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Over qualified, but willing to pay dues (at least for a little while)?

Well, I'm back from vacation and it was great. While I was gone, the emails sure mounted up. An interesting discussion on the WRK4US listserv caught my eye and I wanted to bring it to your attention. This is a situation that occurs more often for people that are doing a a geographically-targeted job search, but often in a job search, a person is tempted to apply for a job that they are over-qualified for you. When the resume is received, the search committee will most likely dismiss this applicant as being over-qualified or too easily bored.

One subscriber on the WRK4US list, asked the following:

"Does anyone have any experience in telling potential employers that, if they don't have a PhD-level job, you're willing to take anything - -absolutely anything - to get your foot in the door? I mean, answering phones, stuffing envelopes, ANYTHING.

Are there any tricks or useful 'angles' to take in bringing this up?

After two years on the market (with an expensive professional career coach) I am seeing virtually no marketable skills in my PhD, including teaching, since my program offered no real teaching experience, no preparation for academe, and left me too specialized for half the jobs and not specialized enough for the other half.

In job applications and networking I've been aiming both low and high, narrow and broad, and haven't gotten a single nibble on any application save one.

My field is environmental studies (maybe off-topic - is wrk4us for Humanities?) but I'm in a specialization with zero job marketability. (No space for details here, but trust me.)"

As usual, the responses were varied and many:

The trick is to remember that you *do* have skills. One way to identify your skills is to list *everything* you've done in the past few years - classes you've taken, research you've done, community service activities, etc. - and then match up that list of activities with a skills list. University of Illinois Urbana Champaign has a really nice list of skills for PhDs. Then, when you go to write your cover letter you can cull from this list the list of skills you do have and their supporting activities.

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A friend of mine left a computer science PhD program in search of an environmentalist career, and after a period of unemployment he was able to get into the sort of job you describe: he's a bit overqualified for it but he is totally on board with the company's agenda and it's a good start. If you want, I can ask him how he found the opportunity and how he addressed the qualification issue, if it came up. (I think his company is still hiring, too -- a small environmental-education group in the Pacific Northwest.)

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My brother recommended to me that I address my over qualification for a position in my cover letter and explicitly explain why working for the company (even being under-employed) was important to and related to my career goals - and how my qualifications might explicitly improve my performance in that position.

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A career counselor gave me two good suggestions for applying to jobs for which I might be perceived as overqualified.

1. An "objective" at the top of the resume. Sometimes, objectives are
sometimes a waste of space, but sometimes they can help you justify why you are a reasonable fit for an otherwise improbable job. So, eg.:

OBJECTIVE: To find an entry-level position that will allow me to gain
real-world experience in the such-and-such industry, helping me in my
long-term career goal of such-and-such.

2. A "skills" section right below the objective, listing a bunch of "menial" tasks. By putting these tasks on your resume, you make it clear that you're willing to do them--and you avoid having to say something desperate-sounding in your cover letter like "Despite my seeming overqualification, I am willing to do menial work such as answering phones and making copies." Your skills section could look something like this:

SKILLS
-------
Phones
Photocopies
Filing
Data entry
Word processing
Proofreading
Scheduling
Other office support tasks

Also, I would suggest that you create at least two resumes--one for applying to entry-level jobs and one for more senior jobs. Unfortunately, it's very hard to craft a resume and cover letter that make you sound like a good fit for working at a variety of levels.

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I'm curious to know - did you ever try that [see her reply below] and if so what was the result? Also, is there some sort of experience your brother is speaking from, such as being on the hiring end of this kind of situation?

In Reference to... "My brother recommended to me that I address my over qualification for a position in my cover letter and explicitly explain why working for the company (even being under-employed) was important to and related to my career goals - and how my qualifications might explicitly improve my performance in that position."

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My brother has a PhD in Biophysics and works for RAND Corporation as a research scientist/manager. He does a great deal of hiring and was giving me advice in that capacity. Whether the same advice holds for a position where they do not already hire PhDs is unclear (people at RAND are likely to have a greater understanding of the value of a PhD) I didn't take all of his advice (the job ad listed a minimum and then a preferred) and did not get an interview for that particular position - however, as those of us who have ever done statistics well know, correlation is not causation!

