More job search tips; for the laid off and/or “overqualified”

Last week we discussed tips for your job search from a recruiting perspective.  I’ve received numerous comments and questions about this topic (in answer to the most common – Yes, I do offer career coaching and resume writing to individuals – just not to the individuals I encounter when I’m wearing my recruiting hat, because hello, – conflict).  Some of the specific questions and concerns I’ve heard from job searchers is a fear that they will be labeled as ‘damaged goods’ if they have been laid off and/or that they will be labeled the dreaded ‘overqualified’. So what to do?

First, let me state that these are legitimate concerns and there are several dynamics at play.  It is still the general expectation that as one progresses through one’s career, one consistently takes on more responsibility or challenges and that one’s pay increases commensurate with this.  It is also true that in the last five years, layoffs are more common than previously.  Consequently, people find themselves on the market after losing very high paying and prestigious jobs.  These people have the option of trying to find something similar to their last position or trying a new career avenue.  Sometimes, they find themselves in a place of applying for jobs below their competence or desired pay out of desperation or because they feel they are running out of options.  Ironically, when someone decides to ‘settle’ by applying for less than ideal positions and salary, they can often become even more discouraged by a lack of response from employers. If they do hear anything, it’s the dreaded ‘overqualified’. What to do?

First, the layoff question. Sad to say I do have some employer clients who still believe that valuable employees do not get laid off, (even though they often do).   If you have been unfortunate enough to be laid off maybe you question your own value.  After all, in years past it was pretty well accepted that you never let your most valuable people go, no matter what.  Let me reassure you, it happens.  It happens when the business structure changes, it happens when the business model changes, it happens when new leaders are brought in and then they bring in their cronies from their previous organizations and it happens when you’re at the top of the salary band and the company is struggling to pay its bills.  My advice is to be as honest as possible about what happened, without being disrespectful or negative towards your previous employer.  Explain the decision making process behind your situation and, if you were a senior executive, the role you played in the strategic decision to eliminate your position.  It is possible to salvage this.

As for being overqualified. If you are using your COO resume to apply for a General Manager position then you probably are being labeled as overqualified, but I would actually label you as a somewhat lazy job searcher.  If you really think it’s necessary to downgrade your career aspirations at this point (and maybe it is, but don’t be too hasty) then create a General Manager resume that focuses on those skills.  And ask for pay suitable for a General Manager.  This will greatly, greatly reduce the risk of being labeled overqualified.    

Some people use lay-offs as a platform to enter an entirely new career.  This is more typical when there has been a significant severance but not always.  When this happens you often do need to start from scratch.  In this instance, I’d suggest a functional resume, where you take any transferrable skills you can and re-purpose them to your new endeavor.  There is a reality here that you may need to scale back your compensation expectations if you are not trained or experienced in the new line but this is often just a temporary situation, as you do have life experience under your belt to help you learn new skills quickly.

If you haven’t been on the job market in a long time, you do need to know the landscape has changed.  Here are some very general Do’s and Don’ts to get you started with basic resume/online etiquette. 


  • ·Proofread your resume and follow these generally accepted standards
    • Keep it to two pages or less
    •  Ensure there is [sic] absolutely no typos or grammatical errors
    •  Use attractive and consistent formatting
  • Include a cover letter every time and tailor it to the job for which you are applying
  • At least try to determine the name of the hiring manager
  • Do some research on the company.  LinkedIn and Google are the bare minimums.
  • On that topic, make sure you regularly update your LinkedIn profile and your resume…AND that they match each other
  • Join as many relevant networking groups as you can (more on this to follow)


  • Do not allow job search boards to create a canned resume for you.  They look terrible and generic.
  • Don’t use the same resume and cover letter for every job for which you’re applying. 
  • Don’t address your cover letter “Gentlemen”.  This actually happened to me this week.  This is a terrible idea for many reasons.  As it happens, I was recruiting for a woman-owned business, which is very apparent if one does the bare minimum homework. 
  • Don’t use your personal email if it is unprofessional or hints at illegal or unethical activity
  • Don’t apply multiple times to the same posting.  It makes it look like you are not paying attention

Hopefully this is helpful.  Please reach out with any questions to


By Carrie Maldonado

Carrie Maldonado, is an organizational development consultant, author, and speaker. Carrie's eclectic mix of professional interests include writing, speaking, coaching, and consulting on topics ranging from organizational behavior management to spiritual transformation in and out of the workplace. Carrie lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her patient and long-suffering husband and their three children.

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