When you’re early in your career, you may have too little experience. When you’re later in your career you may have too much. Finding that Goldilocks level of experience that is just right for the employer requires you to customize how you talk about yourself and what you can contribute to the needs of that particular company and role. It is a delicate balance, but it’s doable! – Forbes.com
I wrote the above as the optimistic conclusion to a post about being branded as “overqualified”. This is a concern I have heard frequently, especially from older job seekers. I do believe that it is possible, whether early or late in your career, to find a job that is right-sized with your experience, when you put in the work for a proactive, thoughtful job search.
However, having the right experience for the job still isn’t enough to land the job. There are many factors that influence a hiring decision, and being able to do the job is just one of them. Here are five real-life examples of other factors coming into play that kept otherwise qualified candidates from getting the offer:
1 – Low energy
The role was to lead a department, so the company was looking for gravitas. One of the finalists checked off every box in terms of experience level, industry expertise, and relevant skill set. However, she was low key during the final rounds. One interviewer interpreted this as not wanting the job. Someone else, with less experience but a clearly demonstrated desire for the job and a bigger personality, got the offer instead.
2 – Too much energy
On the flip side, one finalist was nixed for having too much energy. In this case, the finalist also checked off all the boxes on the qualification list. However, she had a big, brash personality, which was perfect for the creative company where she eventually landed, but a mismatch for the more laid-back environment at this company.
3 – Too much anxiety
Sometimes you just blow an interview. One of my frontrunner candidates for a Head of People role at a tech company was so nervous at the interview that he barely looked up at the interviewers. This hadn’t been my experience during our earlier meetings, and given this candidate had been at his current job for almost 10 years, he probably was out of practice. Still, his anxiety gave the interviewers anxiety and planted some doubt that he could pull off a senior role. Another less experienced candidate came in with confidence and warmth and won the group over.
4 – Poor communication skills
Sometimes the experience is enough but not communicated properly. One candidate gave very general examples – again, I blame a lack of practice for why she forgot the details and nuance that would have pegged her at the right level. She also spoke very casually, which didn’t demonstrate the executive presence needed for this management-level role. You do want the interview to be conversational but still business-like, not pub talk over drinks!
5 – Sloppy follow-up
One finalist for a finance role with seven-figure earning potential sent a thank you email with multiple errors – spelling, grammar, too casual. He had the right experience, but the company already thought he might be too arrogant, and the sloppy follow-up just confirmed it. It projected that he didn’t care much about the opportunity.
Experience is not enough. You also have to demonstrate genuine interest, communicate well, and fit with the culture. The hiring process is too complex just to wing it. You need to prepare and practice for interviews. You need to make a candid assessment of your presence, communication, energy level, and interest level. If you’re not seeing results, you need to figure out what’s going wrong. It may be that you’re not making a case that your experience is a fit for the job. But it also might be some other factor entirely.