Overqualified? Don’t let that stop you

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Overqualified applicants should still applyHe’s worked in construction for almost two decades, and Maurice Paul can’t get a job as a cashier at Home Depot.

“I went in for the interview, and followed up a week
later, and the person said I was too qualified,” Paul said. “They were
looking at me as if I’m gonna leave as soon as I can get a better job.
And in all honesty, that’s what I would have done.”

Paul, 37, was one of hundreds of unemployed workers
at a jobs fair in the nation’s capital recently. Like many others, Paul
has found that his rich experience is a hindrance as prospective
employers deem him to be overqualified.

Paul, who has worked almost continuously in construction since he was 17, was laid off as a construction manager in October 2008. Since then his old boss has offered him a few days of work, but that’s just not enough.

“I don’t need part-time work. I need full-time work,” he said.

Workers with years of experience, a master’s degree
or doctorate, or coming from a relatively high position or salary face
a perverse situation: The characteristics that made them hirable in
good times can be a hindrance when competition is fierce for positions
at all levels, and workers such as Paul are finding that employers are
wary of taking a chance on those who may quit as soon as the economy
improves.

But Paul isn’t giving up. He has sent out almost 300
resumes in the last few months. And he has crafted a toned-down version
to avoid appearing overqualified, he said.

“I reformatted my resume to bring it down, just to
get my foot in the door and try to get entry-level,” Paul said. “Even
if I have to start at the entry level, I don’t mind.”

With about 6.1 unemployed workers for each job
opening, competition is intense. U.S. nonfarm payrolls declined for the
25th time in the past 26 months, falling by 36,000 in February to 129.5
million, the Labor Department estimated Friday. Read more about payrolls.

As the downturn continues to crush some industries,
job seekers understandably are struggling. If you’re under-qualified
for a job or looking to enter a new industry, the advice is pretty
obvious: get training or experience. But what do you do when you’re
overqualified?

For starters, workers may want to follow Paul’s lead
and craft a resume that doesn’t scream: “I’m going to leave an
entry-level job as soon as possible.”

“Emphasize things in your resume that would be
appropriate for a particular job. If you are taking a step down, and
it’s, for example, for a customer-service-related job, then emphasize
your customer experience,” said Melanie Holmes, vice president, world of work solutions with Milwaukee-based employment services firm Manpower Inc.

Older workers are familiar with the double-edged sword of experience. Deborah Russell, AARP’s
workforce issues director, said that one option is for workers to
develop a functional resume that emphasizes skills rather than a
chronological resume, and illustrate how their expansive suite of
skills could be an asset to potential employers.

“It’s important for older job seekers to really
market themselves, to demonstrate that they are the right fit for the
employer,” Russell said. “The emphasis should be not only on how you
are you the right fit, but what do you have to offer to make the
company successful.” Listen to Radio Report on how not to sell yourself
short on the job hunt.

Older workers can also emphasize their smaller turnover risk. According to an AARP
report prepared by Towers Perrin, median job tenure for workers from
55- to 64-years old is about 3.3 times that of workers who are 25- to
34-years old.

When networking, candidates who feel overqualified should be enthusiastic about job opportunities.

“They need to make it clear to their network that
they are not only willing to take a step down, but for some compelling
reason they are excited about this new opportunity,” Holmes said. “If
they say they are settling, that’s not enough.”

Also, don’t treat a step-down job like it’s a step
down. Be excited about the new position in an interview, Holmes
suggested. A good way to be excited about a job that’s a few rungs down
the career ladder is to enter a field in which you are genuinely
interested. For example, if you are a laid-off banker who happens to
love dogs, consider trying to get a numbers job at a doggy day-care
center.

“Everybody has a passion like that,” Holmes said.
“It could be reading, so go work in a bookstore. It’s much easier to
convey passion in an interview if it is something you have passion for.”

Companies that consider job applicants who appear overqualified may use caution. Sonoco, a Hartsville, S.C.-based
supplier of industrial and consumer packaging, has started some hiring
at the professional level, and has received applications for mid- and
lower-level marketing and sales positions from seasoned professionals,
said Roger Schrum, Sonoco’s vice president of corporate affairs.

“Certainly we want the best-qualified individuals
for a job. We are more than willing to speak with someone with good
qualifications,” Schrum said. “Job hoppers, and in some cases career
hoppers, may not fit well within our culture.”

Workers who feel they are stepping down need to overcome feelings of frustration or disappointment, tough as that might be.

“If you walk in every day feeling that you are
overqualified you will be miserable, and it will leak out all over the
place. You really need to give it your all,” Holmes said. “When I was
younger and working and was asked to get a cup of coffee, I would not
be insulted. I would go and get the best cup of coffee he’s ever had.”

Marsha Ellis, another job seeker at the Washington
fair, has significant management experience but, after being laid off a
month ago, is having trouble finding a new management job because she
doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree. While it’s a bit tough emotionally to
apply for spots on a lower level than prior positions she’s held, Ellis
said she’s setting her sights a little lower, looking for
executive-assistant positions.

“Initially you don’t want to sell yourself short,
but at the end of the day I need to be able to maintain our household,”
Ellis said. “Sometimes you have to take a couple of steps backward to
take a step forward. I have to persevere. It’s not just about me, it’s
about my family.”

She noted that there are benefits to taking a job,
such as executive assistant, that is under her skill level: she’ll be
so proficient at her work that she may have time to pursue other
opportunities.

“I could go to school again part-time, and do other goals,” Ellis said.

Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.