Overqualified And Unemployed – What Are My Options? Q&A

Q. I am 55 years old and unemployed. I have spent most of my life as a self-employed attorney but left the field about eight years ago to join a start-up internet company where I focused on sales and marketing.

About two years ago the internet company folded and I have been trying to find a job in the law again. However, when I apply for legal jobs, the partner who is interviewing me says that I am over qualified for the position. But what I really hear him saying is that I have been out of my chosen field for too long, that my legal skills are probably stale, and that they are looking for younger more moldable talent.

A. The first thing you need to know is that you are not alone. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people in your situation. Professionals who have been self-employed and have later changed careers only to find the economy has shifted when they choose to return to their original career choice.

People that have been self-employed are particularly vulnerable, since they cannot point to a solid work history with other employers who can speak on their behalf as a job reference. Without current job references, employers are reluctant to take a chance on you – even if you are more qualified for the job then other candidates applying for the same position. Age discrimination is another obstacle you are likely to face.

Face The Objection Before It Comes Up

When applying for a position make sure you don’t try to hide the fact you already have experience in your field. Instead, try to connect up your experience in the law with what you will be able to provide for your next employer. It is important to be confident and not defensive about your previous experience in the law.

Be Prepared To State Your Case – Your Personal Brand

Every job candidate should be able to say, in brief, what they are looking for and what they can offer the new employer. You need to be able to say this in two-minutes or less and do it with confidence. You are describing your personal brand and explaining why you will be a valuable asset to the team. Do this before the interviewer begins speculating why you may not be a fit for them for the reasons we just discussed.

You will need to give the interviewer specific reasons why you would be a good fit for the job. You should include your talents and career victories, what you like in a job, something about who you are as a team player, and of course always bring it back to what you will be able to offer them should you be hired. And remember to always be enthusiastic – not a trait most lawyers are known for. Being lukewarm about your career goals will only caste doubts about your degree of commitment to the job. So play large here.

Turn An Objection Around – Play To Your Strengths

Even though the interviewer might be thinking that your too old, that you are probably a know-it-all or that won’t be able to get along with the younger associates, you will need to turn that mindset around and do it as quickly as possible. Consider one possible interview response:

One reason I have done so well in my field is that I have always tried to keep on learning. Be receptive to new ideas and approaches to cases. Things keep changing in the field of law, so I don’t believe that anyone can ever say they know it all. I expect to keep learning from everyone in the firm, as well as make valuable contributions that will support the efforts of other attorneys and staff in our practice group. 

Finally, its always a good idea to stress your flexibility including being able to learn in new and fast-paced environments: I thrive in fast-paced environments especially when it includes exchanging lots of  ideas on cases. I don’t want to stop learning and I hope the people I will be working with here feel the same way….

Finally, be confident in knowing that your age, maturity and experience are not negatives. So feel free to remind your interviewer that your maturity and depth of experience will be an asset to the firm and that it sets you apart from someone who is just starting out in the profession.


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