Dear Sam: I, like millions of others, lost my job due to COVID-19. I was employed with my last employer for more than 15 years, was good at what I did, and enjoyed my job. I have had a career in hospitality for more than 20 years, contributing at a supervisory level. I am 56 years old and find myself at a crossroads.
There is a good chance I won’t get my old job back, so clearly, now would be the time to figure out my next move, professionally speaking. I am financially stable but not ready to retire. I would be okay accepting a more entry-level job, offering lower pay, and one that would be less stressful and quite possibly be more fun.
My question to you is when I start applying and interviewing for these kinds of jobs, how do I convey to a prospective employer that I now want to take a position for which I may be overqualified? I want a change and less responsibility than I had in my last job. I plan on working at least another decade of my life. I want to work to feel productive and challenged and gain that sense of camaraderie and self-fulfillment that a good job can offer. Of course, I wouldn’t tell my interviewer that I don’t need a job for the money.
Thank you, in advance, for your advice regarding my question. I’ve enjoyed reading your column, which has been so helpful to so many. – “Not Ready to Retire”
Dear “Not Ready to Retire”: Your question is one I frequently field from those not only reeling from job losses following the pandemic but also simply seeking a transition to gain work-life balance. I know you mentioned a more entry-level job target, but you will likely not qualify for a pure entry-level role because unless you network to get in the door, the hiring manager would automatically assume you would not be interested in the position based on the lack of compensation and challenge.
To develop an interview-winning presentation of your candidacy, I would likely focus on the last 15 years of your experience with your most recent employer. Doing so would trim a solid 20 years of your professional history from your resume, dramatically reducing the fear of being seen as overqualified. However, there may be foundational experiences and employers you may want to highlight, but you can do so in what we call a byline manner. A “byline” means you would add a foundational experience section at the end of your professional experience, listing one or two of your prior employers, titles, and possibly a highlight or two of the experiences. You would present this information without the context of dates, mitigating the risk of being overqualified based on your career length.
When searching for target positions, be sure to pay close attention to aligning the story you are telling about your professional journey with the key characteristics and functions of the opportunities of interest. There may be entire sections of your past positions that you do not present as they may not be aligned with your current career targets and may further over-qualify you for opportunities of interest. Telling a very strategic story of your background will go a long way toward ensuring you paint a competitive picture of your candidacy.
I also would leverage a cover letter to explain why you are seeking a transition in the depth of accountability. I just read an article that stated hiring managers are placing more emphasis on a candidate’s cover letter to tell their story’s uniqueness during the COVID-19 era. A cover letter would provide you with an opportunity to communicate that while you have contributed value at a supervisory level, at this juncture in your career, you are seeking to contribute in a support capacity where you can add value beyond expectations while realigning your work-life balance. I have found hiring managers to be incredibly supportive and welcoming to learn the truth behind a candidate’s current career objectives.
I also would strongly encourage you to tap into your professional network; hopefully, one you have honed over the past 30+ years of your professional career. Reach out to past professional cohorts and share your current career target with them, activating an evangelist network that can help to market your brand for positions of interest. Getting in the door through networking contacts can be vital to having someone vouch for the authenticity of your desire to transition into a lower-level role. All the best as you make this a successful transition.