What If You’re Both Underqualified AND Overqualified? (Part II)

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The first post of “What If You’re Both Underqualified AND Overqualified?” was by FAR the most popular post of this blog’s one-year history. Although I think the writing was very good, I can’t help but admit that the real reason for its popularity is the sole reason that it’s a topic to which all too many people can relate. In this sequel, I hope to delve into how far we’ve come in 2013, what new things we’ve learned, and hopefully, shed light and optimism on those qualified individuals still searching for a job.

Since my first post, I finally landed a well-paying job in my field that is not only a good match for my employer, but it is also a good match for me and my goals for the future. I could not be more grateful—But, I have to say, I landed this job after the fight of my life! In July 2012, I resigned from a cushy, corporate position at a big bank. I had no way of moving from my current line of business to my field of interest (marketing), so I had to leave. Remembering my success and joy in retail, I went back to retail and found that the company culture just didn’t match my strengths.

I can’t begin to count how many job interviews I went on from October 2012 to May 2013. I had a minimum wage full-time paid marketing internship that turned into a hourly wage raise and having my hours cut by half after a few months. I was a barista on the weekends. I was also working on my MBA. I had a handful of freelance (savior) jobs, too. I left the big bank, general operations position to break into the marketing world. With each interview I got stronger and more confident, and I also found new strategies to set myself apart from the rest. Ultimately, I received many “thanks, but no thanks” and outright rejection letters. I heard “Wow, this is really impressive,” when I’d present a one-page job proposal along with my resume and cover letter. I was complimented for my Power Point presentations, portfolios, posters and red lipstick. But, none of it worked. I started to really wonder if my major career move was a major career killer.

After many, many trials and test-runs, I mastered the art of pitching my abilities to business professionals of all levels of management. But, when I finally landed this dream job, I wondered: “What about the rest of them out there?”

Friend, what about you?

If you spent the holidays without a job, without enough in your bank account to pay for gifts, let alone groceries, and rang in the New Year worried more about your own electricity, rather than that of Times Square…I’d like to share my secrets with you. Your list of needs is a lot longer than your list of wants at this point. I know how you feel — I was there just last year! Let’s take a look at this list of job landing tips and hopefully revive some hope for you.

1. Show them your qualifying results, not your qualifications. Before you even land the interview, you need to get the interview. If you’re having trouble with that step, update your resume and personalize your cover letter. For years, I used a generic fill-in-the-blank cover letter template as a formality. It’s no longer a formality — It’s the one hint of personality you can show a prospective employer before they even consider you as a candidate. Your cover letter should include specific qualifications applicable to the job in question. For example: Instead of saying you have experience using Microsoft Excel, you should say you created a spreadsheet in your college internship that helped increase productivity by 8% by saving management a few points of contact for each project. For each qualification or ability you list in your cover letter, you should add an example of how it contributed to the workflow of any given position. Qualifications tell what you can do, but results sell your abilities as an employee.

2. Make a good first impression. Once you get the interview, spare no expense to make a good impression. Although you may be broke or close to maxing out your credit cards, figure out a way to get that suit dry cleaned or get a new haircut. Appearance is very important. As recent studies have shown, attractive people tend to get hired more and promoted more often than less attractive, similarly qualified candidates. The same has been said for tall candidates; however, as I am a hair below five-feet tall, there is nothing I can do to change that statistic toward my favor. But, I can clean up my trusty, old black suit. I can get a nice blow-out on my hair and splurge on a new tube of lipstick. And I can be sure to put my best possible foot forward. Most likely, this is my only shot.

3. Know who you’re talking to. Prior to your interview, do some research on the organization. It doesn’t have to be anything too involved—Just get a basic idea of the corporate culture and an overview of the business model. Arming yourself with this information can create more advanced answers to some interview questions and you can have great follow-up questions to set yourself apart from other applicants. There is nothing more disappointing to a hiring manager than to hear crickets when they ask “Do you have any questions about us?” In this economy, employment is a two-way street, and the hiring manager wants to see “what’s in it for them” too. See what makes their company different from its competitors. You can use that to make correlations between yourself and the company. Maybe the company is the same as everyone else—Like, a soda can manufacturer or oil company? That’s okay. In a tasteful way, you can acknowledge that fact and emphasize your customer service or people skills to add value to the company. Follow them on Twitter or ‘like’ them on Facebook and mention it in the interview. Have suggestions? Maybe save that for the second interview, unless social media is part of the job description…

4. Send a “Thank You” card in the mail the morning of your interview. This is just a personal favorite of mine. It adds that personalized touch, and it shows you plan ahead. This isn’t a requirement, but it is a nice gesture that gets noticed. Each time I’ve done it, the manager that hired me had it on display in their office or cube. Also, make sure you get the correct name on the card!

