“Overqualified” is Just another word for Age Discrimination

Had a really talented lady reach out to me the other day. 49 years old, college grad, great portfolio of work. She has been interviewing and is being told she is “Overqualified”.

There is some truth about her being called this. She does have more qualifications than the position requires, but she fully understands what the job is and she wants to do that job, with no notion of wanting to do more than that job, unless her performance shows she’s capable of moving up and the company needs her to move up.

“Overqualified” is just another way to say “Hey, I think you’re too old to work for me!”

Tell me I’m wrong! Give me all the reasons someone is “Overqualified” for a job they want to work at and understand what the job specs are?

I’m a Heart Surgeon but it’s a stressful job, so I decided to take a step back and just do some Cardiac Rehab work. Still get to work with heart patients, but it’s a less stressful workload and pays a heck of lot less, you need less education to do that job.

Am I overqualified to do Cardiac Rehab if I have experience as a heart surgeon? Only if you tell me I am! It’s a job I want, and I have the skills and desire to do that job, so I would say I’m quite qualified to do that job, not overqualified.

TA pros and hiring managers say someone is overqualified when they’re too stupid to come up with another reason about why they don’t want to hire someone who has great experience and more years of experience.

“Oh, Tammy, yeah, she’s overqualified to work in that job. I mean she wouldn’t be happy long-term reporting to me, and I mean she has more experience than I have!” Oh, she told you that? “Um, no.”

I constantly run into retired people who aren’t ready to retire and want to keep doing valuable work. They have great skills and knowledge, but 32-year-old Steve won’t hire them because Steve believes they won’t take his direction. That’s a Steve-issue, not the candidate’s issue!

By the way, this isn’t a young-to-middle-aged guy problem, women are just as bad! Turns out we all love to discriminate against old people, equally!

Tech companies are the worse. Creative companies are the second worse.

Tech companies believe only young people know technology. Creative companies think the only people who buy products and services are 26-year-olds on Instagram and Snap.

“Tim, you just don’t get it. I don’t want to hire someone who is going to retire in 5 years!” What’s your average tenure at your company? “4.2 years” Yeah, having someone for 5 years would really suck for you!

I had a hiring manager tell me this once when he interviewed a person who was 52! “I need someone who is going to stay long term!” Um, 13-15 years isn’t long term?! You’re an idiot!

I find telling hiring managers “You’re an idiot!” is super effective in getting through to them, and cutting straight through to their bias. It has worked 100% of the time in my career. It really works across all biases.

So, now tell me, why don’t you hire someone who is ‘overqualified”?

12 thoughts on ““Overqualified” is Just another word for Age Discrimination

  1. Barbie Simonson posted on Sept. 24, 2018:
    “Last time I checked, training and orienting a new employee is expensive…”

    Yes, I’m sure it takes insane amount of expense to train and orient someone with decades of experience. What exactly do you “train” and “orient”? You show them the lunch room, toilet, and show them a video on sexual harassment and bullying!? I say those issues need to be taught to 20 something year olds who spend 5 minutes on their phones every 15 minutes checking their “approval status” on social media. THAT is expensive.

    She goes on saying:
    “…So stupid? No – I say strategic.”

    Strategic!? Right. When was the last time you seen the LinkedIn profile of a 30 year old? S/he is 30 but already had 4 jobs! CONGRATS on your strategy, Barbie!

  2. I have just finished my 40s. I was in tech and interactive media all my life. In the past 3 years since I’m unemployed, I have applied to 276 openings. All of which I was able to do. I keep a spreadsheet for all of my applications so I know exactly where and when I applied. I never had an interview so far. All I get is emails that say “…your background and skill set is impressive, but we decided to pursue other candidates who are more closely align with our needs.” So no. There’s no “overqualified” any more. That was decades ago. Now they play a new tune. Now they try to cheer you up that your background is impressive, but.

