Old or overqualified? Here’s how NOT to sell yourself

I was fascinated to sit opposite a twentysomething recruitment consultant on the train to London last week. For over an hour, he rather loudly went through some poor IT candidate’s CV by mobile phone, publicly pulling it to pieces for all to hear.

Even though I didn’t overhear the candidate’s name, I know where he worked, for how long, what software he was expert in and that he had more than 15 years’ experience.

But this is not a lesson about being careful who you entrust with your CV or recruitment needs. Nor is it about how you need to revise your CV.

It’s about an overheard line, which went something like this:

‘There’s no point saying you were a hotshot in the 1990s. Companies are not interested. You need to present yourself as if you are a 25-year-old, hungry and with the latest skills. They want to see that you are a hotshot NOW.’

Is this true? Are you too old, overqualified and out of date if you have more than 10 years of Web experience?

Admittedly, the Web is an industry with a ridiculously fast rate of change, but apart from the terrible patronising tone of Mr Train Consultant, is he correct in saying that you have to bury your years of experience and present a younger, hungrier persona?

So I went straight to the top and asked Firehead CEO, CJ Walker, for a second opinion. After a brief rant about unprofessionalism and certain recruitment consultants chasing a quick commission, here’s what she had to say:

Everyone needs a job. But they only need one job – not ALL of them. It should be the right one, meaning a good fit for the person and for the company. To do this, you have to be honest. This job seeker is NOT a 25-year-old hotshot, so why would he try to present himself that way? It will only cause heartache later.

He also doesn’t need to take a job that requires a 25-year-old when there are other, more appropriate, positions on the market where he could be a potential hotshot.

He’s put himself in a dangerous situation if he’s turning over all of his power to a rec consultant who is not looking for anything but his own commission. This, in my opinion, is what the rec consultant’s role is: Consulting. A consultant provides his expertise of both sides and works to find the best solution to meet the need of both parties, but sadly, this is not always the case. The world is full of dubious recruitment “specialists”.

The job seeker needs to know what he wants – he’s the one who is going to be working that job every day. The company he applies to will have a list in painful (and sometimes not entirely realistic) detail of their candidate requirements; why shouldn’t the job seeker go shopping, too?

The job seeker should be able to clearly articulate his strengths. These are key for his CV, cover letter, and other job search info. He needs to immediately and succinctly convey 1) what  he can do, 2) What he is looking for, and 3) how he can help the company succeed. It has to be a match with the company’s needs.

If he was a hotshot at 90s technology, certainly he took strengths, skills and wisdom away from that, which he could define and package for an appropriate role in this market.

This rec cons sounds as if he is having trouble filling this open role because he doesn’t really understand it, or he only works with this kind of role and doesn’t understand other roles well.

In either case, he’s not able to provide a consultant’s service for the two parties – he’s only thinking about his commission from filling it with whatever he can.

So the key takeaways are:

  • Know yourself
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want
  • If a rec cons tells you something that jars, get a second opinion or hire a specialist for your industry

At Firehead, for example, we only work in a limited area of recruitment: Technical Communication and Web Content, because that’s what we know. How could we provide a real service in something we don’t understand ourselves?

We know our industry and we know all of our candidates and clients by name – we never use employee numbers and never will. We love what we do, and we love to work with high-quality professionals.

The vast majority of our business comes from word of mouth and repeat business, which is something we’re very proud of. And we won’t waste your time: we’ll tell you if it’s not a good fit.

Oh, and finally, we promise to never, ever call you to discuss your personal information from the train!

CVs Overheard