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The myth of the over-qualified worker and why the over 50’s could be your most valuable asset

Too old, Past it, Over-qualified, Demand too much money, Don’t like change, Always off sick, Don’t understand technology, Be gone as soon as a better job comes along…

These are all quotes and phrases that the over 50’s (especially the highly skilled executives and professionals) are very familiar with, but equally do not recognise themselves within, along with rarely hearing back from job applications.

These are also all myths and misconceptions surrounding this demographic. So, whilst business complains that there are not enough senior management and leadership skills around, they simultaneously avoid recruiting a highly proven group that have an abundance of “proven” higher-level skill and a virtually non-existent sickness absence rate, contrary to popular belief.

It bemuses me that recruiters and hiring managers have such a preconceived view of the economic potential of these amazing people, people who have a career history of success behind them. Why on earth would businesses not want those credentials in their company.

To quote Kazim Ladimeji – a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development: –

There is a prevailing notion that overqualified staff are undesirable, and overqualification can be a reason for many hiring managers to reject candidates. This is counterintuitive: if you were betting on a horse race you would choose the best horse and you wouldn’t refuse to back it just because it was overqualified! You’d be more likely to back it, surely?

Of course, people aren’t horses, and there is an expectation among many hiring managers and recruiters that overqualified staff will grow bored and frustrated if placed in roles that are “beneath” them.

Then we have the CV work-gap. Businesses should actually embrace this, a work-gap that the recruiters themselves inherently created. You will not find this group sat on their posteriors disengaged from business, they will be out there in the thick of it, continuing to do and learn great things, just not in a traditionally employed role. I know for myself, that putting myself out there has taught more about more things, more opportunities, more industries and more technologies and I have met more amazing people who I can learn from and identified more opportunities than I ever even knew about.

Logically, the CV work-gap should, in many respects, be considered to be career enhancement, it is surely very akin to a professional secondment? Rather than employees spending their lives in a silo working with the same people, sectors and products every day, these experts will bring a whole new vision. They never forget what they already know but their knowledge and expertise will have moved to another level. They get to attend training events and seminars, build incredibly powerful business networks, see the challenges, opportunities and successes of a vast multitude of businesses and what is rarely recognised – they get to see, from the outside looking-in, where new opportunities may arise for their previous sector.

There must be some sound reasoning as to why: –

  • The average age of a FTSE100 CEO is 54
  • The average ago of a FTSE100 Board is 53.4 and “rising” as are the average ages of NXD’s (60+)
  • The average age of a FTSE150 CEO is 54.7
  • The average age of a FTSE150 Board is 53.7
  • The average age of a Fortune 500 CEO is now 50, up from 45 in 2012…

Is it logical or illogical to have some of the world’s largest companies managing £billions and thousands of staff consistently demonstrate a preference for highly experienced over 50’s to sit on their boards and then for there to be clear evidence that that same and wider demographic are considered to be too old, past it, of ill health and resistant to change and are declined employment opportunities as a general UK, Northern European, USA and Australian practice – and perhaps there lies a clue?

I can only encourage recruiters and hiring managers to ignore the preconceptions and engage with some very enlightening and insightful people. An hour of your time invested in meeting and interviewing somebody who you would otherwise instinctively reject, might just be the most valuable thing that you ever do for your business. What have you got to lose?

I’ve never quite understood why the recruiters of today seem to think that the over 50’s do not understand technology and are resistant to change, the facts are set in recent history: –

Google is 20 years old this year (2018) and the internet as a WWW public access utility is 27 years old – if the over 50’s are so technologically ignorant, how did they manage to introduce the digital platforms and services that are so essential to life today – those who are now over 50 started, introduced and worked with the digital revolution including virtual reality, software coding, Robotic Process Automation, AutoCAD, electron microscopes, MRI and CT Scanners, everything since is most likely, an evolution.

Of course, there always has been and always will be advances in technology and new things to apply technology to and it would be folly to suggest that the over 50’s are all as familiar with the latest technology as the current developers and researchers but the point I make is that the over 50’s not only understand and have an intuitive understanding of technology, they grew up in an era of digital revolution but now have the broad business experience and the senior leadership and management skills to build and manage larger and sustainable businesses in an era of digital evolution.

And the man in charge of building the rather huge £15bn Cross Rail project – he’s a mere 70+!


What is not to like?

Guest blog by the Director-e founder, Les Phillimore. To find out more, visit his website  or have a look at his vlog on The Awards People’s ‘sofa of success’


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Rachel Hargrave

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