Article by Ceri Wheeldon
This is a common issue 50plus jobseekers encounter. How do you respond to this? What are the reasons for the potential employer’s concerns?
They may assume that you will be using the role simply as a stopgap until you are able to find another position with the same level of seniority and responsibly as your previous position. They may be concerned about the dynamics of you reporting into somebody who may have less experience than you.
To address these concerns you need to be able to open up the conversation in a non defensive and non confrontational way. One suggestion I make is to ask a question along the lines of ‘what experience in particular would you like me to forget?’. Said with humour this may open up a dialogue where you can openly discuss any issues.
For example if you have previously been a manager and the role you are applying for does not involve managing others you need to be clear as to why who are happy to let this part of the job go.
Address the ‘too much experience’ concern with specific examples
I found myself in this situation many years ago when being interviewed for a role as a headhunter. Although they had initially approached me to discuss a role , they discovered during our first meeting that in a previous role I had managed several branches of a headhunting firm in Canada. They did not understand why I had been prepared to take what they saw as a step backwards. My answer was quite clear. I didn’t enjoy managing teams – split across thousands of miles. The role was very much one of motivating others and helping them achieve their targets which to be honest I didn’t enjoy. I had missed the face to face client interaction. I actually loved meeting with different organisations and coming up with creative solutions to recruit on their behalf and managing my own projects. I had no desire to run an empire and felt that I hadn’t been able to play to my strengths – building client relationships , understanding their needs and company cultures, and recruiting the best people for their teams. I enjoyed working on difficult assignments where I was looking for the needle in the haystack! Managing a small focussed team to deliver assignments for my own client base was my preference to managing a big network of consultants. This was all absolutely plausible (and true). I was offered the job. I was able to allay their concerns – and in doing so had highlighted my strengths and acknowledged my weaknesses. Although I turned the job down (for various reasons).
Many hiring managers may not be ageist per se, but might be concerned about how to manage a team member that they believe has more experience than them. Stress how you love acting as a mentor to other team members , but how you still believe you have a lot to learn and enjoy seeing how different generations address things from a different perspective. Highlight examples where you have played a supportive role in the past – especially if the person you reported into was younger than you.
And of course ‘too much experience’ can equip you to step up when needed in times of crisis!
You may find that they would prefer you not to forget anything at all!