5. Sell your candidacy just like a company would sell a new product. OK – So you’ve sold yourself in a thoughtful, personalized and professional way. You thanked them for their time. You get the call for the second interview. This means you made it to the final decision with 2-6 other candidates, depending on how competitive the position is. In today’s economy, it’s likely these candidates are nearly identical to you and have already done some of the things listed above. Now you really need to sell yourself, as if you’re selling newspaper subscriptions by City Hall or Mary Kay makeup to your Bible Study girlfriends. Just like a company has a vision statement of how the company wants the world to see it, you need to have the same statement for yourself as a professional. Define yourself. Are you efficient? Creative? Thrive in a stressful position? A born leader? Tell your story behind your statement. There are few questions in this last and final part of the process. The manager(s) is/are looking for a person, just like a customer is looking for a brand or product. You need to be that product! Think about Pepsi and Coke. These products are made of fundamentally the same raw materials with the same recipe and processes to create the end product. But, the sweet story of the Christmas Polar Bears tear at the heart strings of Coke lovers all over the world. And, who can forget the year Britney Spears danced and sang the Pepsi jingle? Use your story to close the sale.

Job hunting and interviews aren’t what they used to be. Some hiring managers recruit their employees via social media alone. Others follow the old-school rules, but still look for that “extra” to make the decision worthwhile. Most of these managers have upper management squeezing them to make efficient decisions and do more work with less resources. Everyone is in a tough spot. Once you keep that in mind, you can relate to any panel of managers. Employers are looking for much more for much less, so until the economy turns around completely, we need to set ourselves apart from the rest beyond what would be considered “going the extra mile”.

I didn’t say this would be easy. I also cannot guarantee this will create a dream job for you this year. But, I have put these to practice for myself and in colleagues looking to advance their careers with success. It is possible. This year, resolve to try these tips if you’re looking for a (new) job.

Maybe you’ll impress someone. Maybe you’ll impress yourself.

The Fine Art of Stuffing Envelopes (and other career-related advice)

Hello, friends and colleagues. I haven’t been here in awhile, and I hope you haven’t forgotten about me! Honestly, I know you are all busy grilling, sunbathing and vacationing; however, I’d like to think we haven’t totally switched-off all of our motivation, inspiration and brain cells for vacation-mode autopilot. Unfortunately, I won’t be taking any vacations this Summer—Just one cross to bear, as I’ve started a new job that I love so far.

About that…

I have been at my current position for a little over two months now. In many ways, it seems like a lot longer. I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time, and I’m actually feeling fairly comfortable. Granted, learning the ins-and-outs of any financial institution takes years, and I am not anywhere near that point, but I like to think I’ve learned a lot of information pretty quickly. There are days I’m making sales, shaking hands with other members of The Chamber of Commerce and meeting our members at their place of work with smiles and lots of good conversation. But, as with any job, there are days of paperwork, busy work and grunt work.

I had one of those days today. Tomorrow looks like it may be a repeat of today.

Quarterly statements were mailed this past week. Also, as always, we are bringing in new members by the handfuls every week. For the credit union, it means endless opportunities. But for me, at least today, I was stuffing envelopes and comparing reports for the bulk of my 8-hour workday.

I don’t mind busy work. I’m pretty fast, and sometimes mindless work is just what I need. However, I started thinking during my third or fourth hour (snicker) that I didn’t imagine I’d be back stuffing envelopes. I’ve done more than my share of stuffing envelopes as a medical records clerk, promotions assistant, administrative assistant and loan specialist. Yet, with almost half of my MBA studies behind me and a 3.9 GPA in my undergraduate studies, I would think this “phase” of my life would be over by now. You’d think “Envelope Stuffer Expert” had a shelf life on a resume, especially beyond grad school.

Then, I paused.

It’s 2013. I am working a job that I both enjoy and that is in my field of study. That alone should be enough to be satisfied. I reflected on those two things. I am grateful – beyond grateful for this opportunity. But, as always, I’ve always been thinking of the next ten years. When I was four, I told my preschool class I wanted to be a teenager when I grew up so I could wear makeup, drive a car and carry a purse. As a college student, I wanted to graduate. As a graduate, I wanted to go back to school for my MBA. And on, and on…

I’ve always been told not to wish my life away, particularly by my mother. Her words are still heard strongly in my mind every day. But, I often wonder, are those aspirational, ill-contented and envelope stuffing experts those that make the most happen in their lives? (Yes, I made the last one up…possibly.)

