Question: I recently relocated and am looking for a new position. My experience and education qualifies me for a fairly senior management job, but job opportunities like that seem few and far between and it's hard to not get anxious. I have been tempted to apply for positions for which I am overqualified. Is there any justification for this?
Answer: Job hunting can be a long, tough, and often humbling experience, and many executives and professionals believe that seeking a lesser job might shorten the ordeal.
"People hate rejection and having to pick up the phone and ask to meet someone," says John F. Salveson, a principal with Salveson Stetson Group Inc., a Radnor, Pa., executive search firm. "In general, they don't understand how to job hunt, so they get discouraged and grasp at this approach."
But rather than embracing overqualified executives with open arms, employers are suspicious of them, says recruiter Bret Dalton, founder of the Dalton Group LLC, in Black Forest, Colo.
"It's like a major league player who wants to go back to the minors," he says. "He will be suspect, because his skills are so strong."
Companies want to hire candidates who are strongly committed to their new positions and will stay in them for more than a few months. They fear that executives who accept lower-level jobs will leave as soon as they're offered better jobs.
"The employer will see that the executive in transition is in trauma and needs to pay the mortgage," says Mr. Dalton. "They think that as soon as the person finds something that better, she'll leave them in the lurch."
Mr. Salveson says he screens out overqualified executives in almost every search assignment he conducts. Few can ever convince employers to hire them, he says. He also carefully screens candidates who tell him they are willing to take a big pay cut. Often, candidates say that so just so they'll be invited to interview, he says. Then, if the employer decides to make an offer, they may change their minds. To avoid this situation, "we are really tough on people who tell us that," he says.
From experience, Mr. Salveson, a former career counselor, says he's found that most executives who decide to seek lower-level positions don't know how to effectively job hunt. Typically, they need to shift from a strategy of sending out resumes to an all-out effort to network and conduct information interviews with people at target companies. Other activities, such as sending out resumes or looking on the Internet, should take up no more than 20% of your time, he says.
Since Chicago is a large market, your target list of employers should have about 30 to 50 companies on it, Mr. Salveson says. To meet people in them, contact people you knew in your previous role and ask them for referrals. (When relocating, it's best to do this before you move, both recruiters say.)
You also can meet new business contacts by joining local professional, business, nonprofit and civic groups. Treat your job search as your full-time job and aim to have at least 15 to 20 networking meetings weekly, Mr. Salveson says.
The length of your job hunt will depend on your level and degree of specialization. The more you narrow your search, the longer it will take. "If the object of your search is to find a job, you can be employed tomorrow," says Mr. Salveson. "If you are a senior marketing expert who only wants to work at a consumer-products company, it will take at least four to six months."
You can still apply for positions that match what you were doing previously but may entail a smaller budget or fewer people. Companies tend see this as a lateral move and view executives who had the same job on a larger scale as a good fit, says Mr. Dalton. It's especially plausible to them if you have a sincere reason for leaving your prior role and relocating, such as to be able to care for an ailing family member.
"This is seen as the same job, just with less scope," says Mr. Dalton. "The company might view you as a decent fit and a good find, because you could be moved elsewhere in the organization if things worked out."
Working temporarily as a consultant at a company and completing a project that knows you while you job hunt is a good way to make money, meet people and prove your worth, Mr. Dalton adds. If you can afford it and have general functional skills, such as marketing or finance, you also could volunteer for six to 12 months with a nonprofit organization, says Mr. Salveson.
"You can stay busy, get your name out there and gain bonus points for volunteering," he says.