Top guns lower their sights in Adelaide

by External11 Dec 2013
Malcolm King has noticed a disturbing trend in Adelaide – a preference for rejecting candidates because they are too experienced or have too many qualifications.
If you thought the job market was tough, spare a thought for applicants in Adelaide who are getting knocked back because they’re too experienced or have too many qualifications.
I run a professional writing business in Adelaide and over the last two years, I have had a stream of clients asking me to ‘dumb down’ their resumes. I hate it. Merit must be the benchmark.
Some of these are expat South Australians who are returning to Adelaide to look after ageing parents.
These are not young graduates spat out by our qualifications machines, but seasoned executives with major wins on the board in IT, marketing, construction and community services, to name just a few.
The problem is that these ‘top guns’ outshine their direct reports. Employers fear that if they hire a highly qualified candidate, they will soon leave for a better job elsewhere or worse – take their job.
So the state accrues a large number of highly qualified and experienced people who drop out of the workforce – or who like me, start their own media and professional writing businesses! But not everyone can do that.
Alex Alvarez, 31, who works in marketing in Adelaide, believes job hunters below the $100K salary range are the hardest hit.
“I have been turned down for quite a few jobs where either the employer flat out tells me I'm over qualified or they fear they would not be able to retain me at the salary they're offering - or that I'd just get bored and leave,” he said.
Alex is typical of the people we see on weekly basis and it is undermining Adelaide’s reputation as a place of executive recruitment.
For the last 30 years of so, Adelaide has witnessed an exodus of talented staff to the eastern states. We are now seeing the flight of the Boomers who returned to Adelaide to look after ageing parents. Once the parents’ pass on, the returnees leave as well. It’s a double brain drain – they leave twice.
An associate of mine has two résumés. One is her actual résumé - the one she uses to apply for jobs in line with her experience and qualifications. She has a double degree in law and business. She is highly qualified and has demonstrated entrepreneurial flair, yet she is a ‘turn off’ for employers and recruiters.
Her other resume is the one she butchered to appear less impressive. Gone are her degrees and her business experience has been watered down to a customer service role.
The reluctance of employers to hire overqualified workers may be explained by Assistant Professor Aleksandra Luksyte’s work at the University of Western Australia.
In a paper for the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology Journal, she and her team discovered overqualified people were more likely to indulge in ‘counterproductive work behaviour’.
“This doesn’t mean that companies should not hire these overqualified people,” she said. “There is research suggesting that other overqualified people perform very well. The reason some perform this counterproductive behavior is that they have performed all the essentials of the job, and then they don’t know what to do next.”
Assistant Professor Luksyte said these high achievers should be given greater responsibilities to challenge them. But as recruiters know, that is not always possible, although hiring highly skilled people in a flat market with the expectation of future growth is a good counter cyclical strategy.
Realistically, Adelaide will rarely be able to offer the salary or benefits offered in the eastern states. Recruiters sell the City of Churches on its post materialist benefits such as a relaxed lifestyle, wine and art. But it appears for career-minded expats, this is not enough.
I can count more than 100 clients in the middle salary ranges who have pitched for jobs in Sydney and Melbourne at their former pay rates over the last 18 months, and we are a small agency.
Another problem was that some of these returnees had worked in positions ‘below par’ in Adelaide just to bring money in. Some stated there was a career ‘penalty’ returning to Adelaide. I fear there will be more of these stories to come.

About the author
Malcolm King works in the area of workplace generational change and population dynamics .He also runs a small professional writing business.