Mid-Life Career Strategy: Overqualified? How To Get That Job (And Why It Might Be A Bad Idea)

By Cathy Goodwin

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If you're a mid-life, mid-career professional or executive, you face unique obstacles when looking for a job. Employers often have openings for lower-level positions that offer considerably less challenge, opportunity and pay than you're used to. 

You'll find lots of career advice to "dumb down" your resume or maneuver into those lower-level jobs, without lying or falsifying your qualifications. However, that's not always a good idea.

 I knew someone who consistently took jobs below her skills (and resisted promotions) so she’d have time to work in community theatre. She thrived. Others have found themselves navigating uncharted territory, because they knew too much, had less freedom and/or were all too aware of management incompetence.

Even if you have a good job, it can be tempting to consider these options. Often clients say, “I just want to take a lower level job. I’ll be less stressed.”

The truth is, senior executives tend to be less stressed than workers on lower levels. That’s because they have more control over their time, more variety and more rewards for results. That’s why I rarely encourage my own clients to consider taking a step back, without a lot of serious consideration.

You’re overqualified for a job when…

... you keep looking for more work to do and volunteer for more challenging opportunities, but you don’t get a positive response. In fact, your boss might seem a little annoyed. 

... you’re actually running the department (and doing some of your boss’s job) and everyone’s comfortable with this arrangement.

... you used to find the work enjoyable and engaging  (maybe as long as five years ago) but now it’s become routine and boring.

... you’re doing better than most of your peers, to the point where you stand out (not in a good way) and they even call you a “rate-buster” in their least kindly moments.

... you’re growing out of the job, not into the job: you’re teaching more than you’re learning

It’s important to interpret these steps accurately. For instance, some companies expect you to take on higher-level tasks for awhile before you get promoted to the next position; that is, you’re doing the job before you get the title.  If you’ve never found the work enjoyable, you might be in the wrong field altogether.

Finally, some people are novelty-seekers: they need to choose careers where they get lots of diverse activity, such as travel or assignment to a variety of projects.

Often it’s better to think of starting your own business rather than taking another position. That’s why starting your business is often the closest thing to career insurance. 


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