Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Is "Too Senior Really A Euphemisim For "Too Old"?

We often get feedback that a particular candidate is “too senior.” Sometimes it is after interviewing sometimes we hear that upon submission of the résumé.  Is too senior a euphemism meaning too old or does it simply mean that the job doesn’t require either the level of experience or the degree of seniority that a particular person has?

The answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no.

I have written several times about why senior job candidates cannot and should not take or interview for junior jobs. Too senior often means just that.  To make my point, a former senior vice president, of any age, probably should not be interviewing for an account director job where he or she would be reporting to a less experienced person because the person they might be reporting to should actually be working for them.  If for some reason the senior person were hired, chances are that in the long term, It would not work.  This would be true of any case where the prospective applicant was, at one time, more senior than their potential supervisor, regardless of age.

On the other hand, “too senior” could in fact mean that the job really  does not require the level of experience the applicant brings to the job. Companies always worry about turn-over and are afraid that the potential employee may get bored and leave. This is a legitimate concern.  There is no sense in taking a dead end.job.

Despite anti-discrimination laws, there are companies where there is no room for older employees.  Is it discrimination?  I think not.  It would probably be a disaster for the senior people, despite the fact that they may well be able to teach the young people a thing or two and vice versa - they could learn from the less senior people.  One of the many reasons that many dot coms crashed in the late nineties, was because many of these companies were owned and staffed by people in their twenties and early thirties who simply lacked life experience.  When the market tightened and became tough, these owners and managers did not have the experience and know-how to solve the problems facing their companies. And by the time they hired more experienced executives it was often too late.

There are times when a job, despite its title or pay, may not call for someone with lots of experience.  Over the years I have met or heard of many candidates who took a job only to find out that they were over-qualified.  And there is nothing worse than being bored at a job. When companies hire someone too senior, It is often what I call an “ego hire.”  It may make the company or client feel good but long term it is a disaster.
I remember an account director who called me on her second day of work complaining that her observation after only one day was that what she was being asked to do could be handled by someone with only a few months experience,.  She approached her CEO after about a week and he became very defensive and angry.  His attitude was that the client expected to be serviced by senior people and she should just tough it out (he didn't even promise to give her more work).  She left after only three weeks and I completely understood.  That is what happens with ego hires.

If a company tells a candidate that they are too senior, it is perfectly legitimate to ask for an explanation.  It should be asked in a non-threatening and non-confrontational way. Often the company is right and their explanation perfectly acceptable.


  1. This is a wise post, and true for most people and places most of the time. But it never worked for me. I'm an entrepreneur who has always put learning and growing first. From my first manager-level job, I hired people more "senior" than me, and it usually worked out very well. It worked because I wanted to learn from them, and I did. It worked because I was comfortable letting them lead me much of the time. And it worked because I was comfortable paying the price, including making a smaller salary and seeing people promoted over my head. Nothing in business stays the same for long anyway. The hierarchy in any given company is an ephemeral illusion. You are what you grow into, and if you expose yourself to the marketplace, your value will be recognized. Ogilvy was right when he sent around those Russian dolls to all of his managers, with the message in the smallest one that said, "If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants."

  2. Whether “too senior” is a euphemism for “too old” really doesn’t matter. If an agency or company doesn’t want you from the start because of “ageism”, you really don’t want to be there. Doesn’t matter how qualified you are; how youthful you think you look; how “affordable you are; or how much you’re willing to help the younger folks and agency grow and succeed. Indeed, if you’re not truly welcomed to their “scene” and embraced as a valuable part of the team, why would you want to be there in the first place? You’ll be marginalized; personally very unhappy; and probably fired in 6-12 months – which gets you right back to where and when you started. Worse yet, you don’t get fired and spend the rest of your precious time just collecting a check.

  3. Anon: I agree. No one should want to work for a company that does not want them, no matter what the reason.


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