Remember one thing as you hit the job market: There is no such thing as a perfect candidate for any job. However, professional liabilities are real and if ignored, these potential hurdles to getting hired can potentially derail your candidacy.
ECP has a team of Career Strategists located in many major markets of the United States. If we added up all our time in career services, we’d be close to a century of expertise to pull from. Our staff ranges from 30 to 67 in age, so when we work together, we apply wisdom, technical prowess and in market fails and wins to derive solutions for every client to overcome their professional liabilities.
Every job seeker we’ve supported suffers from one or more areas where hiring managers and recruiters may take pause — whether possessing too much or too little experience, dated skills, a misinformed career choice, or a lack of credentials; our firm knows how to mitigate the impact of these challenges and get our clients hired much faster.
To boost your job search results and shorten your time in search, we need to objectively assess your candidacy to determine which shortcomings you may possess. More importantly, it’s vital to identify and articulate your statement of value – which can often be seen by others easier than can be seen by you – the candidate.
Once you have acknowledged the career liabilities that could hinder your candidacy for targeted roles, you’ll need a resume and search strategies and tactics to execute on to help you overcome these drawbacks and better pivot the discussion in a more favorable direction that aligns your strengths to their needs.
With that in mind, let’s discuss three liabilities we encounter and offer some examples solutions. Maybe one of these is something you need to address:
- Too Much or Too Little Experience
- Lack of a Degree/Certification
- Age Discrimination
Too Much or Too Little Experience
Here’s a fact a lot of people don’t recognize: If you apply for a job outlining a specific amount of applicable experience and your resume and LinkedIn profile demonstrate that you possess more or less experience than the amount called for, the odds are very high that your application will be overlooked by the ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems). With experience being an issue, you are bound to confront problems with ATS, especially if you are predominantly searching using online job boards.
If the ATS ignores your resume, then it will not be visible to the recruiter or hiring manager selecting candidates to consider for interviews. This is a typical reason that those who apply to jobs where they believe they’re appropriately qualified, get no response or an immediate (system generated) rejection email.
To prevent experience concerns from becoming the focus of your resume or on LinkedIn, you must include the right amount of knowledge on your resume from the start.
Suppose you’re typically applying for jobs that require less experience than you possess. In that case, you will need to trim your work history or organize older assignments without dates of employment.
Whether you are a professional with many years of experience who desires work in a new industry or recent graduate, there are ways to compensate for your lack of experience. For example:
- Highlight your transferable experience. If you are trying to enter a new career, you need to use the relevant experience you possess to demonstrate your potential to succeed in this new role. The best way to approach this is to frame the transferable skills and expertise you’ve previously acquired and emphasize those on your resume.
- Emphasize your soft skills. Your soft skills will undoubtedly be among your most transferable skills for individuals changing careers. Soft skills are not usually industry-specific but are still crucial to performing the job well (communication & organizational skills, critical thinking, diligence, leadership, etc.). Do your homework and research your desired industry to determine which soft skills are most sought after in candidates for the targeted position.
- Build a network. The power of networking during a career transition cannot be overstated, no matter which industry you want to work in. Reach out to experts through social media or LinkedIn and invite them out for coffee or see if they would be available for a short phone call. Ask them questions about their work and what advice they would give to someone starting in their field.
- Be clear about your motivation. Without demonstrated familiarity with the job, employers will naturally want to see proof that you are genuine about this career move and not just looking to grab a position to pay the bills. Even if an attractive salary is a primary motivation, you should prepare to explain why that career appeals to you. Depending on how motivated you are to excel, they will determine your potential to overcome the learning curve and perform in this position. Try to be specific and explain why you are determined to work in this field.
Lack of a Degree/Certification
Many job seekers would excel in a new job but are never given an opportunity because they don’t have a certain level of education or specific certification needed for the role they are pursuing. The candidate may be judged as unqualified when the opposite may be true.
You can successfully transition without a college degree and are likely to enjoy professional success. However, obstacles may present themselves, so it’s wise to approach your job hunt purposefully.
- Develop a Value Proposition: What do you offer an organization that others don’t? Figure out how you are unique compared to the competition and let your passion shine. Reframe experiences, adjust your resume, and sharpen that value proposition. If you need help, ECP is here to help.
- Focus on Smaller Companies or Startups: Many times, requirements on a job listing are negotiable if you can prove valuable experience. This includes a college degree. However, larger companies have hardened bureaucracies, and you may discover more flexibility regarding degree requirements if you target small and mid-sized firms.
