My resume makes me seem over-educated for the jobs I'm qualified for.
June 11, 2013 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I have a BA and an MA and I think I'm being bypassed for entry-level jobs that I'm applying for because I seem overeducated. How can I address this in a cover letter?

I have a BA and an MA in a social sciences field. I didn't really get the MA expecting to get work in my field; there were no jobs and I enjoyed school and I had funding, so I did it. Fast forward about two years: I have been employed in an admin assistant-type job at a small company where I am overworked and underpaid and there is virtually no upward mobility. I am applying to other jobs, primarily at the three universities in my area, but I'm having no luck, even though I have a lot of fairly diverse admin and customer service experience.

How can I bypass the 'MA = overqualified for office monkey work' barrier? Should I mention in my cover letter something along the lines of 'I loved my time at University of Metafilter so much that I stuck around for an extra degree. I'd love to come back and work for you!'

I can't just leave it off because then there will be a two year gap, which doesn't look good either.

This is all very frustrating. Help?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
It's anecdotal, but as soon as I took my MA off my resume, I started getting interviews for the admin jobs I was applying for. Did you do any kind of part-time work or internships during your Master's program that can help fill the gap?
posted by Rock Steady at 11:40 AM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Could you "hide" it in your education? Like, don't give it separate billing?

University of Metafilter, BA, MA, Widgetology 2006-2012

I sympathize. I went to an elite school and spent a long time unemployed, couldn't even get retail jobs, because people saw (or asked, when I left it out) where I went to school and were all lol no way you'll just leave. Which, ok, but right now I'm broke.

Good luck!
posted by phunniemee at 11:45 AM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm looking at a lot of resumes now in this very situation, and here's my advice: be very direct in the cover letter about why you'd like this job.

Otherwise I wonder what's up and when you'll leave. I'd include a sentence or two about what else you are doing with your life, and why you'd be happy in an entry level job for 12-18 months. I don't expect people to want our entry level job forever, but I need a reason to understand why they won't just keep looking for an upgrade, or why they're not looking at more advanced work.

(I know the answer is "I just really need a job." But that doesn't help me understand why you'll be happy and stable in this job.)

Feel free to memail me some wording if you want me to look at it. (Or get the mods to put it up here.)
posted by mercredi at 11:48 AM on June 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

Me too, same as phunniemee, and I was sorely tempted to leave off that fancy school fancy degree. I could just hear them snickering...

Just put self-employed for those two years, or just don't put anything and if anyone asks say you had family responsibilities- hey, you're not lying, you were taking care of you!
posted by mareli at 11:49 AM on June 11, 2013

For example:

I enjoyed doing my MA in Zoology, but right now I'm looking to have a more set schedule after grad school and spend time reconnecting with friends and family in [Employment Town.]
posted by mercredi at 11:51 AM on June 11, 2013

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
Rock Steady: I worked as a TA during my Master's program, which was a condition of my funding. I didn't have another job.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:52 AM on June 11, 2013

I've been getting a lot of folks with MAs and MBAs applying for an entry-level job for which I am hiring and of those, the ones I give the most consideration to are the ones that say things like, "Here's why I'm applying for this entry-level job. Here's why me starting over is the right thing for me and a bit of a bonus for you."

I've talked to other hirers about how they respond to this particular mismatch of skills and job requirements, and the consensus seems to be that if there's no explanation at all by the candidate, then the candidate is likely damaged or has suffered a setback (professional, personal, whatever) that they haven't told you about -- so you must tread lightly with such folks. They become suspect goods.

The other thing is that the person with the advance degree sometimes seems like they might be coming to you to slack off, that they have a high opinion of themselves and that they think the piddly job would be nothing at all for them to do, and still have time to spare. Some candidates even say that (in more polite language), and that, I am afraid, makes hirers likely to think that about all candidates with advanced degrees who are applying for entry-level jobs.

Since there is such a glut of applicants, you almost never have to go into the "maybe" stack where the mismatched candidates were placed. You've got plenty of qualified, well-matched people for which there is no doubt at all.

So, mitigate the prejudgment by hirers. 1. Explain the mismatch. 2. Treat the job with respect, as if it's worthy of your time.

One other thing: if you're going to leave the advanced degree on there, then don't brag about it or your other career all over the cover letter and resume. Minimize its presence outside of your explanation about why you seem to be shooting your sights low.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:53 AM on June 11, 2013 [15 favorites]

Job applications are filtered by keyword search on the CV, which either matches or not. A cover letter may or may not be read.

