Overage and Overqualified? Get Job Searching Tips

age discrimination/ABC News

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.Play

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.

One of my favorite comebacks to this issue came from a 40-plus man in Ohio who would gladly take a lesser paying position because he wants to get back to work, and asks, "If you were buying a Chevy, but you were offered a Cadillac for the same price, wouldn't you take it?"

Tweak your resume. Even if you're particularly proud of every aspect of your job history, omit a few details from your resume if you're seeking a lesser position than you've previously held. Some people call this dumbing down, but I think of it as targeting your document to the position you're applying for.

Last 10 to 15 years. Only include the last 10 to 15 years of your work history — don't go back to the 1970s and '80s. You'll be judged on the most recent work anyway.

Remove college dates. Don't include the year of college attendance or graduation unless it was within he past five years.

Drop hefty job titles. Leave off a job title if the position is higer than what you're applying for now.

If you were a VP and you're applying for a manager position that is significantly lower than the one you held, use the name of the department, instead of the actual title. Leaving the big title will just draw attention to something that might concern an employer and could prevent them from even considering you for an interview.

Most importantly, keep plugging away. Job searching now is a challenge for everyone, no matter what age. And there's no doubt that it's harder if you're over 40 because of the need to overcome all kinds of bias, even unintentional bias. I don't want to sugar coat it, but I believe that ultimately, great experience will win you the job you want.

Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on ABC's "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women For Hire. Connect with her at www.womenforhire.com or chat with her on Twitter.com/ToryJohnson.