An odd job situation
September 3, 2014 7:10 AM   Subscribe

To put it simply: how can I get hired into a job that I'm way overqualified for?

TL;DR version:
I need a job that is lower-stress/lower-responsibility for at least the next two years. How do I, a dramatically overqualified person, present myself on cover letters and, god willing, in interviews?

Longer version:

I have an advanced degree and for many years have been employed in a profession along the lines of nurse or lawyer (but not actually either of these fields). Current job is driving me nuts and I would like out. Finding another job in current field is not an option, for a variety of reasons.

I have a clear idea of what I'd like to do in the long-term, but it will require at least a year and a half, realistically two years, of intensive personal study.

In the meantime, I'm hoping to land a job where I can put in my eight/nine hours and then be done with for the day. I have in my head that there's got to be some sort of office assistant job out there that pays $30,000 a year or so, that would be right for this. Basically, I would like to have a job where I can make money to live on for the next couple of years, without it consuming my every waking thought.

I'm wondering how to explain my way into a job like this. How do I phrase things on the cover letter?

It would make sense, I think, to try for an admin assistant-type job in the field that I'm hoping to move into. If that is the case, should I be upfront that I'm hoping to change careers into this field? Or would that make employers not want me because I am using the job as a stepping stone?

And of course, I could do things like volunteer somewhere in hopes of snagging a job when it comes open, but frankly right now I don't have room in my head or life for things like volunteering.

As always, thanks for your suggestions!
posted by Sockrates to Work & Money (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Administrative assistant jobs aren't lower stress / lower responsibility, just lower pay.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:28 AM on September 3, 2014 [41 favorites]

Be careful with that. Just because a job is lower prestige and lower pay doesn't mean it's going to require less effort or be less stressful.

Have you ever worked a customer service job? Wait staff? Cashier during the holiday season? All jobs that require enormous effort and mental resolve not to murder every customer that you interact with, yet pay very little.

That said, I can understand why, if you were trying to train for a new professional job, you would want to take a break somehow from your current professional job while you make the transition, especially if you're burnt out on the current career. Is there a way you could do your current job in a part-time capacity, or work as a consultant where you would have a bit more control over your hours? It's hard to give you advice given the vague description of your background.

But to answer your question more directly, I would just go to a temp staffing firm. They might tell you you're overqualified but at least you wouldn't have to interview directly with the employer.
posted by deathpanels at 7:37 AM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I actually found being an administrative assistant more stressful than say, being an accounting clerk. As an admin assistant, you have very little control over your workflow, people can stop and interrupt you at any given moment and dump urgent work on your desk. There is also a barrier between you and the rest of the office workers, whereby you are not deemed as good as they are due to a presumed lack of a degree and doing work that is beneath them (photocopying, sorting mail, travel arrangements, expense reports, answering the phone). The work itself isn't that difficult, but there is a constant pressure to get things done in a timely manner, while wrangling a bunch of people who each have their own individual personality quirks, yet having zero authority over them. This depends on the atmosphere of the company you work for, of course, but I would not say it is a low stress job.

Accounting clerk was relatively low-key: data entry, going over the books to resolve discrepancies, correcting price discrepancies so invoices could be resolved, etc. This was corporate accounts receivables for a large widget manufacturer, so it also involved getting proof of delivery for some items and submitting those to the big customer. In short: doing things that had been messed up due to computer or operator error. It was very predictable work, quiet atmosphere, and allowed for much more control over workflow.

I would try Robert Half, they have a good reputation, and tell them exactly what you want: a job to keep you afloat while you go back to school. You can also try to get placed in an industry related to your new career goal, or one that vends with that industry. For instance, I once worked at a company that did wire and spring steel and they serviced the oil and gas industry, the medical industry, NASA, and a whole bunch of other things that use springs.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:42 AM on September 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

Hi, just wanted to clarify a couple of things:

I do realize that jobs can be both low-paid and highly stressful. I've been there before (yes to customer service, cashier, office jobs with mean bosses, etc.) I also have had lower-paying jobs that were lower-stress, so I know they exist.

