Overqualified and Over 40: The Growing Plight of Overqualified Workers

Overqualified and Over 40: The Growing Plight of Overqualified Workers
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Is 39 Better Than 40?

Comedian Jack Benny was famous for insisting he was always 39 years of age, never 38, never 40, just 39. But Hollywood is not the real world and if Benny were alive today, he’d most likely still hold a top spot in the plethora of television talk shows available to us each and every day.

Doctors and health experts say 40 is the new 30, but when it comes to recruiters, if you’re 40, you do seem to fall into the category of over-aged as they seek out the young, the hungry and the fresh out of college.

In a whitepaper written by Beth Berret and Thomas Butler of Alvernia University, they explored the “reality of age discrimination in today’s hiring practices” and it’s not a pretty whitepaper to read. It reveals some cold hard facts those of us over 40 and looking for a job may not want to read.

Berret and Butler point out it’s not just being over 40, the group of people over 40 that have been on long-term unemployment are also the non-desired and although employment laws protect from age discrimination, there are no federal or state laws that cover the group of long-termed unemployed.

Online job applications are also making it hard for the over 40 job seeker. Drop down menus are included where applicants choose the number of years of experience they have in various fields and HR recruiters can quickly determine if the applicant is over 40 or under. Online job applications also reveal the dates an applicant received college degrees along with job histories and by revealing both of these, again, recruiters can easily pick and ignore those over 40—very, very easily.

What’s Wrong With 40?

Baby boomers or those born between 1946 and 1964 are nearing retirement, yet some still find it difficult to retire due to lack of retirement funds, and these folks have longer life expectancies due to advances in medicine and the better lifestyles they live.

If you must complete an online job application (or even email your resume), once it’s determined your age puts you at the bottom of the list, you may never receive an interview based solely on the fact that your age puts you in an undesirable category.

You still have a lot to offer

Employers and HR recruiters must also consider the time it takes to hire an employee, invest in training, and how much it costs to offer benefits, and if the employee is over a certain age, employers may fear making these investments isn’t worth their time as the employee will retire soon or health could become a factor.

Still, in the Berret and Butler report, no significant data or research showed workers over 40 performed at lesser productivity rates than their younger counterparts.

While it’s illegal to dismiss hiring the over 40 crowd, it’s done all the time—and many companies are guilty of breaking these hard-to-prove laws. As the Berret / Butler report offers,

“Refusing to hire people on the basis of race, religion, age, or disability-among other categories-is illegal. But companies that turn away jobless people as a group are generally not breaking the law-at least for now.”

In addition, let’s say an over 40 job seeker does put in a job application and is even called for an interview. A smart HR department may interview the job seeker (usually to sway accusations they have no intentions of hiring anyone over 40), however, when it’s time for decision making—the younger candidate is usually picked.

Further, HR departments, recruiters and employers don’t have to offer a reason why a candidate wasn’t chosen and can always use those very familiar words, “we have selected another candidate, thank you for applying and good luck in your job search” and “we will keep your resume on file in the event a job match is found.” It’s hard to prove discrimination here, especially since the reasons for someone not getting the job are of the vanilla, bland variety.

The Overqualified

There are many who fall in the overqualified and over 40 category—or the double-whammy category. Although there are many industries where this is becoming prevalent due to business closures and company downsizing, we can take the auto industry as one example.

When both Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy restructuring, the courts did allow them to cut what were called “useless assets.” These assets were, in fact, dealership franchise points and many dealers were forced to close when franchises were pulled. Most of the owners of these dealerships (the dealers) were over 40 and when facing unemployment, many of them turned to the industry they knew best—the auto dealership industry.

Job opportunities for former dealers who now sought out jobs as service managers, service writers, and even salespeople were not abundant, and many found themselves on unemployment or were forced to use any retirement funds saved to continue to pay personal bills, keep food on the table, and a roof over their heads. After all, why hire a 52-year old former dealer who may want to over-manage and be pushy over the new, fresh and young person who can be molded to fit the company’s vision and goals? The latter category usually wins. This is typical for any industry.

What path to take if you are overqualified

In an age when advertising companies have decided the over 45 age group doesn’t really count for much anymore, it does give one pause about finding a new job late in their career life.

Tips for the Overqualified Job Seeker

Here, submitting online resumes can also hurt because the ones offered by top people full of experience won’t win. HR departments also look at why they should hire people trained to perform at high levels when the jobs they have opened may not interest the overqualified.

Recruiters and interviewers may ask blunt question like “Won’t you be bored with this job?” or “Are you looking for a long-term job or is this a stepping stone until something better comes along?” These questions are hard to answer and beyond that, you may indeed be looking for a “temporary” career and HR recruiters need to find ways to root out those they feel are risky. If, on the other hand you realize you are overqualified, you need to find ways to get the message across by using positive “can do” statements on what your years of experience can bring to the job and the company.

When you know you are applying for a job for which you’re overqualified, revisit your resume. Your mission statement may need a little playing down while still remaining effective. If your mission was to be an executive vice president and you’re applying for assistant executive jobs, you need to say that in your mission statement: “To utilize my years of experience in the marketing field to provide innovation, support and to become part of a productive and knowledgeable marketing team.” This sounds better and plays down your over-qualifications.

You can also determine whether a chronological resume is best or if you want to choose the reverse resume, but it’s best to stick with the chronological because it lets the recruiters know what you know right up front.

Above all, you may need to learn to settle for less money, position and benefits. Once you get your foot in the door and have the chance to prove yourself, if you follow company policies and procedures and also offer your innovated and “experienced” ideas, you will be recognized as long as you don’t charge in like a lion. You shouldn’t be too much like a lamb either. Be confident in your abilities and when you do find a job take advantage of any opportunities that come around where you may be able to mentor those who have less experience. Overqualified doesn’t mean you’re not hiring material, but a little patience and perseverance is necessary when job hunting. Never use the same resume and cover letter for every job you apply for—modify them both for the job opportunity at hand.

Other Caveats

What does your future hold

There may be a few other caveats you have to deal with if you’re overqualified and older than 40. If you have been out of work for some time and missed paying some of your personal bills, your credit report may not look so great. Why does that matter? Employers often run credit reports not because they are nosey but because they feel if a person follows the rules of paying bills on time, they can manage other tough situations in responsible ways.

A bossy attitude can also hurt you. Sure you’ve been working in the same field for a long time, but if you’re changing to another field or staying in the same field with a different level of authority and convey that in an interview, it will shine through so be polite, yet assertive—not demanding.

Finally, you may truly be turned down or have a resume ignored because of your age and years of experience and although this is illegal (even if you are the best candidate) these allegations are hard to prove. If you can prove them, seek the advice of an attorney. On the other hand, if you’ve received the standard responses of “we found a candidate with a better match” and “good luck in your job search” that’s not enough to build a case for age discrimination.

Sound advice is to network with old colleagues or old friends and tell them you’re looking for work—even if it’s embarrassing. Chances are you’ll hit upon one or two that will keep their ears and eyes open and will contact you if a job opportunity pops up, and industry referrals are often the best kind.

Have you faced the challenge of being over 40 and overqualified? If so, did you find a job and how did you do it? Your comments below will help other readers reenter the workforce much as you did.