Our Take: A Second Job-Hunt Lesson

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Where experience is concerned, more isn't always better. Often it's worse.

That's one lesson I drew from my own extended search for new employment after being laid off by a boutique in 2006.

An employer who posts an opening calling for "three to five years experience" in a particular sub-specialty might be leery if an applicant has 12 years. In such cases, a candidate's best bet is to state an experience figure high in the cover letter and resume summary that acknowledges the employer's preferred range. The safest formulation might be, "More than five years in (fill in the blank)."

Never falsify employment dates. Just leave it to the recipient to tote up the years you worked at various jobs and check the sum against the number in your summary. During the initial stage of screening candidates, no employer is likely to do this. What they do look for carefully is any inconsistency between the resume and the requirements of the position. For a variety of reasons, appearing overqualified is at least as bad as being underqualified.

If an interviewer does ask why your summary states, "More than five years in Equity Research" when your employment history totals nine years, you can make an excuse like, "Since you're a bulge-bracket, I counted only my experience at bulge-bracket institutions." If the prospect likes the extra experience, you may get points for exceeding expectations. If he doesn't, you wouldn't have been interviewed at all had you not tailored your summary.

Although perfectly logical, I don't advise saying, "Oh, nine isn't more than five? Silly me ... it must be that New Math I keep hearing about!" No one likes being talked down to. And, never employ any tactic that overstates your experience. In that case, an employer very likely will complain, to the point of promptly showing you the door.

Extra Experience Can Spotlight Extra Age

Finally, remember that candidates older than 35 who trumpet their extra experience are needlessly spotlighting a further liability - their age. By the time my own job search ended, I was ready to scream if I heard one more person say, "Oh, that position's too junior for you," when it paid twice what I'd made in my last job. Clearly, those gatekeepers used the word "junior" in its conventional sense rather than its business meaning - and saw no need to hide the fact.

Discrimination based on race, gender and age is against the law in the U.S. But while financial institutions' online employment applications always say their concluding questions on race and gender are voluntary, you'll never see an employer or recruiter pretend it's "voluntary" to disclose your age when applying for a job. I've seen paper applications that request date of birth right at the top. Of course, a candidate might get by with simply skipping the question - just as you should leave blank any question a form asks about your current, past or required compensation level. But I've also seen online applications that make "college graduation date" a mandatory field. If you don't answer it, the process won't advance to the next screen. And recruiters say that when they forward resumes that lack graduation dates, clients often come back asking for that information.

Older candidates need to take special pains to define themselves in opposition to the cliché-ridden pabulum that often passes for insight into baby boomers' career goals. In fact, the words, "baby boomer" and "retirement" have become so fused in the public imagination, that even well-meaning retention programs buy into the stereotype that typical boomers are eagerly preparing to go out to pasture. In reality, employers who go down this path aren't shooting themselves in the foot - they're shooting themselves in the chest.

What's been your experience in landing a new job? Share your experiences by posting a comment below.

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