Work & Purpose

How to Convince Firms You’re Not Too Experienced

Struggling to find work after a long career? Here's what to do.

(This article appeared previously on AOLJobs.com.)

Meet Charles.

After 20 years in sales and then running his own business for a short while, he's struggling to find a job. Charles is hitting all the local networking events and has applied to hundreds of jobs online. All that work has landed him only four interviews and no job offers.

Recently, Charles befriended a woman in HR at a business networking breakfast and asked if she'd give him candid feedback on his resumé.

She told him the following in so many words: "I've seen you at multiple networking events and I can tell you right now nobody wants to hire you because they think you will be too difficult of an employee."

(MORE: The 5 Resume Rules to Ignore)

And she's right. When you've owned your own company or had a long, prosperous career (or both in Charles' case), your success can work against you when looking for a job.

Here's why…

Highly Successful Professionals Have a 'Persona'
As you climb the ladder of success, people watch you go up. They see you reaching new levels of professional and financial satisfaction. So, when they see you're climbing back down (i.e. closed your business, lost your job, etc.) and are now looking to start over, they assume you won't be very happy until you are right back up at the top of the ladder.
Let's face it: Why would you have climbed in the first place if you didn't want to stay there? Or, go even higher? That's why many employers will avoid hiring someone with a lot of experience and success.

(MORE: The New Way to Pitch Yourself to Land Jobs)

They fear you will be:

  • Unhappy with the more basic roles and responsibilities of the job
  • Eager to leave them as soon as you can make more money
  • Hoping to be in charge and feel compelled to always speak up and share what you think should be done —even when you don't have the authority to do so

Even if you feel certain this doesn't describe you, employers will continue to assume you'll be this way until you change their misguided assumptions.

How Charles Can Get Back on Track

Charles needs to be proactive and start to spread a message among his network that shows how recent experiences have taught him that he wants to be an employee again. He also needs to prove to all those he networks with that, in spite of his past success, he is not high-maintenance. (Here's an article on LinkedIn that shows you how to deal with being called “overqualified,” which is often an employer's code for “high-maintenance.")

(MORE: The Best New Books for Your Career)


So here's what Charles should do:

Locate the problem Charles started his company when his former employer got bought, thinking that with all of his experience and customer relationships, he should be in business for himself. He quickly learned he couldn't compete with the bigger competitors and had to close up after several years.
Uncover the issues  Entrepreneurs are seen as very independent. After all, if you have the courage to start your own company, you must have the confidence and belief in your abilities. The downside is that employers will assume that you wouldn't do well as an employee now that you've had a taste of entrepreneurship. They see you as potentially being bossy, opinionated and tough to manage.
Create a new plan  Charles needs to spread the message that his experience owning his own business actually taught him to appreciate working for an employer. He must be able to articulate clearly why he would rather rejoin the ranks of employees.

It might sound something like this:

"Owning my own business was a powerful experience that taught me a lot about myself professionally. After all those years in sales, I thought being an entrepreneur would be a good fit. But, what I learned is that I prefer being part of something bigger. I missed having a team of colleagues and an abundance of resources that working for a larger company provides. I also gained a whole new respect for managers and executives running these organizations.

Having been in their shoes, I now see all that goes into running a company and feel I can support the management team's goals better as a result. Now, I want to take this experience and channel it in to my next job. I am really looking forward to getting back to work with a firm where I can leverage my skills and abilities to get them results."

By sharing what he learned about how hard it is to run a business, managers will see Charles as an excellent person to have on their staff because he was humbled by the experience. They know he will have greater respect for them as a result of it.
Next Steps for Charles

Charles now needs to create a list of companies he wants to work for and focus his networking on meeting people who work there. Then, he can share his story and seek their advice on the best way to earn an interview with their firms.

The more he can connect and tell his story, the more likely he'll be to get people to refer him to jobs.

It's very important he use this technique because applying online won't work. Computerized Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and recruiters will most likely skip his resumé for the reasons listed above.

Charles needs to go around the process and have in-person conversations with people who can hear his messaging first-hand. This will have a greater impact and help him get in front of hiring managers faster. (For further reading on this subject, here's an article that shares the importance of avoiding a common face-to-face networking mistake.)

Charles is a talented professional who enjoys working hard and achieving his goals. He needs to market himself to prove to employers that he would be more than happy as an one of their employees. 

J.T. O'Donnell is a career and workplace expert who founded the top-ranked career advice site, CAREEREALISM.com. In 2009, she launched CareerHMO, the first on-line career care membership site which specializes in curing chronic career pain.

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