How to communicate that I'm not overqualified to mop floors?
September 22, 2022 8:58 AM   Subscribe

I spent half my life running my own business. How do I convince someone to hire me to bag groceries?

I'm moving away from running a small company for the last 25 years and looking for something to keep me active but with much less responsibility. Jobs like shelving books, baking, or being a photography assistant. Entry-level work, more or less.

However I haven't looked for an actual job this century and navigating the job application process is confounding me. It appears to all be mediated through web sites and AI-parsed resumes. My job history ("Me Inc: Founder, President, and CEO (1997-2022)") doesn't support the work I'm looking for. My options seem to be either leave that in and appear overqualified, or leave it out and look like I've been unemployed since my 20's.

References are also awkward. Everyone I can think of would be someone who worked under me or was a client. I think to get a valuable entry-level job reference from them I'd have to have an awkward and personal conversation that I'm unwilling to do at the moment. (I'm also new to town so I don't have a local network of people to help.)

What can I do to look like the kind of person is hired for these jobs? Am I approaching it all wrong? Am I over thinking it?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What about walking in to the places you might want to work and striking up a conversation? Whether or not they are hiring. You might run into a business owner who would be eager to have someone show the interest and likely reliability.
posted by lookoutbelow at 9:03 AM on September 22 [10 favorites]

I did the same thing. I was a trader on Wall Street, had my own trading firm, etc. and decided I wanted to have a physical 9-5 job. I worked in a warehouse for a year. Anyway, I got the job by going to the industrial park where the warehouse was, and I knocked on the doors of about 5 businesses there. The warehouse was having a hard time finding and keeping workers. They had a soft spot for former addicts and for those who spent a short amount of time incarcerated for drug charges.

I talked to the owner. He was concerned I would leave in a month or two when I found something more "my speed". I told him I would sign a 6 month contract with a penalty for leaving early. I offered to put 25% of my pay into a vesting plan whereby if I left before 6 months I would lose the money and at the 6 month mark I would get the pay plus 10% in a lump sum. We ended up not signing the contract because he did not want to spend the money on a lawyer to write it up, but he just sighed and said you start on Monday, 8:00am.

I still go back and visit. Great job. I lost 20 pounds walking the warehouse. I had my 10,000 steps by 11:00am everyday. Learned to drive a forklift.

tl;dr: Knock on doors. Go to the grocery store and ask if they have openings. Walmart hires older types as greeters. I doubt they care about your resume.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:11 AM on September 22 [39 favorites]

Ask some friends to be references. Along the lines of “oh they dog sat for me, showed up on time, did what they said they would and even did this one extra thing.”

It was your own company? Give yourself a new title and downgrade the things you did. Handled finances upwards of $1,000,000 in sales? Just say that you managed a budget.

Go to a hiring event with the most basic of resumes and you can explain a bit more.

Also, it’s worth realizing that because you’re great at running a company doesn’t actually mean you’re the best person to hire to mop floors at the bakery. You know who works harder than the person who is looking for “less responsibility”? The 20 year old who is pay for school and trying to avoid taking out more loans. I managed a very wonderful woman who basically came out of retirement to help out the community and do contact tracing during 2020. She was lovely, agreeable, great on phones, etc but I also had to remind her that I did actually need her to log on at 8am, that she couldn’t go online a half hour early to start things and then just take off an hour to bring her dog to the vet because that impacted work I was doing that couldn’t see and I needed to know who was actually on the phones. (Again, she was lovely and I’d work with her again! But someone who would have previously been working at McDonalds probably would have understood the shift concept better.) Think about the jobs you want and then write the resume that is actually tailored to that.
posted by raccoon409 at 9:11 AM on September 22 [4 favorites]

I assume you are not working for the income, only for the activity. So have you thought volunteering? I volunteered at one of my local libaries for awhile. I shelved books. I repaired damaged books (after minimal training). I did data entry. I dusted. I was always busy with something different, everyday that I was there.
posted by Stuka at 9:13 AM on September 22 [8 favorites]

Are you open to part-time service-job work, like a Starbucks' Barista or a Trader Joe's staffer? Those tend to be a lot less fussy, and if you dropped by your local whereever to ask about an application, you can say something like "I retired early and this is just to get me out of the house".

