One might conclude that experienced people seeking employment are not likely to make mistakes in the job interview because they have been there before.
Unfortunately, it is not true. Experienced people can be just as prone to mistakes as their younger counterparts. Whatever lessons the individual may have learned in previous job hunts may be overlooked in the latest quest for employment. In some cases, experience may even pose a roadblock to new employment, if the job seeker does not present his or her credentials in the right way to a prospective employer. The right way is to focus on the needs of the employer, not the needs of the job seeker.
Following are situations that contain errors in conducting a successful job search:
Ego aside, in telling the employer how to run or change a business, the expert may not realize how the comments are being received. It may seem like the natural thing to comment on the basis of the considerable experience the person has and try to apply it to the employer's firm. It may even be, or probably is, correct. Unfortunately, it also eliminates one from consideration.
The experienced manager is likely to know something about the company -- it may be a present or former competitor -- so that he or she feels no hesitancy about discussing ways of doing things. The approach may be, "When I was with X, here is the way we handled that situation and it is a good way to do it," or "I think you ought to consider the X approach - it will really produce positive results for you," or "I have had a lot of experience in that area and this is the way I would handle it."
In presenting opinions in this manner, the experienced manager may feel he or she is making an excellent impression on the employer by the demonstration of knowledge and familiarity with the business. After all, what the job seeker has most to sell is experience, and is not this the best way to demonstrate that experience?
The answer is no, it is probably the worst way because the individual is putting himself or herself in the position of claiming to know more about the business than the prospective employer, or at least knowing better ways to conduct the business.
The experienced manager's views may very well be correct, and the changes being recommended are changes that should be made. But that is not the point. In taking this tack, the job seeker has offended and irritated the employer to the extent that the person has removed himself or herself from consideration for that job.
It is much more effective to discuss how one's skills can benefit the employer and meet the employer's needs. There is a time and place to present suggestions for improving the business, but the job interview is neither.
Early retirement raises a red flag in the mind of the interviewer. The prospective employer reasons that the job candidate's foremost concern is not work, but recreation and personal lifestyle. Work is something to be regarded as a pastime, to fill in unfilled hours.
The early retired individual is not seen as someone who will provide loyalty to the company and put in the hours the employer considers necessary to get the job done. When the individual has fulfilled his or her short-term economic goals, whatever they may be, the individual will be gone. Employers do not like to hire under those conditions, and as a rule will not hire.
The 50-and-over candidate also frequently gets tripped up by age. Consciously or unconsciously many older people tend to discuss events or happenings of many years ago that seem fresh and recent to them. The problem is that they may not seem fresh or recent to the other person especially if that person is an interviewer who is considerably younger than the job applicant. The job seeker who does this gives the interviewer the impression that he or she is focused on the past rather than future, and that is enough to remove the individual from the competition for that job. Employers want forward looking, not backward looking people.
Experienced people should take care to avoid these self-imposed handicaps so that their true value to the employer, their experience, can come through.
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James E. Challenger, president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., is in his fourth decade of job search counseling after pioneering outplacement as an employer-paid benefit. He has authored three books, including Secrets of the Job Hunt and his most recent Job-Hunting Success for Mid-Career Professionals.