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This job is not for you

Overqualified job-hunter

It's the job market's most demoralizing word: "overqualified." Anyone vying for the 16 or 17 jobs currently open in the U.S. knows that no word in any language grates as obnoxiously on the eardrum as The O-word. "Fahrvergnűgen" doesn't even come close.  Generally you hear The O-word during the last five minutes of an interview, as the aging frat boy who holds your fate in his hands begins wrapping things up. "Your experience," he says, "is impressive -- a little too impressive, actually."

What's this?

"You have a great education, excellent references, management experience ... Frankly, you'd be bored silly in an entry-level job like this."


"You'd view our company as a steppingstone. We're looking for someone we can grow." He stands up summarily. "To be brutally honest, you're way overqualified."

There it is, the old stake in the heart. In the Land of Opportunity, you are too qualified to work for a living.

"If we need to follow up," he concludes, "we'll give you a call."

You won't hold your breath. If there's anything this economy has proved, it's that a watched phone never rings. Neither does an unwatched phone.

Six months ago, when you were downsized, your wife was left as sole breadwinner. You don't have masculinity issues, so you were OK with that. You stayed home, e-mailed résumés, scoured Craigslist for leads. You learned how to microwave a pizza, took the occasional midday nap, maybe even watched Oprah a time or two. But when your wife was laid off, you found yourselves applying for the same jobs. Now, good-natured competition has given way to subtle sabotage.

"I always loved that plaid sport coat of yours," she chirps one morning. "Maybe you should think about wearing it to your interview."

"Right," you say. "And maybe you should break out that tent with the horizontal stripes."

Weeks pass, tensions rise. Lowering your sights, you apply for a part-time barista job at the coffee shop down the block, convincing yourself it'll be fun to grow a goatee, dress in black and sling java like the bohemian you've always known you are. But there's a problem. The coffee shop doesn't want you. You're overqualified. Equally desperate, your wife applies for a receptionist position at a health club. Your wife has an MBA from Wharton, but the gym wants a teenager it can pay $8.50 an hour. Humbling herself, your wife responds she's happy to work for $8.50 an hour. The gym hires the teenager anyway.

The markets continue their nose dive. The stimulus isn't stimulating. You pay your mortgage with a cash advance from your credit card. You pay your credit card with an advance from a different credit card.

Eureka moment: You whip out your laptop and pull up your résumé. You will unqualify yourself. You will lobotomize your résumé. Summa cum laude -- cut. Professional associations -- scalpel. Continuing education -- machete. Fluent in French, German and Russian? Non, nein, nyet! As a coup de grace, you throw in a ;-) and misspell "their" as "they're." It's the end of your mind as you know it, and you feel fine.

Next day, interview time. You arrive 10 minutes late, wearing a T-shirt and cargo pants. The aging sorority girl who holds your fate in her hands asks about your experience, and in halting monosyllables you grunt something about "stuff" and "things" that are "fly" and "rad." Shoulders slumped, head tilted, you stare at her with a lopsided grin. She is smiling broadly at you, though -- the nice, nice lady -- and she pats you on the head and offers you the job on the spot. Just like that. She hands you a contract to look over and a brochure outlining benefits. Within the pâté of gray jelly that used to be your brain, a thought feebly attempts to form: You are no longer overqualified.

From your sad tale emerges a formula for fending off the O-word, which job-poolers the world over would do well to heed: Reduce your résumé by half a page; subtract two points from your college grade point average; and divide your IQ in half. Follow this, doors will open, corner offices will be yours, and so will the Earth and everything that's in it -- and, which is more, you'll have a job, my son.

Richard Speer is the author of the biography "Matt Lamb: The Art of Success" and has contributed to Newsweek, ARTnews and Opera News.

Related topic galleries: Fingers, United States, Further Education, Credit and Debt, Hands, Human Body, Tandoori Lamb

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