And going part time is not an option, unfortunately.
posted by Sockrates at 7:43 AM on September 3, 2014

Definitely sign up with an agency, and when you meet with them, be entirely honest about your situation and what you are looking for.
But also, you need to significantly dumb down your resume and specifically tailor it for every role you apply for.
This may include leaving off certain parts of your education and leaving out responsibilities of your current role and focusing on the more administrative parts of your job.

You'll want to bring the "lower level" responsibilities to the top of your resume. In my experience as a recruiter - even when people specifically state they are looking for a job beneath their qualifications, you still may be overlooked because recruiters will assume that you'll get bored in no time at all.
It's way better to leave things off your resume in my opinion.
posted by JenThePro at 7:46 AM on September 3, 2014

Well, you could try toning down your resume; listing only the schools you attended and not the degrees you obtained, emphasizing the more administrative tasks of your previous jobs, e.g.

In today's job market, you might not be so out of place. There are a lot of people looking for not so many jobs. So, lots of people are overqualified.

I think your best bet will be when you are able to explain your situation and motivations. That might be in the cover letter, or through a personal connection (which helps to get any job).

You also might try this list of jobs that don't require degrees (there's a Part 2 linked at the bottom) - some of the less physically intensive ones might work for you.

Good luck.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 7:51 AM on September 3, 2014

It seems like what OP wants is a job where--regardless of the levels of stress during work hours--you clock out at the end of the day and don't think of that job again until the next time you clock in. That way OP can study/do whatever in OP's off hours.
posted by resurrexit at 7:53 AM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is it possible to turn your current job into a 8-5 job by just not working after hours? I mean, what are they going to do, fire you? You are considering quitting anyway. A lot of professional jobs only require a lot extra work to get ahead, you're not interested in getting ahead and probably wouldn't mind a demotion.
posted by 445supermag at 7:55 AM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Are you wedded to the idea of an office job? Because if you really want to be able to just do your job and then go home and not think about it, perhaps you should consider looking into more blue collar jobs like manufacturing, warehouse, shipping, etc. Bonus: you get to exercise at work.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:55 AM on September 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

You're going to have a hard time I think. There's a lot of competition for these jobs so people with experience are going to be first picks. When I was applying for office jobs, it was normal to be competing against a lot of people, who were just like me.

I also think getting to 30k could be problematic depending on where in the country you live. Most of the full-time, entry-level positions I saw you wouldn't be making 30k. Maybe25-28k was a more normal range, though you could get higher depending on how skilled you are for what they need.

I'd look for "enclosed" offices. What I mean by that is offices where there are no customers. Even if you aren't a receptionist, being the office person at a doctor's office or a walk-in service business is a lot more stressful due to interruptions from both the staff and your customer base.

You'll definitely need to tailor your resume. If interviewing directly with employers I would be a bit vague about things, and I would definitely not say you only plan to be there two years. I'm convinced few things will get you a no quicker. You need to focus on your transferable skills and why you actually are a good fit, and just that you bring good things to the table. When I first started applying for these types of jobs I think I made myself sound like too much work, so don't downplay your strengths even if you never much thought about them in your current job.
posted by Aranquis at 7:58 AM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Can you transition your job into a consultant-type gig to lower your hours? That probably wouldn't cure the mental stress thing, but if you are in a position making $100k, but only really need to make $30k - well, working 10-15 hours a week sounds pretty great.

I know that consulting can get...complicated. My dad's done it his entire life, and it has good and bad times, but it's a way to get out of the 40-hour work week if you structure it right.
posted by aggyface at 9:29 AM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing that could be helpful is to choose something you do have passion for (say, an admin job at a nonprofit working on an issue you truly care about, or as you say in the field that you're truly interested in moving into). I think you'll have better luck if you can make a strong argument as to why you want to work with a specific org, versus just trying to find a random admin job.
posted by three_red_balloons at 10:08 AM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about working in local government / the civil service or equivalent where you are?

I transitioned out of a horribly stressful non profit job to a simple phone jockey in local government while I got my head together / focused on my studies and considered my future direction.

