Being overqualified

Being overqualified in a land of unemployment

by Jim Trageser
This article originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 9, 2002.

About two months ago, I get laid off as a high-paid technical writer, and figure "No problem." I can use Office, html>, PageMaker, Quark XPress and PhotoShop. I can write, edit, and do layout on anything from a basic Web site to a church newsletter or a daily newspaper. Shoot, I can even type 75 words per minute. Finding a job will be no problem — at least something to tide me over until a permanent situation presents itself.

Not one to waste time, I immediately start calling temporary agencies ... and just as immediately hit a brick wall.

Despite all their ads in the newspapers' employment section, despite all the large ads in the Yellow Pages, and despite all the listings in the online help-wanted sites, the temp agencies don't want me. Can't use me. Won't hire me.

You see, I'm "overqualified."

It took me a while to figure this out. I'd call to see about registering with a local agency, and first they'd ask me what my last job was. Once I told them, they'd hem and haw. I'd press them — ask when the next skills assessment was, try to get an appointment for a typing test.

But they just didn't seem interested.

Finally, after I refused to take "no" for an answer from one agency, the recruiter I was talking to explained her lack of interest.

"Our clients won't want a clerk or typist with a college degree; they'll worry that you'll leave soon."

But aren't you a temporary agency, I ask her?

"Yes, but today most of our clients use us to fill positions for them so they won't have to offer health insurance or other benefits. They still view these jobs as permanent — and want people who will stay."

All of which sounded sleazy as all get out, but at least I knew where I stood.

And it's not a pretty spot in which to be standing: I've got thirty years' worth of computer skills, and nobody wants to use them unless I sign over all ambition.

Anyone who's ever been down the unemployment route knows that the bills don't go away just because the paycheck does. I still had to find a way to hustle up some money. A couple of friends stepped up and slid me some work from their own accounts, and another friend who runs the last family owned golf course in the county gave me a couple days a week riding herd as marshal.

I've also picked up some work doing Web design for a couple of local nonprofits. It doesn't pay as well as writing manuals for a software company, but at least it's stable.

I've managed to scare up enough work to tide me over until that next big job comes along. And if I can't afford to take the kids out for burgers every week, at least we've got enough to make rent and car payments each month.

And if none of the work I've got now pays as well as being a tech writer, I like the feeling of doing something for a small business or a nonprofit, feeling like I'm doing something more than contributing to the shareholders' next dividend check.

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