Or ask in person at a small business. This is what my parents did when they retired early and moved to a really small town in Cape Cod; Dad was an electronics design engineer, but he and Mom walked into a florists' in town and got part-time jobs doing things like cashier and delivery boy and ended up working there like ten years, and got to be great friends with the owners.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:15 AM on September 22 [3 favorites]

Yes I think if you're really looking for jobs like bagging groceries, in person is the way to go. Ask if they're hiring and if they have an application. Places you'd normally go (like a grocery store or book store) would be easy too because you could explain "I'm new in town. Are you hiring?" and not really bring up your prior career.

I know someone who owns a small manufacturing business and they get walk-ins looking for work too. Some are more highly-skilled than entry level, but walk-ins are still a thing.

I would think if an employer gets a sense of your prior "professional" career they would be concerned that you're going to want to advance or leave quickly. Probably would help to think about how you'd respond if it comes up.
posted by kochenta at 9:23 AM on September 22

I think you need to think more carefully about what you want to get out of this job. You list some pretty different working environments. What hours do you want? How physically active do you want to be? Do you want to wear a uniform?

Once you have a realistic idea about the kind of work you want, walking into places and starting a conversation will probably be profitable. I would not hire someone who hadn't done a little thought about what the day-to-day of this job was like. A friend who hired for a game store had constant interviews with people who didn't realize that most of their time was going to be sweeping and shelving and inventorying and not talking to people about cool games.
posted by momus_window at 9:30 AM on September 22 [3 favorites]

Bagging groceries is a classic in-person application. I’m a little surprised they even post them online. But if in-person doesn’t work for some reason, the other classic option is to have a friend on the inside recommend you to their manager. Either way, the hiring manager might not even look at your resume, which, by the way, the mere fact of having a resume is probably a signal of overqualification.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:42 AM on September 22 [2 favorites]

Smaller businesses will likely be more receptive. Like if the person you are talking to both runs the place and would be your direct boss. There are big upsides to someone who has whole-business experience coming in to a lower level job but also a lot of potential downsides that some folks might not want to deal with.

As an aside, I shifted into baking professionally last year and it’s. . . Not necessarily low stress. Lots of intricate timing and technical know-how required, endless opportunities to fuck up (I mean learn) and it’s wildly physical. I’m sure there are environments where some or all of those things would be lessened, and I don’t have experience doing the other jobs you mentioned and don’t mean to underestimate them, but baking isn’t for the faint of heart (or weak of back).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:44 AM on September 22 [4 favorites]

Go through a temp agency to start and get your foot in the door; they're less concerned about your work history than placing someone who's actually going to do the work. I assembled office furniture, filed things alphabetically in an insurance office, carried windows off the truck on worksites, etc.

I've gotten jobs this way, and been offered to move to permanent at jobs I didn't really like but was good at, in most of the temp jobs I did. just need to do a lot of interviews until someone hires you, everyone has to hustle to get a job.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:53 AM on September 22 [2 favorites]

Most grocery stores are hiring anyone with a pulse right now. Several grocery chains in my area are advertising “walk in interviews” for most positions; this can lead to a rather fast onboarding.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:57 AM on September 22 [5 favorites]

Back in 2008 after I'd finished grad school and needed a stopgap job I submitted resume after resume, both in person and online. It wasn't until I got rid of grad school on the resume and replaced it with 3 years of an entry-level job (that wasn't directly relevant to the jobs I was applying for, but was clearly a low-paying gig) that I started to get interviews.
posted by knucklebones at 9:59 AM on September 22 [1 favorite]

If you don't care about your relationships with these people or about the ethics of doing this, you can always lie and say you were working for a family business doing menial stuff. I wouldn't suggest this for smaller businesses or in a smaller city/town, but if you're applying to a big city WalMart or whatever it may be the way to go.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:02 AM on September 22

I know a surprising amount of people here who’ve dropped out of careers for a year or two to work as cleaners / bar staff as it’s pretty well paid, no-one ever seems to have a problem with it…I’m sure most towns have an equivalent set of jobs.

