To say the job market is extremely difficult is quite an understatement.

As unemployment rises, the pool of qualified and overqualified applicants for any listed job rises as well. Making things more difficult, is being even slightly overqualified can cost you the job.

To see how and why being overqualified can cost you, please consider $13 an Hour? 500 Sign Up, 1 Wins a Job.

C.R. England, a nationwide trucking company, needed an administrative assistant for its bustling driver training school here. Responsibilities included data entry, assembling paperwork and making copies.

It was a bona-fide opening at a decent wage, making it the rarest of commodities here in northwest Indiana, where steel industry layoffs have helped drive unemployment to about 10 percent.

When Stacey Ross, C. R. England’s head of corporate recruiting, arrived at her desk at the company’s Salt Lake City headquarters the next Monday, she found about 300 applications in the company’s e-mail inbox. And the fax machine had spit out an inch-and-a-half thick stack of résumés before running out of paper. By the time she pulled the posting off later in the day, she guessed nearly 500 people had applied for the $13-an-hour job. “It was just shocking,” she said. “I had never seen anything so big.”

The 34-year-old recruiter decided the fairest approach was simply to start at the beginning, reviewing résumés in the order in which they came in. When she found a desirable candidate, she called to ask a few preliminary questions, before forwarding the name along to Chris Kelsey, the school’s director.

She dropped significantly overqualified candidates right away, reasoning that they would leave when the economy improved. Among them was a former I.B.M. business analyst with 18 years experience; a former director of human resources; and someone with a master’s degree and 12 years at Deloitte & Touche, the accounting firm.

Mr. Kelsey, 33, had just promoted one of his three administrative assistants, who handle the paperwork needed for drivers to hit the road. He needed a replacement quickly.

To make the task easier, he decided they should be even more rigorous in ruling out anyone who appeared even slightly overqualified.

“We like to get the fair and middling talent that will work for the wages and groom them from within,” he said.

In other words, he said, he did not want the former bank branch manager Ms. Ross had sent, or the woman who had once owned a trucking company, or even the former legal secretary.

[It came down to two candidates both invited back for a second interview].

Mr. Kelsey marched through many of his questions again. Then, trying to gauge ability to be assertive among truck drivers, he added a new hypothetical: if she were in the stands at a baseball game and a foul ball came her way, would she stand up to try to catch it, or wait in her seat and hope it fell her way?

The other finalist had said she would wait. But Ms. Block said immediately that she would jump up to grab it.

Mr. Kelsey decided he had found his hire.

When Applying, Use The Company Website

500 applicants came in a day. To have had any chance one needed to be at the top of the stack.

In that regard, those looking for a job should note how it can help to go straight to the company website rather than fax or email a résumé.

The job in question was simply for an administrative assistant. Responsibilities included data entry, assembling paperwork and making copies. Yet look at what the pool of applicants contained.

Applicant Pool

  • I.B.M. business analyst with 18 years experience.
  • A former director of human resources.
  • Someone with a master’s degree and 12 years at Deloitte & Touche, the accounting firm.
  • A former bank branch manager.
  • A woman who once owned a trucking company.

All of the above were immediately disqualified as being overqualified.

To land a job you have to be the perfect candidate, near the top of the stack of résumés, neither underqualified nor the slightest bit overqualified and you have to be willing to grab at a fly ball (show eagerness to jump at passing opportunities).

It does not get much harder than that, and there will be no feedback to applicants turned away. Indeed they may have received so many résumés they did not even get to yours.

Dumb Down Guessing Game

Will it help to “dumb down” your résumé when applying for something you are clearly overqualified for? In this case the answer was clearly yes. In general, I am not sure.

One now faces a guessing game of what each individual company’s hiring process is. Adding extra marginal qualifications to a résumé may or may not be the best thing to do.

Being extremely overqualified though, is likely a kiss of death. Yet, I cannot recommend grossly distorting a résumé hoping for a position.

Some candidates are so overqualified and out of work so long (always a negative factor) that they will never work again. Retraining for news skills hardly seems like it can work. The pool of perfectly qualified applicants with practical on the job actual experience is simply too great.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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