- Network: The truism “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is critical for the job seeker without a college degree. As outlined above, fuel your job search and make essential connections with proactive outreach attempts. Additionally, engage in informational interviews to gather information and advance your reputation.
- Identify Companies Without Degree Requirements: Many well-paying jobs don’t require a college degree. What’s more, many companies don’t require a college degree to hire you. Streamline your efforts and pinpoint these organizations.
- Elevate Your Professional Brand: Dress, act, live and breathe the part. You must present a professional image that meets (and preferably surpasses) that of your college-degree touting competition. ECP clients launch a professional website to highlight their skills. They nurture references who will speak to their abilities. They are coached to revive their online image and engage on LinkedIn.
- Offer to Go Above and Beyond: If you’re still facing resistance, consider proposing a sample project for free or as a contractor. This is a risk-free way for them to “try” you and see if you’re a good fit and capable of doing high-quality work. Then you can dazzle them with your abilities!
In a general sense, let’s back up to consider something: What are organizations looking to accomplish when hiring? Typically, large, established organizations are looking to get younger. Find talented, somewhat-experienced candidates that can be brought on board and then molded, trained, and shaped to perform within that enterprise’s long-standing cultural norms and professional standards and perform for the long haul. They’re not usually seeing someone with 20+ years of experience leading teams as a good fit for that role.
On the other hand, smaller, leaner firms are looking to get experienced. The ownership/leadership of a smaller firm needs someone who can join the team and be ‘plug & play.’ If a fantastic product engineer owns a firm, she may have no idea how to develop a successful sales team. She’d be looking for someone with a history of building, mentoring, and guiding sales teams. That’s not usually going to be a recent MBA recipient!
Therefore, my guiding advice has always been simple: Go where you’re wanted!!
In a study by AARP, 61% of respondents over 45 reported having seen or experienced age discrimination in their careers. People aged 55+ are the fastest-growing demographic in the workforce and are assumed to make up 25% of employed U.S. adults by 2026. If you are in this age group, we must be sensitive to the challenges you may encounter during your search. While employers are expected to remove bias from their hiring procedures, let’s focus on things you can do as a job seeker to succeed should potential age bias present itself.
Contrary to the myths about mature employees, research shows that multigenerational workforces are more productive and have greater employee retention than those without age diversity. What can you do to lessen the impact of potential ageism in your search?
Find the right company.
When searching for a job, you have non-negotiables and preferences such as company values, salary, benefits, leadership style, etc. Another corporate trait to consider as a mature job seeker is age diversity tolerance. In other words, seek environments built and nurtured to support equally, employ and advance individuals regardless of their age.
Pay close attention to the language employers use throughout the hiring process, starting with the posted job description. Seek out phrases like “high energy,” “overqualified,” “ninja/guru,” or “digital native.” Language like this typically refers to younger candidates.
Avoid age bias in your resume.
Since your resume is usually your initial opportunity to make an impression on the employer, it can also be the first chance age bias can seep into the hiring process. Here are a few suggestions to optimize your resume to steer the focus toward your skills, qualifications, and qualities instead of your age:
- De-emphasize your education and remove graduation dates.
- Create an ATS-friendly resume with current, relevant keywords tailored to the specific roles being pursued.
- Keep your relevant experience recent and emphasize your value potential.
Interview with awareness.
When you are offered an interview with decision-makers, remain aware that there might be an underlying, unspoken concern about your age with that interviewer. Focus on the following:
- Accentuate your excitement for the role instead of your depth of experience.
- Express your readiness to both lead and follow.
- Promote your self-sufficiency. Employers value self-aware individuals who can uncover solutions to simple questions, identify their strengths and weaknesses and seek to improve. It wouldn’t hurt to communicate your ability and desire to learn and ramp up quickly.
- Communicate your ability to work with your co-workers.
While there are many more liabilities to consider than we have space to examine here, one takeaway needs to be that there are resume and job search solutions for almost any set of circumstances job seekers may find themselves in. The challenge is identifying liabilities and finding workaround solutions that propel your search forward. Consider partnering with the Career Strategists at ECP to develop a personal branding campaign that helps overcome any potential roadblock to employment!
Written By: Michael Schumacher, Senior Career Strategist
Michael is one of our accomplished Senior Career Strategists who brings over two decades of experience in the career transition industry to ECP.
He is known for motivating and coaching clients while never losing sight of their individualism, personal situations, or specific objectives.
In addition to coaching clients toward success during their job search, Michael is also a talented writer who is knowledgeable about today’s industry trends.