April 11, 2012
How job seekers should manage the big "O": Overqualified
So you want a job. You need a job. You've identified some openings or employers that sound interesting, even exciting. Maybe you are contacted by some of these employers for an interview.
There's just one problem: Based on the job description, you're labeled the big "O": Overqualified.
Maybe you are indeed overqualified. But what if you want to do this particular job and you are satisfied with the corresponding pay? Maybe the job will benefit you in other ways; maybe you anticipate picking up skills there that would add value to your resume. Maybe you believe in the company or product or service and just want to get in on the proverbial ground floor.
I've heard this complaint recently from several job seekers. If you're willing to do the work under the terms offered, being labeled overqualified can be a particularly frustrating form of rejection.
So how can you mitigate the big "O" and convince a prospective employer that it makes sense to hire you?
One solution is to have multiple resumes, according to career coach and workforce-development professional Jen Zuanich. If you are applying to an entry-level position, make sure you create a concise resume that highlights only the qualifications that most specifically match the position you're applying for. Save the two-page, highly detailed career resumes for higher-level jobs.
And consider omitting higher-level positions or duties that don't directly pertain to the position. If you're too proud to do this, maybe you shouldn't be applying for the job.
Zuanich also suggests that if you apply for a position where the employer is seeking 2-5 years of experience and you have more than 15, subtly address this in a cover letter.
By "subtle," Zuanich doesn't mean writing, "I know I am overqualified, but ..." unless you want to commit cover-letter suicide.
She means stating that you are seeking a position with ABC Company because you wholeheartedly embrace its organizational vision and mission of [fill in blank], and/or because the job perfectly suits your background in X and Y and your desire to work in Z. Be direct: Tell the employer you want to work there because it is who it is, and because you have something to offer the company.
In order to develop a "script" that you can use with employers who might be concerned with you being overqualified, it helps to be honest with yourself about your goals and intentions.
Recruiters fear hiring overqualified individuals who might quickly grow bored on the job or, worse, who might continue to look elsewhere for employment, using the job only as a stop-gap measure, says executive coach Janet McIntyre. It's expensive to recruit, interview, hire and train, and that investment is all but lost on a short-term employee.
So be honest: Why do you want this job? What factors would make you want to stay? And how can you communicate that to your prospective employer?
Most important, stay positive, even if you receive feedback from a prospective employer that the fear is you're "too qualified."
Zuanich cites an example: Would you be extremely worried to learn that the airline pilot for an upcoming trip is overqualified? Or that a doctor has too many skills?
Of course not.
Employers and hiring managers are very aware of the current employment climate, and they are looking first and foremost for a great fit. Whether you approach your search with an upbeat attitude or a grouchy defeatism will come across in your communication and cover letter.
So know what your mission is, practice communicating that, and remember that never applying for a position because you think you're overqualified is the best way to ensure you don't get that position.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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