How To Beat the Overqualified Tag

It is a buyers market for employers!    The problem with job searching in such an economic environment is that most recruiters will be inundated with all kinds of candidates – young, mature, unqualified, and in some cases overqualified.  When you have the kind of unemployment rate like we have presently, recruiters are going to be very picky and rightfully so in whom they advance for the available position.

When it comes to Association executive jobs it is becoming quite evident that many “outsiders,”  those who have not been trained or have experience in non-profits or management are now also competing for the available positions.  With the massive change in Washington last November, many former legislators and staffers are now seeking philanthropic, association and non-profit jobs that they once only interacted with at fund raising events in their previous lifes.  Case in point:  Chris Dodd, former CT senator is now head of MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and former three term Congresswomen Melissa Bean is now CEO of the Executive Club of Chicago.

Additional competion for Association positions is also coming from individuals from within the various professions or industry.  With jobs becoming more and more difficult to find within the area of expertise that the member and in some cases Board Director are comfortable in, we are now seeing in record numbers such individuals now campaigning and ultimately advancing for Association Executive positions.  Internal candidates that may include individuals who determined the future of the previous Association Executive certainly opens the door for numerous conflict of interest issues – but that is a subject for another time.

The third very active competitor for available association jobs continue to be attorneys.  With legal jobs at a premium and with college graduates going back to graduate and law school because of their failure to find appropriate employment, one of the homes for the excess inventory of attorneys is becoming association management.  For many Boards such an individual is a God-send since they will be able to double-up the CEO position with the Office of Legal Counsel and save a few dollars for the ever-diminishing association budget.

With the staggering competition, along with the ever-present under-employed recent university graduates who have certainly been under-utilized the last few years it is even more important than ever to focus in on just the right future home for your qualifications.

For those who have participated in the world the last few decades but are not prepared yet to call it quits you need to re-emphasize your passion for the profession and more importantly the overwhelming experience an employer can get by bringing to the table an individual who has peddled around the block more than once.

Of course having such experience can also penalize you because you may have expectations of a certain elevated compensation level.  With all rules now “out the window” when it comes to executive compensation negotiations, Irene Marshall, MBA (President of Tools for Transition) mentions that you should never discuss a specific amount.  You should always state: “well, I know you must have a salary range that you are considering for this position and I believe I should be at the top of your range because of  …..

* Education

* Professional training/certifications

* Number of years relevant functional experience

* Number of years relevant industry experience

* Number of staff previously supervised

* Special abilities – languages, international travel, awards

It is also important to emphasize that your exceptional talents are transferable to any profession or trade and that though you might have once been responsible for a large budget or a large “team” that you would be very capable and comfortable in a position that may not be as robust as your previous experiences. 

It is also important to emphasize that your are a professional associaiton executive and that your talents are transferable to all kinds of non-profits no matter what the trade, product or profession of the potential employing association.

Let’s be honest, most employers are anxious about someone who has taken a step down from a previous level of employment.  One can certainly assure recruiters by stating that they are looking for a job that can be fulfilling and though we all appreciate a competitive compensation package, money is not the onlyor even most important factor in whether one accepts or stays in a position.

Talk about your previous tenure with an emphasis on how happy you were in your role and with the results you provided.  Remember, in today’s world – 5 to 7 years is the average length of stay at any job. 

It is also important for you to never speak ill of previous employers, even if you worked for Attila the Hun, the Wicked Witch of the North or that your seperation from those positions were not the most amicable – be professional and let those old horror stories roll off your back because this is not the time or place to talk about how unfair the world is to you!

Of course the best way to eliminate the tag of being overqualified is to never be content with what you have accomplished.  Keep looking for new tasks and if you are like other folks, those new tasks will make you even more marketable but will definitely keep you humble throughout the learning process.


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