My next move – balancing experience

by 26 Jun 2007

Q. I’m in a standalone HR role, so am involved with a lot of recruitment, HR admin and some HR officer duties. I have a law degree and a masters in human resource management. I’m job-hunting and the feedback I get after interviews for HR admin roles is that I am overqualified, but when I apply for HR officer roles, they say I lack experience. What should I do?

A. The first thing to bear in mind when answering this type of question is that the ‘overqualified’ or ‘lack of experience’ response to your job application is somewhat standard and can be interpreted in a number of ways. Before we address this, I think it’s important for you to evaluate your current position to determine the type of role you would prefer to move into. As you are working in a standalone position, this could be either a similar role in a team environment working within a larger organisation or attempting to make your next move upwards in your career. Either a sideways or upwards move will require a separate focus and strategy for your job search, so I would recommend that you firstly determine your preferred career path and then focus on an appropriate strategy.

Should you decide to pursue an HR administration role, your potential employer may question your salary expectations as well as have concerns that you would leave the organisation if something better came along. The best way to address these potential concerns upfront is to state reasons why you want the position. Highlight why you want to work for the organisation or particular industry and detail your willingness and flexibility concerning salary, responsibilities and commitment to the role. You should tailor your résumé and be prepared to answer questions that challenge your motivations for the position.

When applying for a role where you may lack experience, exploit transferable skills and promote any unpaid work experience, hobbies and interests that are relevant. Again, it is important that you address the selection criteria and modify your résumé accordingly.

Longer-term, it is also recommended that you identify skills gaps and aim to build upon these. For example, you could request more responsibility in your current role or look at voluntary work experience that can be added to your résumé. As you already hold a law degree and a master’s degree, I would not recommend further study at this stage unless the qualification has a direct relevance to the position that you are applying for. For example, should you wish to pursue role in learning and development then you could consider a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. However, as you seem to be looking for a more generalist role this would have no real relevance to your current job search.

I would also recommend that you register with a couple of specialist HR agencies who will support your job search. Your consultant will be able to market you directly to their clients and will be able to alleviate any concerns regarding your level of experience and motivation. They will also be able to give you an insight into what particular organisations look for and what types of candidate they will consider.

As you are in a standalone role, it is important to expand your professional network by joining professional associations, attending seminars or registering with online networking groups. This will provide you with direct access to potential decision-makers and individuals who may potentially act as mentors.

Be realistic when applying for roles and address the selection criteria on each individual position. An employer who has specifically stated that they are looking for an ‘entry level’ candidate will not consider a candidate with more than a couple of months experience and, equally, an employer looking for a HR officer who will manage a small team will be looking for a candidate who demonstrates supervisory skills. If you do not meet these requirements, it is unlikely that you will be considered.

As the term ‘overqualified’ and the phrase ‘lack of experience’ can often be generic responses to job applications, you may wish to request more specific feedback in order for you to re-evaluate your personal development. Remember, this should be approached from a self-development perspective and should not be seen to be overly challenging in nature.

By Lorna Brodie, senior hr consultant, Michael Page International