquaintances that I wasn’t necessarily close to, I’m just saying, don’t be disappointed when the people you thought would be there for you aren’t.
5. I am competing with the almighty “certification”. Some people have 15+ certifications…seriously! For the record, I see value in certain certifications, but I have actually been told that other candidates are being considered because they have a “so and so” certification. In some cases, no MBA or 20+ years experience like me, but a certification. I generally have the background and experience required to “test” for many of the in-vogue certifications, and I have offered to obtain “X” certification within 6 months to 1 year of coming on board. I have had people I worked with and that have worked for me with many different certifications…some are incredibly smart and talented people, others have certifications… the good ones were good regardless of the certification, and I’ll leave it at that.
6. There is at least one company that told me that they have candidates from “Fortune 100” companies interested. That’s great, I had people from Fortune 100 companies report to me. If this is a requirement, I wish they would just put it in the job description – it will likely save them as much time as it does everyone who may be interested in the role.
7. I also see the “Top Notch School” requirement…what exactly does this mean? If it means Ivy League, good news I’ve had Ivy League staff and consultants report to me over the years. I have nothing against people with great academic credentials, but some of the roles are not going to attract an Ivy League candidate, and if it does, it’s probably not going to be that schools valedictorian… also, perhaps they should just list what schools they want, again this would save everyone a lot of time. A quick funny story…in one example, the recruiter told me they wanted both “Top Notch School” and “Fortune 100” company candidates, yet the position reported to someone with a degree from a small school that I would guess most people have never heard of, and their prior experience before joining said company was from a private firm – go figure.
8. I still have 15+ years I want to work, but having a lot of “experience” is not always a good thing. Looking at my years of service quickly tells anyone who can do simple arithmetic my age range – the sad reality is this quickly excludes me from many jobs. Don’t believe company statements about not discriminating based on age…you will most definitely be discriminated against if you have a certain number years of “experience” – get used to it : ) I assume this is because of some general perceptions: you are more expensive to insure, don’t’ understand “technology” (very generic), will desire a higher salary and are probably less likely to allow someone to treat you unfairly, but I’m just guessing. So much for the movement to have an inclusive and diverse workplace.
9. Some job requirement descriptions have become ridiculous…it lists 8 paragraphs of responsibilities, wants highly educated people with very specific experiences, and a variety of skills that would leave MacGyver looking unqualified. Even if a person meets all the criteria, the job would take 28 hours a day, 9 days a week to perform. I assume this is just a way to legally exclude anyone from consideration by saying they don’t meet specific criteria.
10. My previous position was considered an “executive” role. Simple math would tell you that there are fewer executive roles available than mid-level management roles. No worries, as I have always been more driven by interesting work and the ability to contribute than title. The problem is, I’m now “overqualified” for roles – not my words. Let me digress on this particular topic for a minute…
I recently had knee surgery, and fortunately it turned out fine. I’m sure glad I didn’t exclude the surgeon I used because they were “overqualified”, which I could have because they’ve been practicing a long time, have a great reputation and achieve highly successful outcomes for even the most difficult cases. My case wasn’t difficult, so should I have taken them out of the mix as an option? Imagine if the Jamaican Olympic Team had told Usain Bolt he was overqualified ….sorry Usain, we know you are very fast, but we want to utilize slower runners instead. Recently on vacation we struck up a conversation with a pilot who was flying a routine route…turns out, this pilot used to fly some of the most sophisticated fighter jets in the world when they were in the USAF, strange that they were allowed to fly our comparatively simplistic plane on a basic route. OK, point made. BTW, don’t you love the bold choice to wear both a bandanna and hat by the octopus like creature!
It’s entirely possible that a company will find a more qualified candidate, someone that is a better organizational fit (whatever that means), someone cheaper, and likely younger, etc. If that’s the case, just tell me that. As I stated above, for me interesting work has always been more important than title, and sometimes people are willing to take a step back to do something they will really enjoy, instead of doing exactly what they did in their last job. I get putting a high-end resource (deep skills and years of experience) into an entry level position may not be the best way to utilize their talents, but that’s not the case in the situations I’m describing…I’m talking about roles one level below a previous position, or positions that still require considerable expertise and skill.
I had one recruiter leave me a voicemail literally telling me that I was overqualified for a role that was equivalent to one step back from my previous title. I don’t know if it’s illegal to exclude me for being too experienced, but it didn’t seem like a very good business practice to leave this in a recorded message. I’ve let a couple of close friends listen to it and they actually asked me if it was real…yep, it was.
If people like me submit for a position, assume we are doing so because we’re interested in the role. Please don’t hold our previous successes or experiences against us.
My advice, if an applicant is applying, and they seem to be “overqualified”, maybe you should consider yourself lucky to have found that candidate rather than dismiss them…you can ask them why they are interested in a role that on the surface seems below their skill or experience level – they may have a good reason. Imagine how much you won’t have to invest in training them.
Reasons someone may take a step back in title / career:
- There are fewer executive jobs, so it may be necessary to take a step back in title
- Someone may not want to relocate for a higher title / role
- Maybe they want to get back to doing something they really enjoy
- Higher title roles sometimes involve extensive meetings, travel and politics, which not everyone loves
- It’s a way to get into a great company and work their way back up
- Perhaps they want to try something different and are willing to take a pay cut to learn a new skill
- Maybe they like to work, and share their knowledge with younger workers
- They may have been out of work for a while and just want to contribute and be part of a team again
- The company is 5 minutes from their house and they want an easy commute
- Interesting work and the ability to contribute is more important to them than title
- They want to work at a company with values that align with theirs
- They want to work and need the job
For those experiencing similar challenges, hang in there – I believe there are still good companies that value knowledge and skills and don’t discriminate based on too many years of experience.