You can put together a CV majoring on the things that are important - showing up on time and time management, own transport, can do data entry, fast learner, motivated etc. without going too deeply into the background, more on the actual tasks.

BTW Photography assistant is a stressful, very highly skilled and sought after job! So I wouldn’t recommend trying that one.
posted by tardigrade at 10:30 AM on September 22

I actually think it may be the jobs you're applying for:

shelving books - was this a library assistant job? There's a qualification called a "library technician" that you sould need

baking - needs experience

or being a photography assistant - experience and education required

I echo doing some legwork, go around and ask local businesses about jobs, if they seem to have some time, ask what qualifications you would need, etc.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:34 AM on September 22 [4 favorites]

I'd get rid of descriptions like "CEO/President" and describe yourself more simply as a former small business owner who has now "downsized" or taken "early retirement" or something like that -- using the pandemic as an explanation would work, too. In-person discussions seem like they would play more to your strengths than online applications, too, though you are still going to be stuck with the online portal at larger places.

I'd have a good "elevator pitch" about what you are looking for that communicates that you are legitimately wanting the kind of job you are applying to and that you would be wanting to stay around (vs bouncing the moment you could get back to your old career, say). Include phrases like "wanting to stay active" and "being part of the community," or "sold my business but I'm not really ready to retire," maybe.

The references question is a bit tricky, since you are going to have to be fairly open and frank with anyone you list and it doesn't sound like you want to do that. But this goes back to the idea of having a positive story about why you are applying for these jobs, whether that is for convincing a former client to be a reference or just using some old friends. It's also not a given that anyone would contact your references for these jobs -- even for white collar work, I've only had my references contacted a couple of times. Around here, I've seen a lot of "apply now/start now" kinds of signs, where clearly they are needing staff to the point where they will make on the spot offers.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:46 AM on September 22 [1 favorite]

None of the jobs you listed - besides bagging groceries - is actually entry level, at least where I live. They’re pretty in demand and are usually hiring people who have experience doing those things or similar. Try looking for cashiering jobs at a bakery to work up. Photography assistants usually have a portfolio of their own and often an MFA. Getting a job at a bookstore here is basically a moon shot, and even harder if you are looking at a library.

Warehouse work is usually actually entry level, as is grocery work. So is dishwashing, for that matter.
posted by Bottlecap at 11:04 AM on September 22 [9 favorites]

Cover letter. I am semi-retired and looking for full or part-time work to keep occupied. That's kind of weak, you can improve it.
Network. Email an increasingly wide set of friends, letting them know what you're looking for. Go hang out at the McDonalds where people drink coffee, read the paper, and talk. It's usually old guys who know everybody.
I was a small business owner looking for work in a recession and it was not easy. I temped and got asked to stay on a couple times.
Many schools are looking for Ed. Techs and Subs.
Tax prep. H&R Block and accountants will be hiring soon.
Christmas is coming, there will be retail jobs.

Employers may prefer someone moving towards something. Describe your goal in some way. I like to spend time around people, solving problems from fixing the drain to doing taxes.
posted by theora55 at 11:40 AM on September 22 [1 favorite]

Have you tried to apply to places? If not, here's the deal: employers are DESPERATE for people for entry level jobs right now. I am a parent of teenagers who got way better jobs in the past year or two than they would have been able to get before the pandemic. I don't even know if they checked my older kid's references for his new grocery job.

I'd say, if you're applying online, to simplify the words you're using to describe your old job. Something like:
ME, Inc
Ran small company, including budget and client relations, blah blah blah nothing fancy here.

Can you think of one or two people you'd be game to have that awkward conversation with? For other references, use friends who are also professional people who know what you're up to.

