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Why Hiring an Overqualified Older Worker May Be Your Best Decision Yet

First of all, they don't want your job

Illustration of an older woman and younger man working at desks

Mark Long

I am so over this whole job-hunting thing. After a 20-plus-year career that included a slew of corporate hallmarks of success—increasing responsibility, years of training, incredible mentors, an MBA, an expat assignment, extensive international travel, multiple leadership roles and a reputation that landed me on the esteemed team tasked with the cultural and tactical integration of two of the biggest IT companies in the world—I didn't think it would be so hard to find a fit when the merger failed and resulted in many layoffs, including my own.

At first, I really thought of the layoff as a gift: a much-needed time to reflect, rest and reboot. I had never not gotten the job before, and I had the pedigree of success at a respected industry giant. What was there to worry about?


I was 44 then. I am 51 now. And after working for one company for almost 20 years, I have worked for over 20 companies in the past six—many at the same time to make ends meet.

I imagine the murmurs of my family and friends as they fabricate stories about what I must have done to deserve this. I promise, Mom, I did nothing illegal, I didn't sleep with anyone, and I always tried my best, like you taught me. It shouldn't be this hard to land a long-term, stable job somewhere near my field. You know, the kind with insurance, a 401(k) match and a health care savings account? Am I asking for too much?

I've written over 50 versions of my résumé and joked about what unknown-to-me, lewd pop-up pics must be secretly lurking in it. I've had my résumé reviewed by recruiters, hiring managers and peers. I have no idea how many jobs I have applied for—in and out of my industry; above, at and below my skill level. It would be depressing to keep track. I get no response at least 95 percent of the time.

On the rare occasions when I have received feedback or an offer for an interview, one common response surfaces: “Overqualified.” Seriously? Exactly how “dumb” do I need to “down” my résumé? Why is that even a thing? Doesn't experience translate to a huge value for the employer? Apparently not. So let me spell it out here, in hopes of enlightening the hiring managers who are passing on a really great resource.

Hiring highly qualified candidates in their 50s is a great career move for you because, in addition to being really good at what they do:

  1. They have accomplished, conquered and survived more than you can imagine and bring that experience, wisdom and perspective to the role. Translation: Their problem-solving, conflict resolution and interpersonal skills will be a huge asset to your team.

  2. They don't want your job.

  3. They can do your job while you travel, vacation and climb that glistening ladder. But again, they don't want your job and won't undermine your position while you're away. Instead, they will advocate for you and make sure nothing falls through the cracks in your absence.

  4. They will be your ally and truly want to help you succeed. Women in particular are nurturers, and their kids are gone. You are the lucky recipient.

  5. They want to come to work on time, look professional, do more than expected, add value and get paid for it. They will eschew office drama; in fact, they will likely calm it and become a catalyst for improved productivity.

  6. They have raised their kids, so they have fewer personal responsibilities to juggle and will put all that extra energy into their work.

  7. They're not going to sleep with anyone at the office, for crying out loud.

  8. They're not going to call in sick unless they're really sick. And they're not going to come in when they are sick and risk spreading their ailment around.

  9. If they are applying for a position, they truly are happy taking a lower one than what their résumé tells you they can handle. They're in a different place now. Respect that, and take advantage of it. This is great news for you!

  10. They aren't going to quit for the next better offer. They come from a generation in which loyalty and commitment are important, and believe that these qualities will continue to serve them in their new role. They will be a reliable, loyal, valuable addition to your team.

  11. They are experts in process and collaboration and will use their experiences to devise better ways of doing things without expecting kudos and a gift card each time. They believe that making a difference is part of their job.

  12. They can lead but don't have to, and prefer to gather and guide sheep rather than bulldoze a trail, running over those in their path.

So when you are presented with the opportunity to hire one of these very special jewels, please consider these unspoken but as-real-as-Mother-Earth benefits.

You won't be disappointed. They'll make sure of that.


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