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May 22, 2009

Over 50and looking for a job? Good luck.
There was an interesting guest editorial not long ago on the seattlepi.com web site by Meghan Quint about why it is so hard for “overqualified people” to find a job in this country even in good economic times.

You can read it HERE

The word “overqualified” of course is the biggest code word in the book for age discrimination.

But what made the piece so interesting is not the piece itself but some of the responses from readers, many of whom were obviously folks in their 50’s and 60’s who are now just learning (or have learned) a cruel fact about American employment that they did not know existed – or refused to admit existed – when they were in their 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s.

And for those of you now in your 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s, have faith kids. You’ll understand the gritty, ugly, bare-knuckle back side of the rigged American employment market as soon as you hit your late 40’s and 50’s and have a few more pounds on you and more gray hairs than you’d care to see on any given day. And may God help you if you need to work for a living once you hit 60.

Welcome to the ownership society.

For the purpose of illustration here's a few edited (for length) responses to the Quint piece:

“…Not only does this happen, it's happened to me…at one point I was turned down for 5 different positions in a week because of over qualification. Whether you believe it or not, it happens daily and is the reason that a lot of people now can't find a job.”

“…Years and years of downsizing, rightsizing, resizing and downright layoffs have resulting in companies that are managed by kids. These youngsters look for others like themselves but even younger to manage. No one wants to hire someone significantly more experienced than they are who is willing to work for less. Several major companies have a culture where the middle aged are encouraged to move on. Age discrimination is alive and well. Anyone over 40 needs to be prepared emotionally and financially to start their own business.”

“…Another reason the overqualified are being overlooked is that hiring managers fear we will quickly and easily see the problems their departments are facing (in particular, trying to do the same or more work with a smaller staff). These managers are afraid we will be their replacements if we come in, identify problems, determine solutions and implement solid business practice.”

“…to the mind of a hiring manager anyone older than them is a flight risk. To them you're just a desperate ex-something waiting for a chance to climb the ladder again. I've been interviewed by people a good ten-fifteen years younger than I am and encountered this with most of them.”

“…It is about being a threat to the younger inexperienced as much as it is entwined with age discrimination. We who seek work, but get told "we're overqualified", can sometimes break that barrier. But far too often what we hear after the interview, is "we'll be calling you"...now I have a triple whammy at my backside. 1) Over 60, 2) well qualified in my area of expertise of electronics, 3) and last year suffering a heart attack. Oh, let's move that to a "quad whammy"...4) the economy has severely reduced the possibility of employment to about zero.”

“…The "overqualified" excuse happens in both good employment climates and bad. It is almost always a cover for age discrimination.”

“…I'm unemployed and "overqualified" too. These job search experts say the same exact things over and over again though. I'm convinced that they know absolutely nothing beyond resume basics.”

“…After 30 years working, 4 of those hitting over 100K earnings, I'm returning to what I truly love, cooking…at 20K per year. I'm just glad the person who just hired me saw what I wanted and it made a fit…also if I divorce my wife of 28 years, but still live together, I will qualify for food stamps.”

“…having worked in the computer field…I noticed a definite pattern with most companies hiring and HR practices. The newer (and lesser compensated) employees generally were trained and worked with the newer technology, while the older (and better paid) employees were expected to train their replacements. Of course, their (sic) was no chance to get a decent retirement…you and your higher earned salary were replaced by junior, as he/she had the training on the latest gizmo and smaller salary and benefits. Though unions have their faults, they are probably the only answer. Or else we have the situation we are in today.”

We have known several people over 50 and eminently qualified in their fields that were put out of work either by this recession or the last one. They should have been on the short list for interviews at a number of companies where there were openings.

Not only did they not get interviewed, they never heard anything at all. Not a pre-screen phone call, not a letter, not a special delivery UPS envelope telling them to go die an ugly death in a cheap hotel room because they had the nerve to be over 50, educated and qualified to do a job.

And on those positions where they were interviewed but not hired, the reason for that? Overqualified of course.

One of them, a woman who was VP of Sales in a major high tech firm with a great track record (she could sell bad breath to a wino), was reduced to buying a small pet grooming business in order to survive as time and funds ran out in the job search; her comment after running this tiny business for 18 months?

“I’ve never worked so hard for such little money in my life.” And no benefits we might add.

America, which is now on its fat (but deflating quickly) debt-laden lips economically is missing a huge opportunity by not tapping into the monster talent pool that exists in the over 50 crowd.

Most of these folks could run circles around their 30-year old counterparts who haven’t faced anywhere near the business challenges as their older colleagues nor have the experience and judgment to recognize hidden dangers in a bad business model or risks that don’t have enough upside reward for a company to take.

Who would you rather go into battle with?

A tough-guy talking desk jockey with no military experience who got five draft deferments to stay out of the Vietnam war, who never fired a weapon in a fire fight and who’s only experience for the job is a classroom (Dick Cheney comes to mind) or a grizzled, educated, experienced and battle hardened veteran of many a conflict – Colonel Colin Powell comes to mind - who can smell danger coming from a mile away and knows precisely what to do when it arrives?

Which guy would you trust in the jungle with your life on the line?

When oh when will American employers wake up and smell the roses? When will government put anti age discrimination laws on the books that have enforceable teeth for job applicants to use in order to stop this “overqualified” nonsense?

Probably never.

The best and the brightest in this country – both in government and in the 40th floor executive suites of America’s major corporations - just shoved us all off an economic cliff into quicksand because they thought they knew what the hell they were doing.

These are the same mouth-breathers who hired a 25-year-old kid to take over all of Baghdad’s traffic problems after the U.S. invasion, who (of course) knew nothing at all about traffic. He got the gig because daddy was a Republican with friends in high places.

Why should we now expect the same dummies that got us into this mess (messes?) to realize that its good for America to hire seasoned, experienced, educated people to do the jobs that need to be done?

That is our take on the matter. We’d like to hear yours. Write us.

© 2009 www.skyvalleychronicle.com



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