When You Are Young and Overqualified

Business Coach Column by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) from the Manila Bulletin

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 by Manila Bulletin and Ruben P. Anlacan, Jr. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.)


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