Are You Overqualified, Broke or Both?

Experts reveal key strategies to overcome both hurdles and more.

April 8, 2010
by Sukanya Mitra

It’s a jungle of out-of-work experienced people out there, so where do you fit in and how do you go beyond the call of the wild? How often have you been stamped “overqualified” just because you’ve been an independent contractor working as a stockbroker or mortgage banker and the company you worked for went belly up? Ever get the feeling that recruiters are only looking for a “Gen Y” to fill a lucrative position that you could easily fill?

Stamped Overqualified!

If you have been out of job for a while, have been even willing to take a substantial pay cut and are at the end of your tether, DeLynn Senna, CPA, executive director of North American permanent placement services at Robert Half International, advises emphasizing to both recruiters and hiring employers that you’re not going to jump ship when the wind turns. Senna recommends positioning your experience “as a differentiator and highlight[ing] how it, combined with your skill-set and expertise will benefit the [hiring] business.”

Tom Hogan, principal at Level 1 Resources, agrees with Senna. “The first step to overcoming being labeled as overqualified is to understand the possible objections the employer will have and then developing an appropriate response,” he says. He believes you should attack the perception head on with a two-part strategy:

  • Focus on your job-search correspondence in which you develop a short but compelling statement explaining exactly why you are seeking the position given your background; and
  • Focus on your sales pitch during the job interview, in which you elaborate on why your experience, skills, accomplishments and enthusiasm make you perfect for the job.

“Be an unbelievable job hunter and interviewer spending at least six hours per day on job hunting activities including face-to-face network meetings and learn how to be a top-tier networker and interviewer,” stresses Robert Fligel, CPA, president at RF Resources, LLC. For those people who have the ability to do so, Fligel suggests looking at alternate work situations, such as acquiring a business or franchise. He believes this is a realistic alternative for some and points out that if you go the virtual route, you can keep your costs low.

Independent Contractors

If you’ve always been an independent contractor — such as stockbroker, mortgage banker or solo practitioner and your firm has taken its last breath thanks to the economy — and you are now looking to get back into the general work-stream, all is not lost. A good place to start is revamping your résumé. Fligel suggests you “highlight tangible financial results, mentioning recognized clients, suppliers and trade organizations.”

Following the same track, Geremy Cepin, national director at Chicago-based PDI Executive Search, believes that you should be “highlighting your sales skill and the creative ways you have grown your book of business and how it differentiates from competing sales and marketing position applicants, especially those who have relied on a company’s brand equity to drive new business leads.”

That sounds like good advice, but how do you avoid listing several companies during a time period even when you’ve been basically doing the same thing? Hogan suggests you don’t list your experience by company, whereby recruiters and hiring managers may think you can’t hold down a job. Instead he advises that you “put all your contractor experience under one heading and provide one set of dates such as (2000 – present), then list all your achievements during that period. If it’s helpful to list the firms you worked for because they are well known or are in a specific industry, you can simply list them at the end of the achievement section.” Of the same opinion as Cepin, he also asks that you focus on your accomplishments as hiring managers are always looking for employees who can solve problems.

Aging Gracefully

Yes, we all know that somewhere out there, there is a law against age discrimination. Yet, more and more job seekers are having a problem landing a job even though they have the experience and have passed all tests recruiters and hiring managers have given them. “Age discrimination is a big issue for candidates these days. It's illegal, yet it's also rampant,” admits Cepin. All is not lost. Whether you’re a baby boomer trying to hold off on retirement or otherwise, all experts stressed that experience does count and “the individuals who enjoy the greatest professional marketability right now are those who have experience specific to their industry and a proven track record of helping previous employers enhance their bottom lines,” pointed out Senna. “When applying for jobs, [you] should focus on [your] relevant experience and ability to hit the ground running.”

Revamping your résumé is key. Hogan provides some key how-tos:

  • Restrict the number of years experience in your profile summary to "15-plus" or "15+" or eliminate mention of it entirely.
  • Bring older achievements to the first page of your resume under a section called "Career Milestones" or "Career Achievements."
  • List the company, title and dates under a heading titled "Prior Experience," rather than leaving off jobs you held 10 or 15 years ago. This will keep the focus on your current experience and de-emphasize older, less relevant experience and dates.
  • Consider a combination chronological-functional résumé, which is organized around functional skills clusters. After listing three to four skill-clusters and showing how you've demonstrated those skills, you include a bare-bones work history at the bottom.
  • Highlight computer and technical skill to demonstrate that you are on par with current technology and certifications.
  • Emphasize your strengths and sell your results not your years.

Baby boomers who want to hold off on retirement and face similar dilemmas can use these same strategies and also consider consulting. “Working as a contractor can provide you with not only additional income, but also additional experience, contacts, exposure to new software or give you an inside advantage for full-time positions that may become available within the company,” pointed out Hogan.

You should also take a hard look in assessing your skills. Networking with trade associations and your “inner circle” can be extremely valuable. Fligel recommends joining networking groups, “there are so many these days, so you need to ask around for ones that are in your area of expertise or otherwise recommended. Ask and observe so you can spot the really good connectors. Those are the people you want to meet and arrange to speak with individually as a follow up.” He also feels conducting informational interviews can help in your job-hunting endeavors.

Sage Words

All experts emphasized networking and using social media to the hilt. “For a job seeker or someone looking to grow their own business, I highly recommend becoming super knowledgeable and active[ly] using LinkedIn.com,” advised Fligel.

Cepin seconds that emotion and sums it up best: “Embrace Web 2.0. In today’s hyper-competitive, recessionary job market, job seekers are finding more barriers than good news. Creative social media use gives job seekers a way to beat the odds. When government figures list unemployment as six times greater than job openings, you’ve got to try something different to be noticed.”

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Sukanya Mitra is Managing Editor of the Insider™ e-newsletter group.