Local News

Overqualified, inexperienced: Job seekers hear it all

Posted August 2, 2009 2:52 p.m. EDT
Updated August 2, 2009 6:59 p.m. EDT


— Mid-career professionals searching for a new job can find themselves in a tough situation.

Employers in their field call them overqualified, while employers in a different field view them as inexperienced.

Cindy Williams, a Durham native, has been in that situation since the days she worked in Detroit as an engineering executive for General Motors.

"I led engineering teams and research teams looking at new technologies," Williams said.

But life took an unexpected turn for Williams. Her parents fell ill, and she returned to Durham to care for them.

What she expected to be a two-month leave from the work force turned into a two-year search for a new job.

"What I thought would be an easy return to the work force ended up being a huge mountain to climb," she said.

Her initial mistake was "casting too wide a net," Williams said. Returning to the tanking auto industry wasn't an option, so she applied to just about any job – and started hearing familiar refrains, she said.

"I heard that 'You're overqualified' statement. That was because of all my work with General Motors. I heard the 'You're not qualified enough' statement, because I was transitioning from the automotive industry into others I hadn't been in before," she said.

For others who hear the same statements, don't get defensive, Williams recommended.

"Ask the person, 'Why are you making this statement? Why are you saying I'm overqualified? What is it about my background that's making you think this way?'" she advised.

Williams turned to the Avadon Group, which partners with Wake Technical Community College and the state Employment Security Commission to offer free classes to job seekers.

Trainer Debbie Castrodale coached her to work past self-doubt and to discard the feeling that she was a victim.

"When you become jobless, there is a feeling that you are, at some level, a failure," Williams said.

Instead, Castrodale said, Williams needed to use the job search as an opportunity to identify her strengths and to learn how to market those skills for specific jobs, regardless of industry.

"She did a lot of soul searching," Castrodale said. "She figured out her core strengths and her differentiators and the reasons she was successful at GM. And those were all qualities that would carry over to an industry, and an executive in any industry."

Williams put together a visual resume, a Power Point presentation that clearly conveys her stand-out qualities to employers. She also learned to use social-networking media, such as LinkedIn.com, in her job search.

"All it takes is one person to say, 'You know what? I think you would be great for this job I have,'' she said.

After 1½ years of job hunting, Williams got that answer from a health services company in South Carolina. Her GM executive skills were "transferable" to the job as a manager for an information-technology project to link various health agencies, she said.

"You don't know how good it feels," she said.