Why finding a job can be even harder when you’re overqualified

BY JANE THIER


Over 11.3 million jobs are waiting to be filled in the U.S., but it doesn’t mean there are opportunities for everyone.


For job seekers with significant experience, the current hiring market can be grim. Junior roles are in abundance, while roles that require more experience are in short supply.

“Overall, it’s still a candidates’ market, but companies aren’t flexing on their requirements as much as we’d hope they would,” Gillian Williams, founder of recruiting firm Monday Talent, tells Fortune.

A survey last year by job site FlexJobs found that nearly half (46%) of job seekers said they’re only finding jobs that pay lower than their market rate. Over two in five seekers said there weren’t enough openings of any kind at their level in their area of expertise.

That’s the story for Tori Allen, a PR strategist in Buffalo with over a decade of experience. She says the job market is really only hot for junior-level talent. “I’m always either under- or overqualified,” she says. In January, she left her full-time job as national head of PR at a nonprofit, with two promising prospects lined up.

“I left thinking, Okay, one of these companies will give me an offer, and this will be a short-lived, two-week situation,” she says. But after interviews, including with senior managers, and even discussions of salary and start dates, both companies ghosted her. “It was very heartbreaking. One of those has reposted that job three separate times.”

A survey last year from hiring site Indeed found that potential employers have ghosted almost 4 in 5 (77%) of job applicants since the pandemic began. That same survey found that only 27% of employers hadn’t ghosted an applicant during the pandemic—a troubling suggestion that the tactic is now a common part of the job application experience.

Indeed’s research bears out what Allen sees among her connections. She’s a member of a Facebook community for women in marketing and communications that she says is laden with stories from job seekers who were ghosted well after the third round of interviews. Allen has come to call the phenomenon "the Tinder Effect."

“Recruiters think, because the pool is so huge, the perfect person is out there, one swipe away,” she says.

“Companies feel like, with remote work, they’re already compromising,” Williams says. “They may be feeling, if they’re flexing enough on things like location and hours, they shouldn’t have to settle for anything less than a perfect candidate.”

Left on read

After Alicia Nieva-Woodgate’s job as head of corporate communications at a software development company was eliminated in November, she instantly began applying for new roles. Five months later, she’s still at it.

“You really have to know people to get into a company,” Nieva-Woodgate has found. “Often, applying through regular portals is a void. You get totally ghosted. You don’t even get that ‘thanks, but no thanks’ email.”

Of the more than 50 applications Nieva-Woodgate says she’s submitted, she’s gotten just three written rejections.

Some recruiters have suggested that to avoid ageism, Nieva-Woodgate tweak her résumé and LinkedIn page to display only the last 10 to 15 years of her experience. “I don’t know if that would make some companies think I’m younger and hipper, but I’m in my 50s, and ageism really does happen, particularly in tech,” she says. “People do want young people.”

In a particularly unfair turn, companies often shoehorn candidates with over 20 years of experience as being too set in their ways, Williams says, or hesitant to adapt or adjust. “That’s when companies will start to say, ‘Oh, we’re looking for talent on the upswing of their career’. They’re trying to be politically correct, and dodge around saying they want younger people.”

Companies, especially over the past two years, have talked extensively about the importance of diversity at every level, Williams adds. But they often forget that age is a huge part of the puzzle.

“If you’re a robust company and you need good crisis communications and good strategy, sometimes five to seven years of experience aren’t enough to cover everything that might happen,” Nieva-Woodgate says. “You need a little more seasoning.”

She could take a job that’s below her pay grade, or take a more junior title. But rebounding from that can be a long-term problem of its own. “Going backward in your career can be very frustrating; you get surpassed by people who are like, ‘Oh, is there a reason you haven’t moved forward?’” she says.

The only solution to the current job-seeker/recruiter relationship and process, Nieva-Woodgate says, is a top-to-bottom change in approach.

“There are some really amazing in-house recruiters who will walk you through the whole process. On the other hand, getting ghosted is such a bad reflection on the company," she says. "And it affects you mentally. It makes you feel like, crap, I’m not worthy.”


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