“Overqualified?” How to Shift Careers and Get the Job Anyway

My latest reader question is one that comes up often, and one that’s definitely worth exploring. She writes:

“I graduated at the onset of the recession with several magazine internships under my belt and a promised job. Things fell through; I looked to PR to ride the wave. On the side, I’ve freelanced copiously, and developed my resume towards editorial jobs in every way possible. Now I’m told I’m over-qualified to be an Editorial Assistant almost everywhere I interview, but don’t have the full-time work experience necessary in magazines to be considered for anything higher up. I’m stuck in an in-between zone, and don’t know for sure if this “over-qualified” story is a ploy or the truth (though I make more than pretty much any EA, and have had much more responsibility, I am always clear about my willingness to start at the bottom). What’s a girl to do?”

When it comes to career, there are two universal truths:

  1. It is better to make a living doing something you like than doing something you don’t like.
  2. Regardless of universal truth #1, bills have to be paid.

These two truths frequently lead to career shifting, sometimes a year or two into a job and sometimes 20 or more years into a career. Career shifting can be extremely challenging when we find ourselves up against candidates whose resumes read like the descriptions of the jobs we’re going for. The reality that must be accepted is that, more often than not, you will have to start at square one with your new chosen career, usually taking a step backward in status and pay. Hiring managers and recruiters can get skittish around career shifters because we’re never quite sure what to make of them. I’ve had some very successful professionals who said they were ready to go from 6-figure incomes to entry-level wages, and I had to make a judgment call on whether I believed them.

So we throw around the term “overqualified”, which is really a misnomer. You’re not overqualified for the job – more likely you’re either underqualified or just plain old qualified. Overqualified is code for “we just don’t know what to do with you.” We’re not convinced that in 6 months you’ll still be happy with your choice, and the last thing we want to do is to have to fill the same position again when you decide you really can’t afford that pay cut after all.

So what’s a girl to do? First, be realistic with yourself and with the people making the hiring decisions. Research the workload and the salary range, and know for sure that you are willing and able to make it work. If you’re living on your own, you may need to consider a roommate situation. That shoe collection of yours? It may not see any growth for a while. I’ve been burned by candidates swearing up and down that they were ready to start their careers over again, and at the 11th hour they’ve balked at the salary/title/job description/something else. Fool me once; shame on me. Fool me twice; well you know the rest.

Once you’ve thoroughly assessed the situation and are 100% positive that you can and will live on less money and with less clout than you’re used to, it’s time to start over-communicating. I want to know that you have thought it out and you’re ready to make it happen. I want to know that if you get a job offer you’re not going to back out. I want to know that doing someone’s expense reports and eating ramen noodles sounds like your dream existance because you want it that badly. So although I’m usually anti-objective statement on your resume, this is a time to use one. And it should say “To find entry-level employment in the editorial department of a national magazine (edited to suit your specific career, obviously).” If you’re writing a cover letter, open with the statement that you’re looking for entry-level positions. Hammer the point home until I can’t hear the words entry-level without picturing your face.

When making a career shift, it can also be a time to take some creative chances that might work in your favor. In this specific situation, since you have directly relatable internships, you might want to experiment with removing from your resume all of your professional work experience since graduating, and don’t list years for your internships or your college graduation. Though some may see omitting dates as a gaffe, it might make you much less intimidating for recruiters who are looking at your resume. Try it – it truly couldn’t hurt. Then, once you get the interview, you can do a bit of explaining as to why you set your resume up that way. Frankly if I found out you’d put that much thought into it, I’d be pretty likely to take you seriously.

Career shifting is always scary and usually frustrating, but if navigated effectively it can be managed down from impossible to simply the next great challenge. Good luck – it’s a jungle out there!
Want to see how the story turns out for this reader? Here it is! (hint: it’s a happy ending.)

Have any career shift stories you’d like to share or questions you’d like answered? Leave comments below or email hr.dave1@gmail.com


3 thoughts on ““Overqualified?” How to Shift Careers and Get the Job Anyway

  1. Those of us on the outside of the HR world are often puzzled by its workings. This insight is hugely helpful.

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