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Entrep Coach: When You’re Young and Overqualified


Not everyone who is overqualified for a position is old. Oftentimes, the overqualified are still very young. This is something youthful job applicants should be aware of, because sometimes, your previous accomplishments will be a barrier if you seek a lesser job.

Very recently I spoke at the highly successful Manila Bulletin Classifieds job fair in Glorietta. A young girl came up to me after my talk to ask that I write something about her predicament. She said she was applying for an entry level job in human resources (HR) but was having a hard time getting accepted.

She believed that it was due to two main reasons. The first was that her course (Sociology) was not usually the background sought for HR positions and second, that her previous job titles had the word ‘executive’ even though the title meant nothing along that line.

Since, I was able to talk to her only for a few minutes, there were many qualifying questions that I was not able to ask. Nevertheless, I will venture to offer my opinion on the situation.

Regarding her belief that her being a sociologist is a hindrance, I would say that it could in fact be her selling point. While interviewers may be aware that sociology is the science of society and social relationships, some of them may not be familiar with the details of her curriculum which make it a perfect fit for HR positions.

A brief summary (just a few sentences) of the skills she learned from her sociology course that can be useful in HR, if placed in a prominent position in her resume, may serve to enhance her chances of getting hired. Later on, she can elaborate on these if she gets interviewed.

A little research has shown me that a knowledgeable sociology major will be a great asset to any HR department, with their skill in social interactions being complementary to the psychology graduates’ expertise in individual behavior.

On the other hand, I believe her concern about being considered overqualified needs to be discussed at greater length. Below is a list of my suggestions for her and others who wish to overcome the negative effects of this perception:

  • Do not disclose your past salaries unless asked. This will not help you if you indicate your previous compensation if it is substantially higher than that of the job you are seeking. If you are asked about this, then emphasize that your past salary is irrelevant.
  • Reassure the interviewer that you will be easy to handle. A frequent concern is that you may be difficult to manage as you know too much. Let it be known that you are aware of this perception and that you definitely are not going to be a problem to handle for managers of any age or experience. Several references from past superiors talking about your good attitude will go a long way in addressing this fear.
  • Focus on your relevant skills and accomplishments rather than on past titles. By discussing how you can be an asset to their company, you will be more likely to catch their interest. If you put “executive” or “VP” in your last position and you are now applying for a lesser job, it will work against you.
  • Say you are willing to sign a contract committing to stay for at least 24 months. Say this if you feel that the interviewer thinks you may stay only until you get a higher offer. At least they will be reassured that they would be able to recoup their training expenses with you.
  • You can say that you want to work normal hours. If you were in the call center industry you may credibly state that you no longer want to work during nighttime due to health or security reasons.
  • You can say you want a career change; maybe it is only now that you realized that you want to work in HR rather than in sales and so you are willing to start at an entry level position.
  • Try applying at smaller companies. Usually the smaller companies have policies that are more flexible than larger firms. In addition, your experience will be better appreciated since there are fewer applicants competing with you.
  • Try for a higher level job. If your resume is truly impressive then perhaps your best strategy is to aim higher!
  • Finally, explore if there are other things you can identify as factors that are keeping you from getting hired: fix your resume, analyze your interview strategies, and so on.

Dwelling on aspects which you cannot change is the surest way to keep on being rejected. Luckily, being overqualified is infinitely better than being not qualified!

(All rights reserved. Copyright Manila Bulletin and Ruben Anlacan Jr. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.)

Wide World of Work – Hiring the overqualified: Special handling can pay

(Originally published on Sunday, April 25, 2010)


A common complaint among job seekers is that they didn’t get hired because they were overqualified. Now it turns out that may be a good reason.

A graduate student at the University of Houston in industrial organizational psychology found that overqualified employees who aren’t given enough to do get bored and cynical.

They figure the job is a waste of their skills and education, doctoral student Aleksandra Luksyte said. That, in turn, leads to counterproductive behaviors, she said, including surfing the Internet, playing jokes on co-workers, taking company property and having long personal calls on company time.

Luksyte studied 215 psychology students who also work full time in a wide variety of jobs, including as legal assistants and in health care, fast food, retail and management.

She asked whether they believe they are overqualified and put the same question to their supervisors in an anonymous survey. There was strong agreement among managers, she said, that they saw signs of burnout.

Norman York, president of York Career Development in Houston, believes the problem stems more from a poor fit than anything else. Employers need to find the right people for the job, said York, whose firm coaches individual and corporate clients.

He finds the same burnout problem among employees who have worked the same job for a long time and essentially become overqualified for the position.

“People sort of outlive their value,” York said, and their usefulness may diminish.

The turnover issue

Employers are often reluctant to hire overqualified employees, said Luksyte, who with the help of her adviser, associate professor Christiane Spitzm?ller, is preparing the master’s thesis for a journal article. They worry employees will leave as soon as they find something better.

While that’s true — overqualified workers do tend to have higher turnover rates — they also often are efficient and effective.

The key is to give them extra duties that use their skills, such as mentoring new employees, or offering training opportunities for advancement, Luksyte said.

“Don’t avoid them,” she said. “You just have to maximize what they have.”

An exciting workplace

It’s also important to provide an exciting workplace, she said. If overqualified employees are satisfied with their work situation — they work with bright co-workers or the atmosphere is great — they’ll tend to stay.

Employers must have an upward mobility plan in mind when hiring someone who’s overqualified, said John W. Allen, president of G&A Partners, a Houston-based human resources outsourcing firm with 300 clients and 50,000 work-site employees.

They have to understand the reality that an overqualified employee will begin looking for something more challenging or a job that pays better, he said.

While it may be better to have the skills and talent from an outstanding employee for even a short period, it’s best to have a plan in place to move the employee into a better job or with greater responsibility.

Luksyte, who grew up in Lithuania, was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California Berkeley before she arrived at the University of Houston.

She got the idea of researching overqualified employees when her husband came home every night complaining about a boring project he was assigned. The software engineer was essentially cutting and pasting, and he was about to lose his mind. Luksyte also noticed that he was cruising the Internet, chatting on the phone and generally wasting time — activities that are not typical of him when he’s involved in an exciting project.

She looked up the subject in the scientific literature and found little. Now that she’s searching for a doctoral subject, Luksyte said, she’s back to quizzing her husband on what’s going on at work. (NYT-c. 2010 Houston Chronicle)

(All rights reserved. Copyright Manila Bulletin and The New York Times. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.)

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