    I have started to email people to ask how can I can improve my background and skill set in order to be more aligned with the position? But this can be tricky. First, it’s very rare when you can actually reply to someone since most replies nowadays come from automated systems that you cannot reply to. Second, while I am polite, I am somewhat on the sarcastic side since I know that nobody is going to answer my question. And so far nobody did.

    So the worst part is that people don’t even talk to you. A while back I read about the homeless. They say one of their worst experience is that people don’t treat them a humans. They are nobody. They don’t even exist. That is how I feel. I don’t ask anyone to give me a job. All I asked is to provide a feedback how can I improve my background. Some say be persistent. Well, the last time I emailed to someone at a company, after my 3rd email asking someone for help or feedback, they put me on the spam list and my email bounced back with the server report that I was blocked due to spamming.

    So know apparently I am not even qualified to contact another person. I have lost too much money in the past 3 years. I am eyeing to move to a cheaper country. Hopefully they value people there more than in this artificial place, where fake smiles and fake veneers are the dominant factor.

    My message to the little 20 something year old “talent acquisition managers”. Unless you die young, one day you will get to the point where you will be labeled as “old”. And then you will be frustrated and wonder how could this happen? Well, it’s simple. This is what you have done to others and now it will be coming back to you. How does it feel, dear 25 year old talent manager…!?

    By the way, I don’t understand why do you like sunny weather. I really don’t. Did you know the Sun is about 4.5 billion (or so) years old? You don’t seem to boycott or discriminate against its warmth and nurturing qualities but you have a problem with people who passed their 40s…!? Well, I say NO SUN FOR YOU! From now on, you shall live in darkness for the Sun is just too old to serve you, dear 25 year old talent acquisition manager!

  3. I agree Tim, we have a shortage of talent and we should find creative ways to engage those individuals who know the job and can fill those roles that are needed in the organization. If anything, they are prove to be a great mentor.

  4. “TA pros and hiring managers say someone is overqualified when they’re too stupid to come up with another reason about why they don’t want to hire someone who has great experience and more years of experience.”

    A bit harsh – I have had this very discussion with candidates. Especially ones that were unemployed and “willing to accept anything” until something better came along. Are they sharing that information? NO! I will be the first to hire a very experienced candidate for a lesser role when I am reasonably convinced his or her choice is just that – a choice – and not because he or she can’t get something better at the moment. Last time I checked, training and orienting a new employee is expensive – I’d rather get it right the first time, thank you very much. So stupid? No – I say strategic.

  5. I have always cringed when I heard a manager use the “overqualified” excuse. I’m in what I call my “encore performance.” Retired and went back because I wasn’t ready for retired life. I told the hiring VP I would give her a good 4-5 years. m That’s more than most are getting from younger candidates. I thoroughly enjoy mentoring others and have gotten more satisfaction from this job than any in my 25 year career.

  6. Couldn’t agree more. If you want to get the most “bang for your buck” in the talent game you hire the over-qualified. I’ve written similarly.

  7. Accepting a job is a personal choice. It only needs to make sense to the person making the decision. There really is no place for judgement from the person offering the job if the qualifications are met. A self-aware leader might turn a situation such as that into a learning experience for themselves.

  8. I see no problem with a heart surgeon applying for an RN job. Or a CNA job. LISTEN to what they want and why. And, to Tim’s point, if they don’t stay “forever” – look at your turnover. Are you really at that much risk? And I bet your ramp-up time was significantly lower, too.

    I recently hired someone with ~5 years left to retirement into a job that makes a fraction of her former pay. She convinced me that the pay wasn’t as important as doing meaningful work, which is helping people get employed when they would would struggle to get job – even in this low unemployment environment. She has been an *amazing* positive influence on our organization.

  9. Totally get what you’re saying, Tim, and agree for the most part. But what if that same Heart Surgeon applied for a RN job? How many steps down the rung can you go before it truly doesn’t make sense?

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