In a recent conversation with my father, he told me that his company was looking for a new mechanical technician to fix the machines that he is in charge of overseeing. The machines are big and dangerous if mishandled, but nothing too complex that require a college degree. He mentioned how he was on the panel of interviewing candidates, and that there was one recent college grad on the list of hopefuls. The young man had received a degree from Santa Clara University in engineering, and was now applying to fix the machines at a warehouse company that prints junk mail advertisements. A pretty easy choice for hire, in my opinion.
Apparently not. The kid was not hired, despite his impressive resume. My father told me that, although he liked the student, he was “overqualified.” Overqualified? Most of us have heard this term thrown around, but I had never thought that it could actually be grounds for a “No Hire.” I only believed it to be a consolation statement for a bigger reason, but according to my father, overqualification raises much more concern than one would think.
“He went to a top school, what makes you think that he wants to work for $20 an hour when he can make a lot more?” My dad explained, “I’m going to start training him, and he’ll find a new job and leave. I’ll be lucky if I can get a year out of him.”
This made a lot of sense. We spend so much money on years of high school training, of course university graduates would feel a sense of entitlement after graduating, even if the economy does not allow for it. So, for those who haven’t even received their impressive new diplomas in the mail, how can we escape the odd position of expecting a high-paying job while not even being able to land an entry-level one? I did some research to find out what can possibly be done, and found some common mistakes that many make that we should definitely avoid in these tough times.
Well, first thing’s first, at least act like you want the job you are applying for. My father suggested that if the Santa Clara graduate had not handed him a resume that screamed “I AM A FUTURE ENGINEER!” with all of his experience catering toward something that was largely irrelevant to the job, then maybe he would not have seemed so eager to find something better. Essentially, present yourself and alter your resume so that you are a good match for that specific position. If you need an example, follow this guide for tips on how to re-vamp your resume.
Next, do not emphasize how smart you were for going to Harvard or the University of Chicago. Seriously, employers who are looking for someone to input data do not want to see your summa cum laude tassel, so leave them at home. Instead, talk about how eager you are to learn, or how your are interested in expanding your knowledge of what they do. This should go without saying, but do not act like you are slumming it in their company, because, even though you might be, no one’s going to hire someone who feels like a threat to the hierarchy. A little humility goes a long way.
If you are really adamant about finding absolutely any job, offer to sign a contract. Even if it is not customary for the job, if you show your commitment to staying for at least a year, then it will show that you are serious about wanting it. Bosses are like jealous girlfriends, they want to know that they have a future with you and don’t want you chasin’ no fast girls on the low.
Most importantly, be honest. If you are applying to a lower-paying job because you simply need a job, it is ok to say that. If you are too mysterious about your intentions for undervaluing yourself, the employer will automatically jump to conclusions about you that may or may not be true. They may believe you were fired from your previous job, or that you are burned out and you may be a risky hire. So confront the issue and then try to shift the subject as soon as possible. Don’t ignore it, but don’t lull on it too long.
I know that being pegged as “over-qualified” may sound like a compliment, but after hearing it about 5 times, it is guaranteed to frustrate you. So, instead of wishing you didn’t pay hundreds of thousands for an education that ended up hurting you, use the smarts that you learned in college and figure out to adapt to a changing job market.