WORKING WOUNDED [feature column, L.A. Times, Sunday 8/1/99]

Are you overqualified?

By Bob Rosner

Dear WW: I just got laid off after almost 20 years with the same company. Iím applying for new jobs, but every where I go, Iím told Iím overqualified. Iíve been working temp jobs, but I really want to get back into the mainstream. How do I get past the "overqualified" thing? Ė SINKING WHEN I WANT TO SWIM

Dear SINKING: You know the old saw about the Platte River? A mile wide but only 6 inches deep. Thatís what a lot of companies seem to be looking for these days Ė shallow workers. Well, unlike the Platte, youíve got depth. Now youíve got to convince employers that thatís what they want. Youíll be swimming up stream, of course, but if you maneuver artfully, you should be able to dive into a permanent job. The questions below will help you address the "overqualified issue next time it surfaces.

  1. What do they mean by "overqualified" anyway? Instead of jumping in to defend your experience (and, as a result, seeming defensive) ask your interviewer to explain what she means by "overqualified". Then speak directly to her concerns.
  2. Whatís hiding beneath the "O" word? Four issues often lurk beneath the surface when a person is told sheís overqualified. One: The company thinks youíll jump ship when a better offer comes along. Counter that by pointing out your longevity in previous jobs. Two: They believe youíll be more expensive than a younger worker. Counter that one by giving specific examples of how you helped cut costs or increased revenues in past jobs. Three: They think you will think the job is beneath your skills. Counter that concern by displaying your humility and enthusiasm. Four: As an older worker, they assume youíll be tougher to fire because of age discrimination laws.
  3. What are they looking for (ideally)? Ask them to describe their dream candidate. Then, point by point, show them how your qualifications match up.
  4. What will it take to convince them? If all else fails, ask bluntly, "What can I do to convince you that Iím the best person for the job?"


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