I guess the bottom line is: Be grateful for what you have, but don’t grow stagnant. Don’t be antsy or impatient, but be present with perspective.

Although I am a fantastic envelope stuffer, I’d like to think my other talents shine brighter. Today I find myself thankful for a job in marketing, especially today. I only hope someday in the near future I am given the opportunity to master the fine art of…

I feel like an adult.

I’m more than halfway through my 25th year, or quarter-century. I’ve been on my own since I was 18—and, technically, since I was working at 13 and paying for my own braces, my sister’s swimming lessons & eventually my own car insurance—I’ve been an adult for awhile now. After I moved off-campus before my junior year at Point Park University, I really started to feel like an adult. I was working 2-4 jobs at a time, taking 18 credits and paying my way through college, plus paying all of my own bills. Some “adults” have all of these bills taken care of for them while in college, and some don’t. I happened to be in the second category, and that’s fine. But, I will say, I’ve been an adult for a better portion of my entire life; however, it hasn’t been until the last few weeks that I’ve really felt like an adult.

What do I mean by feeling like an adult?

I’m talking about a settled feeling. I’m finally working at a place that is a good fit for me and matches my career path and goals. That’s a big one. I’m finally living in an apartment I love—and it’s organized! Cleaning out my closets and the spare bedroom/storage room was a big breakthrough for me, too. But, things are finally settling in place. The puzzle pieces are finally piecing together.

I feel like an adult in a good way. Before, it was always seen in a negative connotation. Being an adult was seen as paying bills, balancing work and life and racking up the student loan debt. Don’t get me wrong – Being an adult is still all of those things! But now, I am finally relishing in the good parts about being an adult. I’m enjoying the comfort of knowing I’m with the man I love, and will be with him for the rest of my life. I love the ability to go to bed at 8PM or 2AM, depending on my mood. I’m enjoying my daily commute to work and back, the steady routine of it all and my two cups of coffee with hazelnut creamer in the morning. I spent my entire weekend cleaning, grocery shopping, organizing, watching movies onDemand with my live-in boyfriend and working on freelance projects. I feel so encouraged and prepared for the week when my apartment is clean, my fridge and pantry are both full and I have spent some quality time with my boyfriend.

Yes, my younger college-aged self would be bored to tears hearing this weekend itinerary. But like I said, even back then I was doing most of the same thing. But, this time…It’s different.

I feel like the adult I always knew I’d become if I worked hard enough. I’ve worked plenty hard enough—And now it’s finally paying off!

What makes you feel like an adult the most?

Are You Determined?

Although I work in the marketing department of a small private school, sometimes I find myself teaching. One example of this is my new(er) role as the yearbook advisor for the high school students. I couldn’t be more thrilled or excited. They all have editorial roles, and each student is simply bursting with creative ideas and articles. One of our Friday meetings was cancelled due to a snow day, and the kids took the initiative to work on a few of the pages and interviews during their lunch hour throughout the week. They completely surprised me with it last Friday, and honestly, I nearly cried.

Kids are awesome.

The truth is, over the last few weeks, I’ve become a friend to these kids. And they’ve started to look up to me as a teacher—not just the girl in the marketing office, running around making copies of flyers and spreadsheets. They’ve been saying goodbye to me at the end of every school day and making sure to include me in classroom discussions.

“What about Emily? We need to meet for yearbook!”

“Can we have a 2nd yearbook class this week?”

(My hair is big enough, let alone the swelling of my head they are encouraging.)

Last Friday, the students were so caught up in their articles and photoshop workshops, that some of them missed the first 15 minutes of their lunch hour. I made an announcement, but they just kept working! After most of the kids left for lunch, there was one kid that stayed behind from the others.

He said, “If you don’t mind, Emily, I’m not really that hungry. I’d really rather finish writing my article on the guinea pig farm.”

To give some context, the private school offers remedial support for students with learning disabilities, health problems, or otherwise need support the public, cyber or charter schools cannot provide. Some of the kids go to cyber school, but need in-class instruction to supplement their programs. It’s a melting pot of specialized educational programs and individual circumstances.

The student that stayed behind is a teenager that has been attending the school for years. He also has high-functioning autism. When he first came to the school, he wouldn’t make eye contact or speak to anyone. To be honest, I didn’t know this much about him before last Friday, and I didn’t suspect the severity of his autism because he is so talkative in our yearbook class.

Nonetheless, he stayed behind and continued reviewing the notes he took from an interview he gave earlier in the workshop. And then he paused.

