Overage and Overqualified? Get Job Searching Tips

age discrimination

If you're over 40 and unemployed, you've no doubt heard these phrases on your job hunt.

"You're overqualified."

"Oh, you'd be bored."

"Sorry, you're not the right fit."

It's maddening, to say the least, especially for those willing to accept lesser roles just to get back to work.

As of June 2009, more than 6 million workers 45 and over were unemployed. With fierce competition, older workers struggle to compete and many believe they are discriminated against because of their age.

VIDEO: Workplace contributor Tory Johnson gives tips to ease older workers concerns.
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Even though it's of course illegal to discriminate because of age, it happens every day — and it's often very tough to prove. Still, people who are unemployed don't want to get tangled in litigation; they just want a job.

The first step in overcoming some of the common challenges is to recognize the concerns of employers . It's costly and time-consuming to hire and train new workers, so an employer doesn't want to invest in someone — no matter what age — if they think he or she is not the best fit. Accept that.

Three very common concerns:
1) You'll resist direction from a younger or less experienced manager.
2) You'll get bored because you're overqualified.
3) You'll leave when something better comes along.

The first two speak to being "overqualified." When you hear that response from a recruiter, probe a bit in a non-confrontational manner.

Ask, "Would you please tell me more specifically what you mean by that?"

You can say, "One of the benefits of a solid work history is the wisdom and experience of avoiding a situation where I'd be bored or where I'd be an akward fit. That's not good for either of us."

Add that you thought seriously about that issue before applying for the position and explain briefly what exactly you're a great match. The goal is to keep the conversation going as opposed to having it chopped off at "you're overqualified."

The third concern irks me most because no matter what your age and no matter what the economy, people leave jobs every day when a better opportunity comes along.

Entry level isn't easy. So often I'll hear older workers say with frustration, "I can't even get a job bagging groceries or ringing up sales."

The implication is that those are entry level jobs that are easy to come by. In this economy, no job is easy to secure, so drop that attitude. Be upbeat and optimistic, even in the face of rejection.

Don't be quick to blame age. Too often 40+ jobseekers would say, "I'm positive it's my age."

When I ask how or why they're so sure, they say their resume is a perfect match, so it must be their age. Not true.

Sometimes you're not a good match. Sometimes someone is a better match. Other times someone doesn't like you or doesn't believe you're the best fit. Don't automatically assume it must be your age.

When you attribute all your woes to age — the one thing you can't control — you stop trying as hard and that more than anything will hurt your chances.

Potential paycut. If the job pays less than your previous position, and if you're truly OK with that, tell them you're looking forward to evaluating the entire compensation package. Sometimes you'll give up money in exchnage for a lesser commute, a better culture, the chance to try something new, the ability to develop a new skill, or the opportunity to work on an exciting initiative.

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