Local goverment / civil service jobs can be tricky to get into, and have the same frustrations as many other workplaces, but are pretty good as they go in offering stability, security and established hierarchy, and while you might be busy in your work, there is balance that everyone leaves at 5:00

Management can be a bit weak, and sometimes a little self important, organisations are generally pretty consensus driven so slave drivers and ego trippers don't last long.

HR issues like wages, duties, holidays etc can be a bit of pain but are generally run by-the-book which is handy if you're trying to work around other things in your life.

As a result of being relatively enlightened these sorts of organisations are often are a bit of a haven for other intelligent and other overqualified people working to live rather than living to work, so you're likely to be among friends.

Its not fantastic money, and it can be rather repetitive but I work in a pleasant office, with good people, get pension, paid holidays and aside from being at my desk at the start of my shift, and getting through my calls, and generally doing a good job is the only thing I need to worry about.

Different teams can be pretty different though so if you're looking for an easy life its definitely a good idea to be selective about the role you take.

Its pretty low in the pecking order but generic call centre customer service though not "interesting" by any means was a pretty good choice for me, in that the calls I answer are mainly straightforward and are usually pretty easily deal with, taking messages, transferring calls and basic database work, and every contact is new so there are no ongoing queries or things to get bogged down in, no team dynamics, and no micromanagement.

Come the end of my shift I take off my headset, leave my computer and am done until the next day which works really well in giving me the time to work on my own projects and think about my own things which really works for me.

Recruiting into these sorts of jobs is often pretty straightforward in that there's a standard competence profile and standard interview, though getting your head around citing examples of your competences for everything they ask can be baffling to begin with. But appointment is based on simple scoring systems rather than personal questions or overly subjective judgments, and not put at a disadvantage by irrelevant factors.

Reading this its surprising to find myself writing such an encomium to local government but as a place to think, study and be, with the bonus of a regular small pay cheque its a pretty good place to be!
posted by Middlemarch at 11:23 AM on September 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Paralegal work is pretty much minimum 30K. And while there are some paralegal workaholics, the vast majority are 9-5ers (or at most, 8-6ers).

I realize you say you don't want anything to do with your current profession, but paralegals with degrees and experience can sometimes vault into higher pay grades and/or cushier jobs, while doing basically the same work and experiencing the same (low) amount of stress as paralegals in most any other field of law. A paralegal's daily tasks and stress level are related more to her job experience as a paralegal and the size and structure of her particular firm than a firm's practice areas. But by hiring someone who is already well-versed in a particular field, an attorney can get two employees for the price of one: a paralegal plus an occasional subject-area consultant (hired at the lower paralegal rate, of course). Do you really hate your profession so much that you can't utilize what you know in a completely different environment?

That said, you don't have to utilize your experience just because you have it. You could also aim for paralegal work in a field related to that long term life plan you mention. Plenty of new paralegals are on their second/third/fourth career that is completely unrelated to their previous jobs. It's not at all uncommon for paralegals to have significant experience in other careers. And I know at least one paralegal with a (humanities) PhD.

(And in most states you don't need a certificate, but a local certificate program can help with networking and show employers you're serious about working in the field.)
posted by lesli212 at 3:38 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh hey, just saw your previous question. Being a paralegal could easily meet your criteria. Some paralegal jobs skew more towards writing while some are more about document generation rather than creation.
posted by lesli212 at 3:59 PM on September 3, 2014

As a hiring manager, I am typically looking to hire candidates who can grow with the agency. I would be open to hiring an over-qualified candidate if their reason for seeking a lower-level position was clear.

For example, I hired someone who had nearly completed a Master's degree for a position that required a high school diploma because she was seeking hands-on experience in the field. If you're seeking entry level work in your desired field (that you'll also be studying) people would probably be willing to take a chance with you.

In all honesty, I would probably not interview candidates who were over-qualified and unemployed unless they were able to clearly show that they were not going to leave the position as soon as they found 'suitable' employment.

I noticed that you said you needed to do a few years of "personal study" to prepare for your desired career path; would any of this involve schoolwork or training? If you are able to outline a clear reason, and a clear time-frame, I think you'd have a better chance.
posted by MariJo at 5:17 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's what you do. You dumb-down your resume and jobs.

You leave off an advanced degree(s), you tailor your bullet points to stress the skills you'd need for the job you're applying for.

