Overqualification an issue for many job seekers

April 21, 2009


You’ve lost your job. But you don’t immediately panic. After all, you have an undergraduate degree and perhaps an advanced degree. You either saved or more likely borrowed heavily for this get-out-of-unemployment-free card. So with your beefy résumé, you begin applying for jobs confident that you will land something soon paying the high five-figure or six-figure salary you’ve been accustomed to earning.

But then you hear those dreadful words: “I’m sorry, you’re overqualified.”

In a Homer Simpson moment, you exclaim, “D’oh!”

Unfortunately, many highly qualified and educated professionals are discovering that their overqualifications are a scarlet letter on their résumé.

Since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has lost 5.1 million jobs, with almost two-thirds of the losses (3.3 million) occurring in the last five months, according to the Labor Department. During that period, job losses were large and spread across major industry sectors with the number of unemployed increasing by 694,000 to 13.2 million.

If those numbers aren’t scary enough, the government figures show a disturbing trend. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) rose to 3.2 million in March and has increased by about 1.9 million since the start of the recession.

Obviously with massive layoffs and the extended time it takes to find a job, many of the unemployed are downgrading their job expectations and are going for positions for which they are overqualified just so they can pay their bills. However, professionals are finding employers are reluctant to hire them.

In some cases, employers are too cowardly to tell someone they’re not the right fit for a position so they use the “you’re overqualified” route as an easy out.

But as I work with individuals searching for employment, it’s more often the case that employers fear if they hire someone who is overqualified he or she will quit as soon as a better offer comes along. Others worry the candidate may get bored or become dissatisfied with the position because they are earning much less than they are used to making.

In this year’s Color of Money Challenge, I’m working with individuals who have lost their jobs because of the recession. The issue of being overqualified has come up quite a bit.

So how do you get past managers who want to stamp you with the “O” word? Here are some of the suggestions I’ve given to others applying for lower-level jobs:

• Simplify your résumé. If you have an advanced degree such as a master’s, don’t list it on your résumé. If asked, don’t lie, but you want to at least get an interview and a chance to explain why you are willing to take a job that you may be overqualified for.

• Beat the manager to the overqualified punch. In your cover letter or if you’re fortunate to get an interview either face-to-face or on the telephone, acknowledge that you may appear to be overqualified for the job. But stress that you are willing to work hard and at a lower position. And you need to be convincing. This means you have to mean what you say.

• Address the pay issue. You don’t want to talk money too soon, but be upfront that you are willing to work for less — probably much less than your previous job. Again, be authentic. Without sounding desperate — even if you are — explain that given the economy, you have realistic salary expectations.


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