I work with executives of all ages who have a range of job titles in a variety of industries across the country, and the one common trait those in the forty-five year old “plus” job search category portray is that they sell themselves too aggressively.
Being “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” was the right style when you were in your twenties and thirties. Employers sought energetic and ambitious prospective employees who they could train and mold into successful executives. So, “selling yourself” was what we all were told to do. And we did so with vigor…and success in most cases.
However, now that you are in your forties and fifties, over-selling yourself is 1) unnecessary and 2) wrong. At this point in your career, you must instead “insert yourself into the new position with confidence and tact” as one of my clients reflected recently.
She had been interviewing for a CMO position at several Bay Area firms with little success. Smart, well-educated, and fresh from several successful start-ups, she had approached each new interview with the same high energy and take-charge attitude that she had developed during her twenty-three year marketing career.
When she then engaged my career strategy services, she was frustrated and gun-shy. “At each company, I was told that I was ‘overqualified’ for the position. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but I need to figure it out soon.”
In our meetings, during which we thoroughly assessed her as an individual and executive, tightened up her resume, and created an engaging bio and other communications materials, I found myself often “bowled over” by her persona. It became clear that instead of presenting a profile of someone who would readily “fit into” the company and provide the right kind of leadership, her intense persona, borne of years of success, had the potential effect of intimidating and sabotaging her candidacy.
We concluded that her being told by several companies that she was “overqualified” was “HR code” for believing she might be difficult to manage and might alienate her coworkers.
As I had seen this “overqualified” phenomenon many times in my work with clients, we agreed to adopt a more effective approach.
We agreed that she would begin to present a more “helpful” approach in future interviews and portray herself as a strong team leader and member, sensitive to developing good people, capable of nurturing good ideas with the help of others, and generally interested in doing what the company needed to do to continue their success.
This shift from “I can do anything” that worked when she was younger and less experienced to an attitude of “I’m here to help” was a critical, and, as it turned out, a very effective tool in recent interviews.
She found people more interested in and comfortable with her, quickly engaging in more meaningful and informative interviews that will likely lead to an offer soon.
So, in any interactions now that you are over forty-five years of age, consider approaching others with equanimity and quiet confidence rather than power and domination. You are now a pro and do not need to press your case as aggressively.
This “helpful” attitude will feel better and require less energy, which are good things as you mature in your career.