EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

The classic cruel joke of job search is that the client is looking for someone just like you, but much younger.

Of course, no one can use these exact words out of fear of getting sued for age discrimination, which we all know is illegal. Setting illogically low levels of experience and/or declining to consider anyone with “too many” years of experience is how companies and search firms try to skirt around the issue.

The choice we have is to react negatively to this approach, or to put our thinking caps on in advance and detect a hidden customer objection. Trust me, a frontal assault to this kind of thinking will never work anyway. We may be old as the hills, but hopefully we aren’t dumb as a box of rocks.

Let me first make clear that search firms and human resource directors have NO choice but to deliver what they are asked to deliver. To do otherwise is to lose a customer, and this is as serious an issue if you are an employee or an outside resource. Your goal is to know there is an elephant sitting in the room and address the issue in some manner before it is raised.

Once you are told you are “over qualified” or have “too much experience” it is already too late. You fall under Matt’s rule that once they have decided they don’t want to consider you, everything they say isn’t worth the powder to blow it to “you know where.” Most firms are smart enough to use the “excuse you can’t cure” which I have mentioned in previous editorials.

So, the secret is to know based on the number of years of experience they have put on the position description that you have a difficult sales job ahead of you if you want to be considered.

When you are in what I call a fair fight, YOUR resume and cover letter need to be compelling. If you are out and about networking, all your paperwork has to be is competent. (Networking has many advantages.)

Firms seek out those early in their careers for a variety of reasons and it actually isn’t our place to question their reasoning. They are the customer, and as you know, the customer is always right, even when they are wrong. Closely held beliefs, like attitudes, are very difficult to change. What you can change is behaviors. Getting folks to perform behaviors, over time, changes their attitudes.

So, how do we apply this? Step one is to accept the null hypothesis. (I don’t actually know what that means, but I thought it sounded smart.) Accept and acknowledge that they appear to be looking for someone early in their career. Say the words to them. Admit that based on this criteria you are clearly not the right person for the job. However, (and this is where your superior knowledge and experience comes in) ask what problems they are trying to solve.

If there was someone in the job before, why did they fail? Does the client actually have time for a lightly experienced individual to learn on the job? Is it possible that if you allow them to speak to one or two well experienced folks as a contrast, that you might be one of those folks?

Listen, were not trying to make the world safe for democracy. We’re only trying to get them to consider you for that golden opportunity.

The truth is, and I tell this to my clients all the time, everyone is shopping for a sports car, but they always come home with a sedan. Once they have talked to a real professional, it will be hard to choose an amateur.

Those of you who would like to suggest additional approaches to this often hidden customer objection, please send your contribution to Leads@TheFENG.org and Leslie will publish them in our Notes From Members section. Be clear as to whether you want your name used, and please, no whining about age discrimination.

Regards, Matt

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