As I mentioned in yesterday’s posting, Miguel from Madrid asked me to write on the topic of culture.  He also asked me about how to deal with the charge that a candidate is overqualified for a position.

This, of course, is usually an issue with older employees.  As I told Lee Miller of New Jersey’s The Star-Ledger,

If age is going to be viewed as a positive by a prospective employer, the candidate needs to view it that way. He or she has to confidently present the reasons why his or her experience is valuable to the employer. Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, warns that “older candidates all tend to say the same thing — ‘I have the experience. I have the maturity. Been there, done that!’ The problem is they sound like they are defending themselves.

The more effective way to get the message across is to deal with the issue from the employer’s perspective, not the candidate’s. For example, Hurwitz suggests an older worker could say, “With me there will be a smaller learning curve. You are not going to have to make a serious investment. I have been doing this for a long time. What I need to learn is how you do it. You’re not hiring me to change your procedures; I have to learn how to do things your way.”

I really have nothing to add if “overqualified” actually means “old.”  But thinking about the topic anew, I realized that someone who is young can also be overqualified.

For example, fresh out of college Jane started her own business.  It was highly successful and she sold it.  She signed a non-compete and is now looking for a job with an established company.  HR’s reaction: “Well, you were owner of your own business.  How are you going to feel having a boss and having to report to someone else?”

My reaction would be, “I wish you were right.  It would have been great not having to report to anyone.  But, in truth, the reason I was able to build a successful business was that I realized that I had multiple bosses to whom I had to report.  Every customer was a boss.  I had to keep them all happy.  Just having one boss to report to will be a breeze by comparison.  The important thing to note is that having had all of those bosses the one thing I know is customer service.”

Another example.  John has applied for an IT position with a small firm.  Presently he is a small fish in a big pool.  He wants to be a big fish in a small pool.  HR’s comment:  “Look.  You’re coming from a huge company.  You had things we don’t have here: budgets, infrastructure, staff.  We’re a little guy.  How are you going to feel working at a place with limited resources?”

My reply:  “First, because I have been with the big boys, so to speak, I know what it takes to get there.  I can assure you that you will have no infrastructure surprises as you grow.  But that’s besides the point.  Working here will feed the two needs I cannot get with my present company, the challenge of having to deal with limited budgets while achieving the same goals and my entrepreneurial nature.  Big companies are pretty set in their ways.  I want to be innovative.”

Once upon a time there was an overqualified clerk in a Swiss patent office…