“Emily, if you don’t mind, I have a few questions for you,” he said. “You know Sally is so determined about making this yearbook so good. She wants it to be perfect. And, Suzy is so determined about finishing her book and raising a lot of money for her cousin. But, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be determined about.”

I think my jaw hit the conference table.

“Well, Billy, do you mean you don’t know what to be determined about for the yearbook? Or, life in general?” I asked.

“Well, I want to do a good job for the yearbook because it’s a school activity. But, I’m not sure what I should be determined about in general,” he said.

Can you believe the conversation I’m having with this student? Not really a teacher, only advising the yearbook class for about a month and a half… I was dumbstruck for exactly three seconds. Maybe four.

“Billy, I want to tell you something. You don’t have to know that right now. It is great that you’re concerned about it, but you don’t have to have all of the answers right now,” I started.

His eye contact was unwavering.

“I’m going to tell you about me. When I first moved to Pittsburgh after high school, I was so determined to be a writer for a big newspaper. I had all of these great plans. But, then I got a great job at a newspaper—And I didn’t like it,” I continued.

He looked surprised.

“I didn’t like working at a newspaper at all. So, you know what? I had to change my plans. I had to find out what I was going to be determined about again. Life is like that. Life changes your plans, and you have to start all over again. I’m still figuring out what I’m most determined about, but I think I’m getting close. You don’t have to have all the answers right now. You see?” I asked.

“Yeah, I do. Thanks for sharing your story with me,” he said with a small smile.

We continued to talk about me moving to Pittsburgh, school and plans. He never ran out of questions or curiosity, but decided that he was kind of hungry after all. As he excused himself to eat his lunch (while still scribbling away in his notepad), he said that he really enjoys yearbook and thinks I do a great job.

I’ve tossed around about a million ideas and dreams for my future, and I still do. Late at night, when the sound of silence is deafening and your eyelids become curtains for the play of your future life. I’ve thought about being a reporter, a novelist, a singer, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a therapist, and on and on. Today, I’m in an MBA program at the University of Pittsburgh, and I am exploring the pathway of a career in marketing and strategy.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m determined to be. At first, I thought that was an odd way to word his question. I wanted to correct him. But, the more I think about it, the more fitting I find the word. Determined. What gets my blood pumping? What keeps me up at night—in a good way? What gets me out of bed in the morning?

I don’t know quite yet. And, that’s okay.

I have quite a few things that I’m great at. I’m good at a lot of things, too. I love certain projects. I like doing others. But, what am I determined to be?

What are you determined to be?

 

 

What If You’re Both Underqualified AND Overqualified?

The job market is tough. We all know it. We all hear about it on the news. Every. Single. Day. But, unemployment in general isn’t the major economic issue facing the job force in our country today.

No. Instead, we need to further investigate the underemployment rate, especially for that of college graduates. Recent college graduates are taking jobs outside of their field of expertise simply because it is a job. That is an example of underemployment. Not to mention, underemployment includes part-time jobs and companies that do not provide benefits to certain employees. To stay in their chosen field of study, college graduates are taking unpaid internships while balancing one or more part-time job to pay the bills.

I have never been one to be unemployed. I always manage to find a job, because I have held full-time positions since my first summer vacation in high school. I have extensive–if not ecclectic–experience in various fields. But, one thing is true, I’ve always managed to multi-task and make my pay checks work for me. I was paying my way through school, living in my first apartment in the city when the Great Recession hit in 2008. I was working at three part-time jobs, freelance writing, taking 18 credits in college & babysitting and assisting a professor at my school. It hurt, but I made it work.

Today, I’m facing a similar situation. I’m working three part-time jobs, going to grad school part-time & trying to break into my chosen field of work. I am strategically promoting myself on all social media outlets, updating my LinkedIn profile and writing a business-minded blog. I am doing everything right—but, something is still missing. I am still missing the mark and receiving rejection letters & e-mails from wonderful companies.

What am I doing wrong?

It may not be me. It is probably the state of the economy and the job market. The climate isn’t stable yet. The job market is 10 times more competitive and reaping 10% less in salary and wages than in pre-recession years. We’re fighting tooth-and-nail for positions we would’ve laughed at a decade ago. Oh, and education is creating a smoke-and-mirrors effect on resumes. Some employers expect a graduate degree, and other employees see MBA candidates as a dime-a-dozen today. It’s hard to decipher these employers prior to an interview, so it ultimately wastes a lot of time. But, to a point, these employers together are completely reflective of the assumption of education in America today. We’re in limbo today. Some think a graduate degree is required and isn’t that special, and others think a graduate degree is a seal of approval of the highest quality. America is of the same mind—College is the new high school and now everyone has a degree, but an MBA still is seen as difficult and a great accomplishment.

