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They say I'm 'overqualified' for an entry-level job

The question:

I am an internationally trained human resources professional with over 10 years experience in Asia, with an electronics engineering education as well. I spent four years at an entry-level technical labour position after I immigrated to Canada in 2005. I went back to school in Canada and graduated with postgraduate certificate in human resources management in Ontario in 2010 (while I continue to learn about Canadian payroll compliance and improve my compensation knowledge). I am struggling in the pitfall of 'overqualified' or 'disqualified' when I apply for junior level jobs in the HR field. I would appreciate advice about how I can overcome this.

The answer:

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Being told that you didn't get a position because you are overqualified can be frustrating. Often, there are two reasons why candidates hear this:

1. Overqualified may forecast boredom: employers don't understand why you'd want to go backward. They may fear that you'll get bored quickly, won't be happy, or will learn everything quickly, and move on.

2. Overqualified may be an easier let-down: it's hard to tell people they didn't get the job because of who they are – such as "you're not a good fit," "you didn't seem friendly enough." Some hiring managers use "overqualified" as an excuse, because it feels less personal and more fact-based.

Try shaking up your job search. I often compare job-hunting to a scientific test and learn processes. If one thing isn't working, adjust your formula and see if that makes a difference.

Unfortunately, in our industry, some people may tell you to omit experiences or even lie on your résumé so they may place you in any job, and get paid quickly. But I always advocate to my job-seekers that they be truthful on their résumés even if they emphasize certain details and minimize others. You don't want to risk your job if employers find out you lied on your résumé, be it via your online footprint, or through casual work conversations. It's just not worth it.

First, for you, I'd recommend clearly explaining in your cover letter and at the top of your résumé, why are you seeking an entry-level position, given your tenure. It's okay to say you want to build a strong Canadian foundation through an entry-level position and that you want to work your way up. Also, clearly state that you are expecting an entry-level salary. Pre-empt anticipated objections employers may have during their initial résumé scan.

Second, while seasoned candidates list their job experience at the top of their résumé and their education at the bottom, students do the opposite. To get noticed for an entry-level HR position, you should also emphasize your Canadian schooling up top, and de-emphasize your technical labour work (to avoid being pigeonholed).

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Last but not least, take inventory of your past work experience from Asia. What sectors did you work in? What HR areas did you excel in? Narrow your job search to parallel opportunities in Canada so you can leverage some of your background in a new job here. Consider seeking out co-op placements, temporary or contact opportunities too, to get your foot in the door. Good luck!

Julie Labrie is the vice-president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions.

Do you have a question on careers, labour law or management? Send it in to our panel of experts, which includes career coaches, a recruitment expert and an employment lawyer: Please be advised that while The Globe and Mail may publish your submission, your name and address will be kept confidential.

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About the Author
Globe Careers recruitment expert

Julie is the president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions. After 14 years of recruiting top talent, she is a veteran in her field. Fluent in both English and French, Julie also provides bilingual placement and expertise. She works closely with both business and HR executives and job candidates, and can offer insights into the strategies, nuances and psychology of the hiring process. More

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