By: Caroline Ceniza-Levine
Making a compelling case for why you should be hired requires you to customize your arguments to the potential job at hand. Step 1: take a long, hard look at the job description – what does the company need to get done, what type of candidate do they say they want, how does the company describe itself. Step 2: take an honest assessment of our background – what do you offer, what are your specific qualifications, how would you describe yourself. Step 3: close any mismatch between what the company wants and what you offer, when you make your approach to the company.
The larger the mismatch – e.g., the job description calls for five years of experience and you have 15 – the more customizing and convincing you have to do. So, I understand Susan’s concern about being labelled “too experienced” if she has a lot of experience to consider. However, most job seekers cannot match their background 100% with the particular job description. Most job seekers have too much experience in one area and not enough in another. Rather than worry about being dismissed as too experienced (which might leave you paranoid, defensive, or discouraged), focus on closing whatever the gap is between what the company wants and what you have to offer.
Don’t rely on your resume to get you an interview
When the mismatch is obvious on your resume – e.g., many more years of experience than required, expertise in one industry over another – then your resume makes it too easy to weed you out. Only you personally, not your silent resume, can explain how you are targeting a lateral move, rather than a level up. Therefore, you need to leapfrog to the interview stage before submitting a resume. Yes, this means that you will have to get an introduction, cold call your way in, or otherwise skip the unsolicited (and easier) method of applying online.
Address the “too experienced = too expensive” concern
With many more years of experience than required, companies worry that you’ll be too expensive. You don’t always have to take a pay cut to make a career change, but if you are moving from a higher paying industry or role to a lower paying one, then you probably will have to take a cut. If you are taking a job hoping to learn from it and unable to hit the ground running, then you also may have to take a cut. If you are flexible with salary, preempt any worries that the company can’t afford you during your early interviews. You don’t have to outright talk money till the other side brings it up, but you can let them know that this new industry or new type of role is the only target you have right now. To that end, they know you are committed to that market – salary, lifestyle, career path and all.
Address the “too experienced = hard to manage” concern
Another concern with experienced candidates is that they are hard to manage because they are used to doing things a certain way, they think they know more than they actually do, and they are not used to or ready to adopt a beginner’s mindset. Don’t just tell companies you’re a quick learner or flexible or ready to work hard because these are empty promises . Instead, show companies that you have the right attitude by sharing recent examples of learning something new, trying a new approach or playing a different role. This can be examples from activities outside of work, classes you are taking on your time, or even self-study. But you want examples, not just promises, that point to a can-do attitude and open-mindedness.
Demonstrate genuine interest
If you have much more experience than the job calls for, the company may not understand why you want the job. You have to demonstrate genuine interest in the job, company, and industry. Genuine interest means you’ve done your homework on what the job entails, what the company is like, and what is happening in the industry. You know what you’re getting into, and you have specific reasons why you want in. One of my clients moved from banking to education – two very different industries – but my client had already been volunteering with some education organizations all along.
Highlight the benefits that come with you specifically
When you address the mismatch between your experience and the job requirements, you are playing defense – fighting back a disadvantage. However, you also can go on the offensive and highlight how your unique experience, maybe even that mismatch, can benefit the company. The above banker-turned-educator turned her lack of professional experience in education into a selling point because she positioned herself as an objective outsider who could bring fresh ideas and best practices from other places into the new industry. Your many years of experience might span up and down markets or both growth and lean times. Your years of experience could be under different types of leadership and following different types of strategies, making you more versatile and collaborative. Your many years of experience might actually be an advantage – take another look at the role and company, and see if you can find where too much experience might actually be just the right amount.
When you’re early in your career, you may have too little experience. When you’re later in your career you may have too much. Finding that Goldilocks level of experience that is just right for the employer requires you to customize how you talk about yourself and what you can contribute to the needs of that particular company and role. It is a delicate balance, but it’s doable!