If I were you, I would downplay it using the format that phunniemee suggests. If that doesn't work, try leaving out "BA, MA" altogether and just put the subject and dates of study. With any luck, they'll think you spent that time getting credits towards an Associate's degree or something.
posted by tel3path at 11:54 AM on June 11, 2013

We've had a few over-qualified candidates apply for positions over the past year. The general consensus here is: We can't pay them what they are worth and what their degree is capable of. They are overqualified for the job and we will be asking them to do things they are more than capable of. They may even have ways to do things that don't jibe with the way things get done. As a result of this, they will be looking to jump ship and they may require a combination of special snowflake retraining to get things done right. In other words, they are more risky than a fresh college graduate.

As a bonus, there are a lot of masters level jobs available in this and related fields around us. If someone with a Masters is applying to a position when there are jobs around, the implication is that the red flags have also been raised elsewhere.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:59 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Job applications are filtered by keyword search on the CV, which either matches or not. A cover letter may or may not be read.

Automatic keyword filtering is used by headhunters and large companies who can afford such services. Everybody I know who does hiring reviews resumes and cover letters by hand.

Making your resume keyword friendly as a primary tactic is like loading up a website with SEO tricks -- you had better back it up with well-crafted, customized content or else the tricks do you only a disservice.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:01 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have a very detailed but concise resume. I also write beautiful cover letters. Nearly no one reads the damn cover letter.

Leave off the MA.

I'd list my TA duties as administratively as I could get away with, and just make the two years at that institution look like an admin job (as much as is possible.)

If anyone asks more about it during an interview, I'd be very honest, "Yes, I was a TA while getting my Masters. I really enjoyed my studies, and now I'm looking for an admin job with a career path (or whatever it is you're telling people.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:01 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some job applications are filtered by keyword search, or so I hear. When I'm hiring people for our company I still go through everything personally, and this is true for a LOT of non-fortune 500 companies.

I just want to know why we'd want you. Are you going to stay? Are you going to hate every minute with us? Are they ambitious? (Because this office is too small to give any sort of automatic upward mobility the way huge companies can.)

All our employees are over-qualified but they work for us because they have kids and want flexible hours or lower stress jobs or want to work near where they live so they can take care of elderly parents or, or, or... these explanations are all things I'm happy to see in a cover letter. If a resume looks good and I don't see any explanation, I will call them and ask them right off the bat.

I hire people off of their cover letters as much as I hire them off of their resume.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:02 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I throw out resumes that don't have cover letters. I want to know if people can put a damn letter together before I hire them to be an admin assistant. You'd be surprised at how many people can't these days. I've even received letters that had text message abbreviations in it.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:06 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Leave off the MA.

I had a similar problem having worked for a small company out of college and ending up with "VP", "president of blah blah" type job titles. I was really proud of those titles, too proud to see that they should not have been on the resume of someone with 2-3 years real experience.

When I finally dropped them and replaced them with "manager" or "coordinator" (the jobs I started at those companies, and the kind of jobs I was applying too) I suddenly started getting interviews.
posted by French Fry at 12:06 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You say that you're applying at universities, so I suspect the hiring managers are used to seeing people with advanced degrees apply to entry-level positions. mercredi and Mo Nickels are on the right track--you need to tailor your resume and cover letter to the job you are applying for. Don't leave your master's degree off. Do be specific about why you want to work in XX department, and how your previous experience (including as a MA student) will be an asset to them.
posted by donajo at 12:12 PM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

Just say that you are looking for a long-term position with x,y and z. University jobs often have retirements and upward mobility. Mention those as reasons why you're applying. Mention that you're committed to work and stay in a good position and that you're not looking to jump around. Don't ignore your MA or hide it. Explain what you're doing and you'll be fine.
posted by cnc at 12:12 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing the idea that having the degree on there is fine for positions at a university. It's not uncommon at all for admin assistants at my college to have advanced degrees or certification. We like that they value the experience, and just look to their personal reasons as to why they would want to work specifically in that role and for our institution.
posted by bizzyb at 1:25 PM on June 11, 2013

Yeah, I have to agree -- it's also not uncommon at all at my university for people in administrative jobs to have advanced degrees. I leave it on for PSE jobs.
posted by Lescha at 5:06 PM on June 11, 2013

You mention that your prior job had no upward mobility. Are you looking to move from an entry-level job to one with more responsibility, where your MA might represent a qualification? There are, as others have noted, many such jobs in universities (and having the field on your degree match your job description is not needed -- it serves to establish your bona fides with colleagues on the academic side more than as actual job training). If you have any contacts at your old university who are in the kinds of jobs you would eventually like, you could try talking to them to ask how they got there. My experience with university bureaucracy is not on the hiring side, but I do know that some admin-type employees are hired to remain in basically the same position until they leave the organization, whereas some of them are just passing through on their journey up the ladder. You might have to look closely to see which openings are on the advancement track (assuming that's what you want).
posted by dendrochronologizer at 11:11 PM on June 15, 2013

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