So instead of Director of Marketing, you can put Marketing Assistant. Instead of "Managed a team of 10 marketing professionals," you put, "supported the marketing team."

Stress the skills that would be in demand, Excel, Word, Outlook, etc.

I did this when the recession started so that I could learn It was great for that, but BOY was I bored, and I started resenting not making good money and I felt that my skills and talents were being ignored. It made me a bit crazy.

But if you honestly believe this is the path for you, you lie in reverse.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:18 PM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

In my experience, the lowest stress job is doing what you know best at an unhurried pace. Think of the difference between Big Law and a small town attorney. Most high-paying jobs just require you to do too much.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:25 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

People are right that low-level jobs can be just as stressful as higher-level ones, but culture of the organization/company really matters here. Be really intent on trying to suss out culture when you are networking and applying (like, go talk informally with others who work at the company, outside of the interview), and you can probably find a workplace that isn't crazy stressful.

As a hiring manager, I am typically looking to hire candidates who can grow with the agency. I would be open to hiring an over-qualified candidate if their reason for seeking a lower-level position was clear.

Agreed with this. Turnover in entry-ish level office job positions is pretty common. If you aim for low level positions in your desired new field and position it as wanting to get experience in this new field, I'd think you could be attractive to employers. You can present yourself as wanting to stay with the company/org a long time, so that even if they worry you're going to want to move on from the low-level position, at least you'll still be in the company.
posted by aka burlap at 7:47 PM on September 3, 2014

This reminds me of something I read on Quora recently about why there are 5000 janitors in the US with PhDs.

When trying to get a job you're overqualified for, there are basically two routes to choose from:

1) Hide your qualifications

The classic route that involves dumbing down resumes to made up references to outright lying.

I once polled my blog readers and 60% claimed to have dumbed down their resumes in the past.

Please don't do this. Getting a job is starting a relationship with an employer, and almost no one wants a relationship based on lies.

The only justification is if you can hide it long enough to get away with, i.e. for a temp or short-term job.

It doesn't need to be this way.

2) Be upfront about everything and assuage their fears

There are many reasons why companies don't want overqualified employees. Frankly, most of them are bad reasons, unfounded reasons that are based on some irrational gut feelings or urban myth someone heard. But this is what you need to deal with.

In marketing, there's a concept called 'price anchoring'. This means that markets are educated to expect certain prices for certain things, and any large deviation is immediately viewed with skepticism. Similarly, you're trying to tell a recruiter "I'm a Porsche, but you can have me for the price of a Hyundai."

Like any candidate, under/over/just qualified, you need to make it clear why you'd be a model employee.

Then you need to explain why you'd be such a terrific value for them as an employee, and justify why you want their job in a way they're ok with. There's nothing wrong with telling a recruiter that you just want stable hours. Essentially that means that the difference in pay from your previous job is what you're willing to pay to get back your free time. A lot of people can understand that. Heck, a lot of people would admire that.
posted by jshare at 11:39 PM on September 3, 2014

I once had a person (who would become my future boss) straight up ask me: "Why should we hire you for this position that you are completely overqualified for?"

And I was honest. I told her that I needed a full time job while I was getting my Master's at night, and they would have a reliable and hardworking employee for the three years that it took to get it, if not more. I promised not to complain about being bored. She believed me, I got the job, and they got a great employee for the promised amount of time, in a position that tended to have higher turnover.

Sometimes even mentioning this stuff in a cover letter can work-- pointing out that you know it looks like a step backward by some metrics, but [reasons you are doing it] makes some people view you as a bargain, frankly.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 3:41 AM on September 4, 2014

Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! I did this! I'm a computer engineer with an MBA. After closing the doors on my first business, I decided to try something different, so now I am teaching English to adults and children in China.

It's super easy, you just do your homework, get a certificate, post your resume, do some skype interviews, and then sever every tie you have in your whole life. Then off you go to some other country to have an adventure for a year or two.

I would caution you though, while teaching is definitely a bit easier than most engineering jobs, it will challenge you in different ways. You won't get burnt out, rather the experience is draining.
posted by illuminatus at 4:51 AM on September 4, 2014

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