Job Hunting When Overqualified

“You seem overqualified.”

Overqualified?

When did I become overqualified?

Now that my daughter is a year old I find myself in the position of job hunting again. I knew this was going to be what happened at the end of my maternity leave but I didn’t anticipate hitting as many road blocks and I never anticipated hearing that I was overqualified for positions in industries I’ve never worked in before.

About 6 weeks before my daughter turned one, I started applying for positions that interested me. They weren’t necessarily the perfect jobs for me, but I felt that I could sink my teeth into the role for a few years with a great company before moving into another more perfect role. Essentially I wanted to prove my worth, learn more about the business and then hopefully if I did a good job I could move up, or around into a better suited role.

Corina Harris, black and white, blazer, pin
Corina Harris wears this pin often in job interviews after inheriting it from her mother.

My resume was good. I got a response within 24 hours from a recruiter in the company asking me to fill out two online tests – one personality test and one aptitude test. I was told the results take about 3 days to come in and yet I got a phone call the very next day to come in for a face-to-face interview.

Things happened quickly. The interview went well and I was asked to come in for a second panel interview for that position and two more that had come up. I was nervous, but confident that I had skills and experience that they were looking for.

Let’s be honest, any panel interview can be intimidating. This panel interview for 3 different jobs with 6 pairs of eyes felt even more so. But I was lucky, I had a few people on the other side of the table I had met socially and one that I had done some work with in the past. It made it much easier to answer their questions and remember to look around the room at everyone even if the question asked had nothing to do with a position in their department.

I walked out of the interview a little nervous but hopeful.

Did I answer all the questions well? Was I able to sell myself to any of the jobs, when all of the jobs seemed so different?

A week later I got the bad news, I didn’t get any of the permanent jobs. What had happened?

I didn’t hold it against any of the hiring managers. I was told that the people they had selected for the roles were all excellent candidates they couldn’t pass up. How can I argue with that? The recruiter told me to keep my eyes open for any jobs in the company that interested me and he would be sure to get me right in front of the hiring manager. I guess my test scores were just that good.

At this time I reached out to the people I knew on the other side of the table and thanked them for the opportunity and wished them well with the new recruits. I had opted to not reach out to them before this point because I didn’t want any whisper of impropriety. They all responded to tell me they were sorry it didn’t work out and that they wished me well with my job search.

A conversation later with one of them told me that they were impressed with my interview skills and no one held it against me that I couldn’t make up my mind about which job I wanted the most. This made me feel good. It means that my interview skills were still strong even though the nature of the interview had me a little worried.

But then I was told this:

“We were looking for more of an entry level position and let’s face it, you are not entry level.”

Not entry level? How can someone without much experience using your products and software be considered to be not entry level?

When I started to think about life beyond maternity leave, I made the decision that I wouldn’t take just any job. I wanted the right job for me. I knew this would be a bit of a challenge because I laid down a mandate of working in Cambridge. I’ve worked outside of town for 15 years and I wanted to come back to my roots and work closer to home.

I started scouring the online job listings and the larger company websites that don’t post their jobs publicly. I applied only to positions that I thought were interesting, where I could learn and grow within their company and where I saw potential for me to succeed. I’ve had some interviews and received one letter with a veiled “don’t call us, we’ll call you”.

I’ve had to do several aptitude and personality tests, many labelled differently but essentially the same. I shared my resume and cover letter with managers at a few different companies who weren’t hiring, just to see how my resume read and I was told that it sounded great and they wish they had a spot for me on their team.

Through some advice from a friend who recently got a dream job, I even sent in my resume to two staffing agencies. During an interview with one of these agencies I was told I appear overqualified and asked how I would overcome the question from a potential employer. The truth is, I had never been asked that question before. I’ve always felt that you should learn about the core of a company before moving up in that company. You need to learn their products and their software before moving into a leadership role.

I’m honestly looking to work somewhere that I can learn and grow and help that company grow and succeed.

I’ve had a few friends tell me that perhaps I should dumb down my resume a bit. Perhaps it is my experience or job titles that are holding me back. I thought about it for a few minutes but then realized that isn’t who I am. I am proud of my accomplishments. I’ve worked in two different companies that felt my experience was worthy of promotion. I worked hard to get recognized and I want to show that I can work hard again.

With management experience on my resume, I have a sinking feeling that some employers are scared to hire me because they think I will expect too high of a salary. I’ve also reached a new age bracket now that I’m over 35. Is that what makes me look overqualified?

I want to find a job I can settle into longer term. I want to grow with a company and I’m not looking to just jump in and jump out like someone might want to do in their 20s. I have a family to consider now. I want some stability. But could my maturity make it look like I’m perhaps overqualified?

This past week I reached the 5th step in a long interview process for a position that really excited me. I passed the phone interview. the initial face-to-face, the personality and the aptitude test. I sat down for another panel interview, which seems to be the norm these days, and they were moving onto reference checks which I knew would just sell me even more.

I listened to their questions during the panel interview and when they asked me if I realized this wasn’t a management position, I knew it was a veiled way of asking about being overqualified for the job. This question is not new to me and I started to wonder if all the interviewers I had met with were comparing the job I was applying for against my job titles.

I am an adaptable professional. I can take what you throw at me and I can get the job done. I just want a chance to prove that. I thrive in environments where I get to wear several hats, where I can be working with multiple departments or customers and where I can be organized and learn and grow. I believe training is important and I’m not afraid to ask questions if I don’t understand something and I’m also not afraid to make suggestions if I see room for improvement. Every position I’ve ever had I feel is a service position and I feel effective communication is a key to success no matter what your job title is. If this makes me overqualified, then I guess I am.

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