In the job market today, too much education can make you seem overqualified for a position. For example, I am an MBA candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. I am in my second year. And I have one marketing internship under my belt, equivalent to a little more than one semester. I am overqualified given the breadth of my education; however, I’m underqualified for certain positions I’d hope for this far into my education.

It’s a Cache 22. And many prospective employees are in the same boat Post-Recession Era. Perhaps my only way out of this mess is to invent the tactic to bridge this awkward stage in a graduate student’s career, and I can employ myself.

How many of you have a job, but still feel UNDERemployed? What’s your strategy of pushing the ceiling up a bit and moving up to your rightful seat?

Love Your Job; Money Will Follow

Today, on Forbes.com, there was a story listing quotes from the women of Old Hollywood. Really, they weren’t just quotes, but words of wisdom about careers, success & money. Of course, I have some favorites, but the one that spoke most to me today was by Hedy Lamarr:

I know why most people never get rich. They put the money ahead of the job. If you just think of the job, the money will automatically follow. This never fails.

For me, this is a hopeful nugget of advice, a yellow brick road to my Oz, an end for my means. In May, my mom passed away due to complications with her battle with alcoholism. She is free. I couldn’t be more relieved for her freedom. But, as with many major life events, I was faced with an unsettling combination of feelings, including fear and a sense of being completely lost. I also faced the ice-cold truth that I was unhappy in my job and the career path to follow it.

I left my job – a very comfortable, salaried position from one of the biggest employers in the Pittsburgh area. I took a look at my options, deciding that I’d rather make minimum wage facing customers, doing something I enjoyed, than make a salary, continuing to work in a suffocating, cubicle, data processing position. I knew it would be tough, but I had done it in the past. I mean, while I was an undergraduate, I was working up to 3 or 4 jobs at  a time to make end’s meet while taking 18 credits per semester.

I could handle minimum wage while in grad school, right?

Wrong. See, when I was an undergrad, I hadn’t gotten used to making much more per hour than I made at those 3 to 4 odd jobs. Now, I was used to a salary. I was used to spending my money a certain way, living a certain lifestyle and worked my relationships around these truths. I had to re-learn how to budget, cook creatively and date my boyfriend cheaply. And, it hasn’t been easy.

Since I resigned from my salaried position, my Downtown cubicle with a view of the city, I have taken myself on a ride, trying to find my new path. Tonight, on New Years’ Eve before the first day of 2013, I can see that I’m finally coming into my new path. After various attempts to find my new path, including a stint working in retail again, being a full-time grad student, and then working as a barista, I find that my current path may not be a perfect fit, but it’s an excellent start.

Today, I have a full-time internship in marketing at a school, continue my studies in the part-time MBA program at University of Pittsburgh, and work one afternoon a weekend as a barista. It’s just enough to feel overwhelmed to scare me into accomplishing everything I need to on a daily basis. It’s diverse enough to keep my engaged. And, as always, I’m a jack-of-all-trades, wearing many colors on my colorful cloak.

Sounds great, right?

Well, unfortunately, I am barely making end’s meet. I’ve had to ask for financial help from our parents, and have had to depend on others to make it through each month. (Luckily, they can help and I am so thankful for them.) For the six days per week I work, the six hours of class time per week, the homework, and LIFE, I am not even making half of what I made at my last position. Gas money and groceries are sometimes provided by my piggy bank. My morning latte has been replaced with coffee made in my Mr. Coffee and a hot shower. I eat Cup of Noodles on the regular again for the first time since my dorm days. Instead of buying a refill for my toner, I’m digging through my old products for a suitable substitute. My boyfriend and I have changed our date night venues from some Pittsburgh favorites to Chipotle or places for which I’ve found coupons.

And you know what? I couldn’t be more thrilled.

This bump in the road is exactly what I needed to get back to me. I’ve always made these thrifty choices, and I’ve always been most inspired and driven by tough circumstances. It’s almost like I become stifled the second I get comfortable, or normal.

Ringing in 2013 is not just looking forward to what’s in store in the coming year for me, but it’s also slamming the door on what 2012 brought. I learned a lot about myself, my family and my future; I wouldn’t trade these lessons for the world. However, I couldn’t be more thrilled to see 2012 go. I’ve made many goals that I’ll share in coming posts, but I wanted to give you a glimpse into where I am today, on the Eve of the New Year. With that, I’m taking into account that I’m doing just what Ms. Lamarr suggested. I am focusing on the task at-hand, not the money. Let’s hope her story is true.

And if my fortune cookies from the past few months are any indication, I’d say it’s safe to say I have some green in my future–

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