The largest segment of those hardest hit in today's job market are people that had been in leadership, senior management, and supervisory roles. They tend to have had lengthy careers, mostly with one or a select few companies and mostly in continually upwardly mobile positions. Many have had a very difficult time landing a new gig and in many cases, the length of their unemployment has been exceptionally long.
Many, after a long and drawn-out period of unemployment, are more than willing to "take a step back" from the level of role they've had, both in title and compensation. More than 80% are often told, "I’m sorry but you're over-qualified for this position.” It often doesn’t sound this way when the news is broken, it more likely comes across as, “I don’t think this will be a good fit for you”, or “Your experience is great, but we really think that you would not be happy in this role”.
Clearly they can do the work, so why are companies so unwilling to consider such strong candidates? There are multiple reasons, and solutions. Here are some observations…
Less Available Jobs ~ REALLY? I don’t think it takes an "expert" to tell you that. In today's market there are fewer high level jobs than there were a few years ago. However, even in a great economy, there are fewer higher-level jobs than there are mid, or staff level position. The job market is always a pyramid with fewer high level, and higher paying jobs than there are lower down the slope. People rise to those ranks and then, in a down economy, hold on like grim death to that job until something new comes along that is at least a lateral move or the next jump up the ladder.
So while you may have been able to find new jobs quickly when you were younger in your career, it's naturally going to take longer when there is less on the table. Many companies have eliminated layers in their management structure in order to cut costs and become more efficient. They are working “leaner and meaner”. Thus, there are fewer management roles available than normal. The pool of highly qualified people competing for the jobs that are available keeps growing, again, making it tougher to be selected for any given opening.
An Employer Sees A Step Back As Temporary ~ You may truly be interested in a position at lesser title and compensation, but an employer is much harder to convince that you would stick with it long-term, and often, they're right. If you're pursuing lesser positions primarily because you're unable to find a role at your previous level, the likelihood of you 'jumping ship' should a more appropriate position become available to you is generally quite high.
The employer may also be interviewing other candidates whose experience matches the position and view the role as a perfect fit or as a progressive step in their career. It's easy for them to assume that you are a greater risk as a long term fit than those others.
Age Isn’t Always The Issue ~ Generally, people that have climbed the ladder to higher levels in their careers are also older than people at lower stages of their careers. That's just the truth of the matter. However, when more experienced people are not able to land a new job, they assume it's because of age discrimination. While it is true that employers will usually hire younger people for lower to mid-level positions, it is overwhelmingly due to the person having the appropriate level of experience for the role, and not because of their age.
While age discrimination is not entirely extinct, it's nowhere near as common as many job seekers often believe it to be.
Over-Qualified = Complacent ~ One of the more generalized assumptions is that employers do not want to hire over-qualified candidates fearing that they will become bored, dissatisfied or restless in the new position quickly. It's easy to see how someone that's been used to performing at more strategic or leadership levels could become complacent when 'stuck' in a lesser role. That person may bring knowledge and experience beyond other candidates, however, most employers would prefer a passionate and engaged person that still has things to learn, over a highly competent person that lacks enthusiam for the job.
If Your Resume Skills Don’t Match The Job Description, The Company Is Not Likely To Call ~ Say you're a Sales Manager with textile industry experience, applying to Sales positions at textile companies. Chances are not bad that you'll get called when you send in your resume. It's a fit and you are the target they are looking for. Any movement away from that kind of fit and your odds at getting a call drop drastically. If you are changing fields, changing industries, or pursuing positions below your previous experience, you can not rely on calls from prospective employers.
Recruiters and Hiring Managers will see your level of experience and generally prefer not to go down that path. In this market, they will have other, better targeted candidates that have also applied. It will take other strategies to be considered. Such as addressing your matching skills in your cover letter or networking your way in through a current employee.
Build Your Network ~ Relationships = Contacts ~ When your resume is submitted to a prospective employer, it is nothing more than a piece of information. If that information fits the job description, it's considered and if it doesn't fit, it's generally ignored. Ultimately though, companies don't hire data, they hire people. To be considered for positions where you are not an ideal fit, you must NETWORK.
Targeting companies and not just job listings is critical. Find companies you are interested in pursuing and begin a very deliberate process of connecting to, talking to, and meeting as many people as you can at those organizations. Showing interest in them, learning about the company and it’s products, gaining more referrals, and letting them know of the types of roles you'd be interested in. When you see a job listing that is of interest to you at a new company, work this same process there. Referrals from current employees of that company will very often overcome the objection of being over-qualified. When they hear from someone else that you are interested in the role, rather than simply your own opinion, they are more likely to take you seriously as a candidate.
Sincerely Being Able To Explain “WHY” You Are Looking At Taking What They May Consider A “Lesser” Role ~ Finally, one major factor that often plays into an employer not believing your sincerity in a lower level position is that you haven't given a good reason as to Why you would want to do it. Stating tired, old platitudes like; “you are anxious to get back to work", or "wanting to work at a lower level again", or that "you’re a Company Man/Woman, and feel successful when the company succeeds”. Each are overused, and sound canned in order to get an offer. Hearing those utterances creates doubt in the mind of the recruiter or hiring manager.
Sincerity is critical, and legitimate reasons are important. "I have been most happy when I was in a contributor role rather than once I had primarily leadership and administrative responsibilities." …sounds more sincere and legitimate. You have to state what's true for you. However, employers rarely are interested in someone who seems to be "settling" for something less than they would really like and it often comes across as what you WANT from the company, rather than what you can do FOR the company.
Networking and building relationships within a company is the best way to get past the 'over-qualified' speed bump. Don't try to rely solely on your own ability to persuade them at an interview, you need to have 'backup' within their own organization. Network your way into that next great opportunity and see your results change.