On more than one occasion we’ve discussed the label of “overqualified” for workers who have the experience and education that theoretically qualifies them for higher ranking jobs than the ones they currently hold or are applying to. Job seekers have repeatedly explained that they don’t care. When you need a job, you need a job – otherwise you wouldn’t be applying.
That doesn’t stop some employers from having qualms about hiring workers who hold a master’s degree when only a high school diploma is necessary. Or when they see an applicant who’s been in the industry for 15 years but the position is closer to a go-fer role than a managerial one, they wonder, “How long will you stick around?” One recent survey we reported on found that 43 percent of employers fear their top talent will run out of the door the moment the economy improves.
Employers are worried about the future and workers are worried about the present.
That’s why two articles recently caught my attention. The first, a Washington Post story by Ian Shapira looked at a staff in training at a newly opened IHOP restaurant. The introductory paragraph gives a glimpse of the caliber of workers who applied to the restaurants positions:
“One woman was a clerk at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, another assisted clients at a tax prep firm, and another spent the summer canvassing for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s re-election campaign. ‘I speak Spanish well,’ wrote one woman, noting that she was also a choreographer at a dance school.”
A snapshot of today’s job climate can be seen by the fact that 500 people applied and only 120 positions were available. And, Shapira writes, these highly qualified and experienced workers, while grateful to have a job, struggle with their new roles. Balancing the necessity of a job, a lower professional status and the everyday demands in their personal lives is not simple. The new employees, who are restless with the restaurants set of rules and demands, which differ significantly from some of those of their previous workplaces, do have their eyes on better things down the road.
One employee sums up the dilemma that these workers face and that employers might not realize:
“’I’m grateful to be here,’ she said. ‘When I get frustrated, it’s this sense I want something bigger. I want vacations. And vacation homes and a house connected to the ocean. I keep thinking, will I ever reach that?’”
Yes, these “overqualified” workers, like the one above, are hoping to eventually move on to jobs that are bigger and, in their minds, better. But what worker isn’t hoping to ascend his or her respective industry’s ladder? Would you hire someone who had no ambition and was thrilled to maintain the status quo? What would you think of someone if you asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and the response was, “Hopefully in the exact same position I am right now”?
Meanwhile, in the Wall Street Journal, an article by Joe Light warns employers that their top performers will see an improving economy as a signal to find a job that better suits them. Light explains:
“Overall, turnover remains low but is inching up. When adjusted for seasonality, the percentage of total employees who voluntarily quit their jobs in September was 1.6 percent, up from 1.3 percent in September last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Management watchers say those low rates mask a risk of future defections, and that many companies may be caught off guard when the labor market improves more robustly.”
Now, put these two articles side by side and the idea of the workplace teeming with highly skilled workers itching to jump ship makes sense. But consider that the unemployment rate for the past several months has remained below 10 percent, which is a nice change, but it’s still well above 9 percent. Although the economy does seem to be improving cautiously, how robustly would it need to recover in order to send all of these workers out the door? After the mass layoffs in 2008 and 2009 (and 2010 for some employees), workers are probably cautious about leaving a job they fought hard to land. Hypothetically, if every underemployed worker hits the job market again, the competition will continue to be fierce.
This isn’t to say that some workers won’t leave and that many workers don’t wish they could return to their previous salaries and ranks. But, as the Washington Post article proves, workers are willing to put in hard work to climb the ladder again.
For job seekers who fear they will be seen as overqualified by employers, keep these tips in mind when preparing your application materials and interviewing:
1. “Where do you want to be in five years?”
When answering this question, show your ambition, but keep it in line with the organization’s structure. If you’re applying for an entry-level position, express your desire to eventually reach a management or supervisory level. Don’t describe your ideal job in a completely different industry that has no relation to this company.
2. Connect your experience and skills with this job
In your cover letter, résumé and interview, show how your background makes you the right candidate for this job. If you show the correlation between your work history and the job requirements, you can look like the ideal candidate instead of one that has “too much experience.”
3. Decide how you want to present your experience
Some job seekers opt to leave off their graduate degrees if a bachelor’s or high school diploma is required. Others only list the most recent and relevant experience. Others don’t omit any of this and hope they don’t scare off an employer. Deciding what to exclude and include is a personal choice that each job seeker has to make. Understandably, leaving off a college degree can be a tough move because you worked hard and spent a lot of money on it, so do what’s right for you.
4. Confront the issue
If the interviewer asks if you have reservations about the role, don’t balk at the idea. Insincerity such as “It never occurred to me!” won’t get you far. Be honest and say that you wouldn’t have applied for the job if you didn’t want it and think you could succeed at it. Plus, everyone can learn something new from any job. Admit that, yes, you know a lot but you’re also open to learning new things, too.
If you’ve been in this position before, how did you handle it and what advice do you have for other job seekers looking to calm interviewers’ fears that they’ll be leaving soon?