You could also make your resume less fancy by applying by hand. Go into any retail shop and fill out their application by hand. Truly, people are getting offered jobs on the spot.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:28 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

I definitely like the idea of approaching in person. You mention shelving books; bookstores are hiring extra people for the holidays right now. Is there a store you have frequented where you like the atmosphere? Strike up a conversation, hopefully at a time that's not busy. Be able to offer a pretty open schedule and flexibility. That's a huge thing in retail. After a few months, you can start asking for various considerations, but at first you need to be very low-maintenance.
posted by BibiRose at 1:55 PM on September 22

Are you near farms that consider WWOOFers? Near any organic vegetable farms? They need a lot of weeding.

It’s exhausting and outdoors and you will not control your schedule, but it’s definitely work.
posted by clew at 7:30 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

If you only want to shelve books and not deal with customers, the job you are looking for at a library is called a “page.” However, these jobs are typically only part time with no benefits and are pretty rare these days.

The jobs you mentioned tend to have plenty of responsibilities, just not the type you are used to, and the responsibilities they do have are directly managed and controlled by a superior. (Typically with that awful line “other duties as assigned.”)

But it’s an employees market right now so just play down the entrepreneurship on your resume and leave out extraneous or irrelevant educational credentials.
posted by donut_princess at 8:12 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]

My job history ("Me Inc: Founder, President, and CEO (1997-2022)") doesn't support the work I'm looking for. My options seem to be either leave that in and appear overqualified, or leave it out and look like I've been unemployed since my 20's.

I would down-play it with a "small business owner 1997-2022" line and verbally brush it off as, well, I tried the own-your-own-business thing and I'm kind of over that.

But truthfully, having been burned by people who think they won't mind entry-level more than once, I've come around to the conclusion not to take chances on grossly over-qualified hires. You would have to have a pretty convincing story of why you want to do this and won't just decide to quit on me when it isn't fun.
posted by ctmf at 8:22 PM on September 22 [5 favorites]

I'm sure it would be embarrassing to do this, and it might not be true in your case, but expressing in some way that this move is financially necessary and not just a lifestyle choice helps people get these jobs.

I know of someone who was seen as overqualified but got the job because they admitted they had lost their license for the type of work they did before. Someone else was seen as not having enough experience but got the job because they admitted their spouse didn't earn enough to support the family.

This feels really uncomfortable and goes against the idea of putting one's best foot forward in job interviews. But employers depend on their workers. Obviously the workplace would grind to a halt if workers stopped working. Likewise these types of employers want workers who depend on their paychecks.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 5:53 AM on September 24 [2 favorites]

I should also mention that the down-side to the employer isn't only that you will leave. Sometimes we get someone who stays but thinks they're smarter than the supervisor and manager and makes their lives miserable being an insufferable know-it-all and question-everything, complain about how stupid everyone else is pain in the ass.

And maybe they are smarter than the supervisor and manager. Then they should have applied for those jobs. Nobody wants an employee like that.

I guess the action you can take out of that is to project a very humble and easy-going image in the interview. Just here to work, not to change the world.
posted by ctmf at 2:45 PM on September 24 [1 favorite]

I returned to the workforce a few years ago after being a full-time mom for a bazillion years, looking for similar low-responsibility jobs, and it hasn't been easy. Ageism is real.

I've had the best luck finding jobs when someone was hiring a large group of people: for the US Census, for example, and some COVID-related contracts. They're desperate, I'm capable of doing the work they need, I can pass any background check you throw at me; we're good. If you're multilingual that's a huge advantage in these sorts of jobs and you should have that prominent on your resumé. My new job is at a place where there are a lot of college-age workers and high turnover, and this is the time of year to get in there.

You're a bit late for bookstores, as they've started their Christmas panic and probably have already done the relevant hiring, but it's worth trying.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:55 PM on September 24

There are a lot of volunteer gigs that are pretty good analogues for the types of jobs you're talking about (think sorting donations, packing groceries at a food bank, cooking and serving at a soup kitchen, staffing all sorts of events, park cleanup and maintenance, etc etc). If you've done anything like that, it would be very relevant experience to highlight in your resume and when talking to people. Volunteer work would also be a good source of references who weren't your employees.
posted by yeahlikethat at 6:38 AM on September 25 [1 favorite]

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