Your Career, Your Choices

Dumbing down is not the clever option

Q: I have a Masters in English and History. However there are very few jobs available at my level, so I have found myself applying for jobs that might be, if you will excuse the language, beneath me. However, I’ve always worked throughout college semesters and I really want to get a foot on the ladder, even if the job is not tailored to my qualifications. I want to get a job so that I can make a positive contribution, rather than having to emigrate, an option currently on my mind. However, I find many employers seem to think I’m over-qualified and I don’t even get called to the interview stages for jobs that I am well capable of doing. Should I dumb down my CV to help me over this hurdle? (TN, email )

A: You’ve touched on a very interesting subject here. Many people are in the same boat as you, and I often feel that employers are not particularly good at spotting the talent in people.

Many seem to look at the qualification and decide that this renders you over-qualified; as if somebody who is highly qualified is not able to do a job a little bit down the register.

Talent-spotting is a huge issue for employers, and the discerning employer will quickly see that even though you may not be fully challenged in the role you’re seeking, you have a proven record of work and a capacity to adapt to whatever role is put in front of you.

I can understand that employers might feel that, first chance you get, somebody with your level of qualifications will be gone to work in a new area that does challenge you fully. To overcome this, I feel you should illustrate quite explicitly in your CV or cover letter, and in the interview, that you really do want this job and that you see it as being more than just a stop gap for a few months – particularly if you are prepared to commit for more than a few months.

In your CV, try to convince the employer of your range of skills and your willingness to start at a level that might not be commensurate with your qualifications, but that satisfies you because it gives you a start in the company. You can make it clear in the interview and in the CV that you would hope to gain promotion within the company – this way the employer does not feel time invested in you will be wasted.

As for dumbing down, my instinct says that it’s never a good idea to hide your talents. If an employer does not care for seeing the breadth of your ability, then perhaps they’re not the right employer for you.

I know that might sound like an unduly arrogant tone to strike in the current work environment, but ultimately, you will need work environments where you feel nurtured and prized. So I would not be inclined to dumb down a CV, but I would be anxious to transmit to the employer that you have the kind of commitment to a role that will allow you to work “beneath” yourself so that you can be a fully-functioning member of the ranks of the paid employed.

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