OVERQUALIFIED: Let's Talk About Age Discrimination

Updated: Oct 23, 2018


Last night, driving across a snow blown prairie to a small town middle school for a volleyball game, Phil Collins' "Groovy Kind of Love" came on the radio.  Oh here's one I know, I thought, and sung along. 


Meanwhile my 12 year old daughter and her friend snickered.  "This song is so cheesy mom!" she said playfully.  "This song is old.  You're OLD, mom!"


We had some laughs and switched it to Top 40 for the young ladies.  


And the truth is, in my 40's (ahem) I'm not old, not by a long shot.  All of us Generation X-ers will probably live a long time, so maybe I'm not even halfway through this journey of life, who knows?  I'm already thinking I should have a new career plan around age 60 because I'll be tired of this one but still need to keep working till I'm 80!


But here's the thing: there are a lot of people who are being told "You're OLD!" every day but not quite so directly.  They're being told other insidious lies like:

  • "You are overqualified for the job."

  • "We are looking for someone with more energy."

  • "We want someone at the beginning of their career, who can grow with our company."

And on and on it goes.    


If someone has the skills, experience and attitude to do a job, they are qualified--check. 


If they have the interest, that's another check. 


If you have the need, check. 


If they will take your salary offer, check.


So what's bothering you?


Here some common objections to "mature" candidates that I'd like to help you work through. 


I want you to hire great people for your team.  Don't write off half or more of your candidates immediately without considering these.


Are you rejecting overqualified candidates, or discriminating against candidates based on their age?

1. They make too much money.


It is entirely possible that applicants to your open jobs OF ANY AGE have already made more money, at some point in their lifetime, than you are currently offering for the job.  That is just the way it is.


Every job has a value: it has a value within your company, and it has a value in the marketplace.  If you are confident that you have put a fair "price" on your job based on the local market and in comparison to your own internal employees, then proceed with confidence interviewing any interested parties.


Be up-front about your salary or pay rates and benefits throughout the process.  Bring it up early on: "this job pays X, are you ok with that?"


Be open to negotiation, but stick to your budget too. Decide ahead of time if there is any room for negotiating, on what salary/benefits/compensation you could budge, and how far you are willing to go for what skills.  


Yes, you may in fact be interviewing someone with far more experience than the minimum qualifications of the job, but wouldn't that be fantastic?  If that person will take what you offer, and brings a wealth of experience, then you seem like the winner in this one.  And if everyone is up front, no one is feeling like they were cheated, or that they "lost" the negotiation.  In short, everyone wins.

2. They won't stay around. As soon as something better comes along, they will be gone.


I believe that this is said by people who ultimately believe that their company sucks.


Seriously, if your first thought when reading the resume of a highly qualified individual is, "oh, they'd never stick around here if we hired them," then you have some deep-seated beliefs about your workplace that are less-than-positive. 


People stay in companies because they are treated with dignity and respect, given challenges, allowed to develop professionally, and are recognized for their accomplishments.  


Are you doing good, important, or challenging work at your company? Do you treat your employees and coworkers respectfully and professionally? Are workers given projects that stretch them, while being offered support when they need it? Do you train people adequately?  Do you pay people appropriately, and provide flexibility when life inevitably happens and they need a day off or to leave early?


If you are honestly endeavoring to provide a good place to work, then be proud of that!  Stop it with your inferiority complex, and your optimism will continue to attract and retain the people who really want to be part of what you are doing.


3. They won't be here too much longer because they will retire.


I know that "RETIRE AT AGE 65" has been drilled into all of us over 30 years of age for our entire lives. But basically, we are all going to live to be 90-100 years old or more, because...modern medicine.  


Work gives many people a deep purpose and meaning in their lives, plus it provides for their monetary needs.  Let people work, for heaven's sake!


Regarding both #2 and #3, I also want to note that work is changing, and people are spending shorter stints of time with companies than they once did.  


In my dad's generation, many people might go to work and stay either in the same job or in progressive jobs for decades.  Now it is not unusual for workers to consider a 2- or 3-year incumbency at a company a long-term job.


This is a very interesting cultural shift, but we can take this challenge on and look at hiring and training employees in a new way.  


How long will it take to get someone up to speed in your company, where they are working fairly independently and adding to your profit margin vs. adding to costs?  Should you possibly try to define job responsibilities so as to get people trained and making money faster?  


Maybe they don't need to master everything in the first month, but could they get 1 or 2 parts of the job down pat and still be adding value really quickly?  That way, if they move on due to life, or family, or economics, then you can certainly say with confidence that they added to the bottom line during their employment and you can wish them well as they leave.  



4. They worked for a huge corporation for 20 (or 30, or 40!) years.  They won't be able to handle working in a new type of environment.


Old habits, and old mindsets, can be hard to break.  Hard, but not impossible.  Provide good training to new employees as well as opportunities for them to connect one-on-one with their peers.  Perhaps a mentor in another department to help them through their first few weeks, and take them to lunch every so often to see how it's going.  Someone who might be a sounding board for seemingly dumb questions, like what to wear on casual Fridays, or if it's ok to bring a plus one to happy hour.


Always be open to feedback, questions, and ideas.  Someone who got through decades at another employer had to be doing something right!


Furthermore, the dedication that it would take to last in the same company for decades is not something that money can buy.  So if that's turning you off, I hope I can convince you--you're plain wrong.


5. They won't fit in with our company culture.  We have a "young, hip" culture.


Jumping into my mom lecture voice for this one: if your company culture cannot be open to someone of a different generation, then your culture should change


Do not fall prey to an attitude that seeks to surround yourself with only like-minded individuals that look like you.  At it's best (and this isn't good) you're a clique, at it's worst....discriminatory practices, justifying injustices, and a whole lot of slippery-sloping down to bad, bad places.  You don't want to start going there.


Let's get serious about finding talent for your team.  Let's quit ignoring entire groups of people based on a broken record in your brain telling you older people are boring, washed-up, has-beens. 


Embrace a new attitude and let's fill some jobs! 


Want even more help with hiring? Sign up to get my Guide to Interviewing Like a Boss, a free eBook with tons of ideas and interview questions to use now. Click here to sign up. I'll pop in your email inbox from time to time with other new ideas and updates on the blog.

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