I tracked down the e-mail he sent me:

This looks like an interesting opportunity, although, as you said, you are over qualified. So, I think you need to address that up front, in your cover letter. Does the job list a minimum, but then a preferred? If so, my cover letter edits are not as applicable. I'd change the cover letter to something like this highlight right away that you are already doing this type of work

"I am currently performing all (many?) of the duties outlined for this position in my current job. This position matches my interests of continuing to [tasks you are doing and want to expand]. In addition, I would have an opportunity to expand my expertise by [xxx]."

"While I understand that you have advertised for someone with a bachelor's degree, I believe that my education and qualifications would add great value to the position. I have a doctorate in [xxx from xxx] and have held [job related] responsibilities at [places worked]. [Doing specific job related tasks] is a task that I enjoy and is the direction in which I have chosen to take my career. Having a PhD allows me [what value do you add over] junior staff would not be able."

**************

Has anyone on the list attempted to or thought about omitting the PhD from his/her resume?

*****************

I job searched without my MA or PhD for a while (actually, a career counsellor told me to do this) - I don't really think it made a difference. For the line of work I was trying to get into, it was less about what I *did* have (graduate degrees) than what I *didn't* (work experience).

As I mentioned, my best results came from re-packaging the PhD as a "large-scale research project".

******************

In reference to..."Has anyone on the list attempted to or thought about omitting the PhD from his/her resume?"...

I have wondered the same thing, particularly when one hears the recent college grads are able to find jobs without difficulty. I've thought about constructing a thin resume with most of my experience and education absent. Unfortunately, it would be fraudulent and would ultimately present problems. In my case, my work experience relates to my Ph.D. For others, however, simply omitting a degree might not be as problematic.

Still, I'm tempted to do it as a sort of experiment to see how much age discrimination is a factor.

*******************

Oh, I think many of us have thought about it, some have done it at different times, and it seems to be another of those things that we repeatedly discuss on the list without coming to any hard and fast conclusion.

(In reference to..."Has anyone on the list attempted to or thought about omitting the PhD from his/her resume?")

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Perhaps beating a dead horse here, but I'm asking myself the exact same question. I'm ABD in English, finishing this December, and beginning a Library Science program next month. I have had no success breaking into any kind of library employment, and am pondering how much I should omit of my education and university work experience (mostly teaching, some admin). I am VERY willing to do "menial" tasks--doesn't bother me one bit--but I feel I'm stuck in a over-and-unqualified neverland.

When the position says "Education: High school degree or equivalent," is there a way for someone with more education to remain truthful and still catch HR's attention as a potential hire?

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"When the position says "Education: High school degree or equivalent," is there a way for someone with more education to remain truthful and still catch HR's attention as a potential hire?"

This has come up before, but I simply cannot see omitting irrelevant qualifications from a resume as fraud. I don't put my one-month stint at Sam Goody on my resume; neither do I tell people that I tutored students in logic and music theory. This is not because I'm hiding anything: it's because the experiences are irrelevant.

Resumes are not CVs -- they are not exhaustive lists of your life's work. To treat them as such, in my opinion, reflects a misunderstanding of the difference between the academy and other professions.

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"This has come up before, but I simply cannot see omitting irrelevant qualifications from a resume as fraud."

I didn't mean to suggest that in all cases omitting the Ph.D. would constitute fraud. Rather, in my particular case leaving out my Ph.D. would also require deleting my post-graduate school work experience. That would mean striking out 15-20 years of my life, with nothing in its place. To fill that gap I would need to construct a fraudulent story. Obviously that would be counterproductive to my job search. Others who have spent less of their lives in the academy could more easily omit the degree. I certainly agree that the purpose of the resume is to highlight the experience and skills most relevant for the particular job one is seeking.

I make a point of not applying for jobs that ask for only a high school diploma since I don't think they will value the skills I bring. Oddly, I've seen a number of jobs for writers and positions at the local historical society that require only a high school degree. In my view, this practice demonstrates the low value placed on historical knowledge and writing skills at these particular organizations.

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Posted by kkowatch at July 15, 2008 11:27 AM

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