“Employers Are Intimidated By Me.”

“Employers are intimidated by me.” I often hear this from older or executive level candidates. When I hear it, I find myself chewing on my lip. It’s not that I don’t think it is possible for decision makers to pass over candidates who may threaten their professional advancements or who may feel the individual’s qualifications are such it would be awkward to offer something with less responsibility. More often than not, however, the hesitations an employer has comes more from the messages sent by the candidate than from insecurity or intimidation.

Because the next things I’m about to write may sound harsh, I’d like to take a moment to remind readers about my intentions with this blog. My words are not meant to poke fun at or criticize others, but to share candid observations I feel will help save people from unintentionally shooting themselves in the foot while looking for a job. If what I write stings or bruises, I apologize. Try to hang with me though and see if there is a useful nugget in it all.

Back to the harsh part. Of all the job seekers who have told me employers are intimidated by them, I’ve yet to meet one who didn’t present with other problems that were obvious to me. To be blunt, these individuals usually had one of three issues. They either talked too much about themselves, were unintentionally disrespectful at times or presented with a skill set issue. I think it’s important to talk about all three scenarios.

Talking Too Much – I’m listing this one first on purpose. By far, this is the problem I encounter the most. Many candidates who feel their backgrounds are intimidating have the bad habit of pointing out, in great detail, all that is intimidating about them. Beating a potential employer over the head with all of the things you’ve done that go above and beyond what is necessary for the job you are interviewing for keeps any issue of being overqualified front and center. How is an interviewer supposed to let it go if the applicant won’t let them? In addition, contributing an abundance of information that isn’t relevant to the job or discussion gives the impression the candidate lacks focus and the ability to stay on point. When candidates have gone overboard with details and irrelevant information with me, I’ve often had the sense they were struggling with their own value, were not yet over what had happened in their previous positions or were too use to being in settings where that type of information was needed and were failing to adjust their message to their audience. I always made an attempt to redirect the conversation or give cues it was time to move on to another topic. Cues and redirection rarely worked. With those I felt I knew well, or who gave the impression they were open to constructive feedback, I shared my take on why they weren’t getting job offers. There wasn’t much I could do for the others, but offer a silent prayer of good luck.

Seeming DisrespectfulLet me clear, I am not talking about candidates intending to be disrespectful. Most applicants with a solid career history behind them have the good sense not to be intentionally rude. That doesn’t mean body language, behavior and comments don’t occasionally give the interviewer pause. Those who are accustomed to being the one in control, making decisions and critiquing aren’t always able to give the interviewer his rightful place as the one running the show. That’s not to say candidates should be passive doormats. Showing assertiveness and the ability to lead is often necessary for landing a job in line with past experience. It’s a balancing act to be able to demonstrate confidence and control in a way where the prospective employer doesn’t end up feeling like a subordinate. A few examples that come to mind of things that tend to go wrong are talking over the interviewer, inserting judging commentary as corporate objectives/philosophy are shared, offering up “mmmmm, interesting” responses that don’t ring sincere, redirecting the interview or sidestepping questions with comments beginning with language like “more importantly”, addressing the individual in any way that implies the person is younger or less experienced, posturing so the interviewer is being looked down upon, asking for coffee while requesting a specific ratio of cream & sugar, critiquing the company’s hiring process and checking the time while the interviewer speaks. Those are probably plenty of examples to make my point.

Skill Set Issues – Individuals who have been with the same employer for years and years, no matter how high up the ladder they climbed, are likely to have some sort of skill gap. It’s not that they’ve done anything wrong. In basic terms, they’ve only had the ability to acquire knowledge of what was used in their environment. The likelihood they are proficient on software, techniques and protocol not used by their long term employer is slim. Yes, they were in key roles in their organization. Yes, they have valuable skills and knowledge to take with them to their next opportunity. That’s not to say the things they don’t know can’t be learned. Most times it indeed can. The issue is when these individuals are either unaware of what they don’t know or poo-poo what they don’t know as no big deal. Employers don’t want to be treated as though their concern of a candidate’s lack of familiarity with something is dumb. Too many employers have had to endure errors, low productivity and frustration as a result of employees not knowing what they need to do the job. What they want to see and hear is evidence of a pro-active person who recognizes the gap, is willing to fill it (if they aren’t already doing so) and supporting information of the individual’s ability to learn other things in the past. It really is a big deal to many employers. A candidate need not think or act as though not having something leaves them less than qualified. It is important to sell around what is missing and reassure the employer as much as possible any gaps are short term. That reassurance is hard to achieve when the candidate’s best approach is to shrug off concerns while proclaiming them no big deal.

So that is my take in a nutshell. Though it is possible some employers may indeed be intimidated, anything is possible after all, that wouldn’t be my first guess and it shouldn’t be yours. Take a good look at the messages you are sending and ask yourself if there is a chance you might be committing any of the missteps outlined above.

No Comments

Comments are closed.

RSS feed for comments on this post.