Over 50, overqualified…and everywhere

When I was 32 and just starting out in the recruiting field, I admittedly had blinders on about the whole working over 50 thing. Sure, very few hiring clients asked for professionals with 25 or more years of experience, and 15 years was a typical top range stated for pretty senior talent. And though I never hesitated to present qualified — and motivated — candidates who exceeded that experience range, I will cop to not giving much pushback when less experienced individuals on a candidate slate were selected to move forward.

When I did push back, the counterarguments made sense on the surface of it.  Candidates with considerably more experience than a job description called for might grow restless and leave for greener pastures when a better opportunity arose, the thinking went. Flash forward about two decades, and somehow I’ve grown into the over-50 group.  I don’t recall anyone giving permission for this, but nevertheless I’ve arrived.

As a recruiter and career advisor, one of the gifts that has come with 50 has been a broader and more seasoned view of the workplace in all its multi-generational splendor. With the benefit of more contemporaries in the over-50 demographic, now I can see so clearly the fatal flaw in the “greener pastures” argument for not hiring beyond a pre-set range of experience.  It’s all about life stage, and how every individual defines and modulates career aspirations.  Still more confounding, the conventional wisdom around how to assign age ranges to life stages just doesn’t work anymore.

Consider a stereotypical highly accomplished working woman who “off-ramped” for a decade to focus on family and now wants back in.  Even a generation back, she might have stepped out at 30 and re-entered at 40. Today she might not even take that off ramp until around 40, potentially pushing back re-entry to the half-century mark. Or the seasoned manager in his or her  early 60s who needs — and wants — to stay in the workplace for years to come but who would rather play the role of a senior individual contributor role than people manager. Or…the ever more common over-50-something pursuing an encore career in a different field that leverages existing skills and experience.  

I might say we could “imagine” each of these scenarios leading to an application that looks “overqualified” on line or on paper (even the career changer), but the truth is, we don’t have to imagine very hard because we all know so many people in these circumstances. There has been a seismic cultural sea change putting these applicants front and center of potential candidate pools. I speak with hundreds of these individuals every year and take in their acute frustrations, from on-line applications with forced data fields for graduation years to fears about not looking or acting young enough to compete. Should their resumes ditch all that hard-earned experience from more than 10 years ago? Does anyone still wear stockings? (No, not necessarily, on the first count, and regrettably, yes, on the second).

So here’s not the part where I presume to dispense catch-all advice to my 50-plus cohort.  Instead I offer a call to those in the hiring seats to think more expansively than I did 20 years ago.  Consider candidate motivation and life stage on an individual rather than on a group basis.  While there will always be candidates in every age group using an opportunity as a short-term placeholder, the non-traditional, overqualified hire may well be worth taking the risk.