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What To Do When You Are Overqualified

In today’s bottom-line workplace it’s tough for experienced career professionals to find a new job. Getting past the “overqualified” tag is more than half the battle. With corporate downsizing, a runaway off-shoring of jobs, and a glut of highly experienced and well-educated candidates flooding the market, it’s no wonder that many employers are telling job aspirants that they’re simply overqualified.

Why should they hire you when they can find a “junior person” willing to eat, sleep, and toil at the office for pennies on your journeyman’s dollar? It takes more savvy and persistence than ever for experienced professionals to beat the system.

Before crafting a strategy for bursting the job barriers, let’s look at what you’re up against. Say you’re an experienced C++ programmer. Microsoft, which has been moving with little fanfare to a large facility in Bangalore, India, can hire a local, proficient programmer to do the work at the local rate of $10,000 for which they pay Washingtonians $65,000 a year. This is just the beginning.

How bad is it going to get? Forrester Research claims that by 2015, 3.3 million professional jobs will move overseas–permanently. A Brookings Institution report predicts that high-tech centers in Connecticut, Boulder, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Massachusetts should expect 17 percent fewer jobs in software engineering and programming before the decade passes. And this is just one sector of the economy.

Overqualified? Hearing the Usual Excuses
If you’re changing careers, trying to re-enter the market after “being downsized,” or returning to the grind after being self-employed, you’re more than likely to hear the following during your phone-screen interview–or at your initial face-to-face meeting if you get that far:

It’s important to see beyond the flimsy veil of the term “overqualified” when a prospective employer pitches it your way. It’s probably not the reason you’re being passed over. It’s all about the money. One San Francisco-area professional was recruited by a Seattle company, flown to up north, housed in a four-star hotel, and ferried around in a limousine, only to be openly told that the company planned on hiring a “junior” who could be “easily trained” to do the work.

Bursting Through the Barriers
Let’s face it; now it’s war! And when you’re in a battle for your livelihood, you need to launch pre-emptive strikes. Discrimination against expertise and due compensation requires that today’s experienced job candidate resort to uncommon determination. Here are your marching orders:

1. Contact the Hiring Manager Directly
If you’re experienced, you know by now that networking gets you hired more often than a flashy resume. Plus, your resume may blow you out of the water if you haven’t downsized your skills and accomplishments to match the position for which you’re seemingly overqualified.

Examine your professional contact list and approach those who know and appreciate your skills, recognize the sad present economic realities, and are willing to stand with you in the trenches. Think strategically. Have an accomplice pre-screen the job openings at their firm, send you the roles where you can sell your talents, and then introduce you directly to the hiring manager who will make the critical evaluation.

2. Demonstrate How You’ll Save Them Money
Don’t talk salary, at least not initially. If “overqualified” means you cost too much, a correct, skills-oriented, pre-emptive strike shows your potential employers that they’re being pound foolish. Be prepared to show verifiable data how you specifically saved your previous employers money by mentoring co-workers, streamlining processes, or cutting operating costs. Cite your accomplishments–rather than your job titles and bonuses.

Read the job description literally, rather than suspiciously, and develop clear-cut examples of how you’d meet each requirement with enthusiasm, professionalism, and wisdom that only comes from experience.

3. Offer to Work on a Contract-to-Hire Basis
The current economic trend finds companies willing to hire experienced subject-matter experts on a contractual basis. Why? They can pay you to complete the job without having to cover vacation, retirement, or health-care benefits.

But you can make it work for you. Agree to a contract with pay-for-performance points or sign a one- or two-year contract for a role that becomes a permanent job by the end date of your trial period if you meet the metrics (hit sales numbers, increase market share, etc.)

4. Have People You Trust Evaluate Your Resume
Ask professionals in your network to pore over any resume that you’ve specifically tailored for a job or industry that looks like a stretch. Hiring managers, recruiters, and career counselors can reveal your blind spots. You need to remain nimble and teachable.

Career specialist Carol Vellucci hosts seminars where she advises, “Where you’ve been and where you are, have everything and nothing to do with where you will go.” She recommends two or three resume assessments before you mail it off to a prospective employer.

Don’t Lose Focus
It’s important–despite your current financial pressures–to recognize your worth. You’re not begging for a job, and you’re not compromising your own standards in providing high-quality work for any employer. When the salary range finally enters the dialogue, be sure to advise the hiring manager than you’ve investigated the compensation for the role in your region and that you expect market value for your solid contributions.

“Overqualified” is a tag, a stigma, and your first job is to prove it has nothing to do with you. You’re worth more now than ever.

Publish date: June 1, 2008