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I Was Told I was Overqualified. What Should I Do?

June 22nd, 2012

Here’s a question we frequently hear from job seekers: “I’m a mid-to-senior level candidate with a graduate level education, and more than once I’ve been turned away on the grounds that I’m ‘overqualified’. Can you explain what employers mean when they say this? I’m not applying beneath my level, and in some cases I’ve even been invited to apply and then rejected.”

We’ll break our response down into two parts. First, employers cite overqualification as an elimination criteria for specific reasons, and you should know what these reasons are. Second, you may need to change your approach in order to get around this common obstacle. We’ll show you how.

What Does “Overqualified” Mean?

Employers don’t make hiring decisions based on a simple linear spectrum that runs from “incompetent” to “brilliant.” There are many other complex personal, political, and financial factors that influence a hiring choice, most of which we’ll never be told, especially since employers are reluctant to explain their decisions and expose themselves to legal backlash. Calling you overqualified may just be a diplomatic way of saying you aren’t a match for the culture. Or maybe there’s a bitter football rivalry between the hiring manager’s alma mater and yours. Fair? Maybe not, but at least these decisions don’t result from anything you’re doing wrong.

If you truly are perceived as overqualified, recognize that employers hesitate to accept candidates who might leave as soon as a more appropriate opportunity comes along. Hiring and training are expensive, and a low risk candidate is one who’s willing to stay for a long time. Salary may also a key determinant. Most managers don’t even want to begin salary negotiations with a candidate they’re pretty sure they can’t afford. Why start a conversation with you about what you’ll accept when the next candidate in line is sure to be cheaper and less likely to haggle?

Overqualified: What Can You Do About it?

First, make sure you’re applying for the right jobs. If you’re aiming too low, you’re more likely to be dismissed as restless or expensive. Second, make sure you’re reaching the right people. Some of the gatekeepers you encounter, especially those who are just one rung above you, may find you threatening. Try to make an end run around these people and reach the ear of those at least two steps above your level.

Third, control the conversation. Let hiring mangers know why you’re looking for a job at this level even if they don’t ask. Have faith in your reasons. They’re good reasons, or you wouldn’t have them. Don’t apologize or dumb down your qualifications (never do this), but make sure you anticipate any potential confusion and explain it away before the door closes in your face.

Finally, if you’ve been rejected on these grounds more than once, maybe it’s time for a little soul searching. Consider aiming higher than you currently are, maybe even quite a bit higher. Experiment by sending out a few applications for positions that feel far beyond your reach. What’s the worst that could happen?

For more guidance with your job search process, contact a staffing agency in Fairfield County at Merritt Staffing and find out what we can do for you.

Become the Candidate Employers Love!

May 16th, 2012

Five hiring managers are seated around a desk, sifting through a stack of more than a hundred resumes for two open positions. This is the first round, so unfortunately, almost every resume ends up drifting into a pile bound for the trash bin.

Every once in a while, one of the screeners will say “Hey, listen to this one,” and share a clunky sentence or humorous resume misstep with the others, who will laugh at the poor applicant’s expense. The mood in the room is lighthearted but also urgent, since the position needs to be filled by the end of the month.

Then one of the screeners holds up the resume in her hands. “Wow,” she says. “Just wow.” The others listen as she reads a few lines aloud and then passes the resume around.  Within a few minutes, the other managers have all had a chance to glance over it, and without another word, it’s placed carefully to the side. “Well, that’s it,” says the hiring manager. “I think one of our positions has just been filled.”

They still have one more position to staff and a stack of fifty more resumes to review. Yours is somewhere in the stack. Will it get the same response?

How to Be the Candidate Employers Love

If you want to be the candidate at the center of unanimous, enthusiastic agreement, make sure your resume contains these key elements.

1. Include a summary, not an objective.

Objectives are out. Instead, head the resume with a very short paragraph summarizing the rest of the content, in other words, summarizing you. Condense your unique self and everything you have to offer into three compelling, readable sentences.

2. Give a real sense of what you’ve done.

Be honest. Be clear. And for pity’s sake, drop the buzzwords. After each job title you’ve held, write a short description of what you actually did. Then insert a few bullet points listing your key accomplishments. Try to attach a number to each accomplishment, as in “reduced customer complaints by 40%”.  But let your history speak for itself. Too much spin suggests you have something to overinflate or hide.

3. Emphasize the story.

Everyone in the resume stack has something to offer, everyone has a degree (if a degree requirement was specified in the job posting), and everyone has basic familiarity with the field. They all know how to show up on time. They all know how to meet deadlines. And they’re all “leaders” and “team players”. But you have something they don’t have. Find it, and make sure it’s woven throughout the resume like a theme.

4. Don’t be careless.

Of course your resume should be typo-free. But this is only because typos suggest a larger underlying problem– that of a candidate who goes through the motions, feels entitled to a job, and doesn’t expect to be scrutinized or held to a higher standard. Typos say: “I can’t be bothered to take this seriously,” which is a death knell for a resume. Make sure your resume is not only typo-free, but comes across as a thoughtful and meticulous work of art.

Your local staffing company at Merritt Staffing are pros when it comes to drafting and editing resumes. We know exactly what employers are looking for, and we can help you polish your resume to an irresistible shine. Contact us today and get the job search guidance you need.

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