Are You “Overqualified” or “Absolutely Qualified”?

“You’re never overqualified. You’re ‘absolutely qualified’,” career coach Abby Kohut told about 80 attendees at the Sept. 26 PSGCNJ meeting.

Kohut was a corporate recruiter in human resources for 22 years and offered jobs to almost 10,000 people. She noted that she wanted to tell job seekers “the absolute truth” about what it takes to get a job so she left her HR job in 2010 and started her career consulting business “Absolutely Abby.” Kohut revealed she wanted to “help one million people [get jobs] because [she] may have rejected” a similar number during her HR career. To spread the word, she bought an RV and started an “Abby Across America” tour in 2012.

Kohut said many people worry whether their resumes should be one page, two pages or more. “There are very few facts about the job search so I’m going to tell you my opinion,” she remarked. There is “no policeman of resumes, no authority of resumes.”

When someone says you are “overqualified,” Kohut explained, they are really saying that they believe you likely want too much money, have too much experience, or have too much education. She said employers fear that so-called overqualified candidates may leave for more money if a better opportunity comes along, worry they’ll keep looking for a better job, or worse, that they’ll quit and the companies will have to begin a job search again.

When an interviewer or screener says you are overqualified, Kohut says, you need to turn that to your advantage.

To Kohut, being “absolutely qualified” means that you require less ramp-up time, can mentor team members, have a proven track record of success, have a strong work ethic, have strong problem-solving skills, have a broad range of experience, and that you are able to work with all different personalities, and are dependable, loyal and mature.

“Your being ‘overqualified’ is correlated with age, yet not caused by age,” Kohut said. Although there is “no right number of years to list on a resume,” she suggested getting rid of tell-tale signs that indicate you’re outdated. Remove AOL and hotmail email accounts, make sure that your resume lists a Summary, not a Career Objective, don’t say “references available upon request,” and don’t list confusing job titles or, even worse, lie about job titles.

She told her audience that you can turn “overqualified” into a “blessing in disguise” and use it to explain why you may now be willing to accept less money or less responsibility. “It’s the elephant in the room.” Explain why you are willing to accept a pay cut for a company that you really want to work for. Good reasons include if your spouse is making a good salary and if it’s in an industry or organization that reflects your passions.

Kohut said it’s best to have one “clever comeback.” After being told you are overqualified, pause. “Then, ask them, ‘Do you prefer a pilot who is qualified or overqualified when your plane is experiencing turbulence or an emergency situation?’”

In 2009, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was certainly overqualified and in the last years of his flying career, she reminded everyone in attendance, when he landed a plane on the Hudson River, saving the lives of 155 passengers and crew after an accidental encounter with geese crippled the plane’s engines.

According to Kohut, you are “absolutely qualified” when your employer sees the value in all of your experience.

— Michael Olohan

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