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Experience as a hindrance

Q: I'm a well-educated professional with 20 years experience in my background. I've been trying to find a full-time job for the last three years with no luck. Is it possible that some employers find me overqualified or that my salary will be too high and they would rather hire a more inexperienced candidate?

A: Thanks for your question. You raise a very important point. I have received a lot of questions like yours. These questions have been asked of me through the Job Doc live chats (check boston.com for when these are scheduled, usually on Mondays at noon), through the Job Doc column and even from friends, colleagues and family.

Most candidates assume it is their age. Candidates will say, “Employers don’t want to hire me because I am 52 years old.” Or, “The hiring manager was 30 years old and seemed intimidated by my 20 years of experience.” Certainly age discrimination does exist. However, sometimes is not simply the age of the candidate.

I have found it is sometimes assumptions related to more experienced candidates. Very often employers see a 10, 15, 20 years of experience and assume that the candidate will request a very high salary. And of course, the employer would like to get the best “bang for their buck” so they look at lower experience levels. Sometimes it is not age, but a perceived “price tag.” Or sometimes it is the stereotypes that many of us may associate with a more mature candidate. We can not change your age or your years of experience but we can counter these stereotypes.

Here are some ways to better compete with less experienced candidates:
1. Demonstrate flexibility. Explain that you are flexible with respect to working conditions and job responsibilities. Avoid comments like: “At my age, I am not driving to Boston. When I was younger I would have, but not any more.” Or, “I don’t want to sit behind a phone and make 100 calls per day. I did that 20 years ago. I want to focus on higher-end selling.” Candidate don’t realize it but sometimes they are offering limitations when they are interviewing.
2. Consider deleting early or irrelevant experience from your resume. You can summarize your early experience as “Other Experience” and exclude dates and details.
3. Explain that your compensation expectations are reasonable. In this “new normal” economic environment, many employees are making less than they were just a few years ago. Focus on the total offer, not just the base salary. The commute, the benefits, the role, the company's mission's and the work environment are all important factors.
4. Be diligent about follow-up. Ask for the job.
5. Present yourself in a contemporary way. Ditch the 10 year old suit. Talk about current trends and technologies in your industry.

Good luck in your search. I do predict an uptick in hiring in 2012.

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