I have a PhD and whenever I apply for a librarian job I am told that I am overqualified for this position. How can I overcome this barrier?

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    I'm curious about why a librarian job, unless Library Science is your field. Is it just the general economic situation in your country? A bit of additional information might lead to more helpful answers. – Buffy Dec 15 '19 at 16:14
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    It should be obvious to someone with a PhD that not mentioning you have a PhD solves this problem. – Based Dec 16 '19 at 8:54
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    @Based I had the same problem several years ago (not quite as bad, though, because there are challenging "developer" positions out there). In my case (Germany), not mentioning my PhD would have either left me with a four-year-gap in my CV or the CV showing four years of work at the university without the expected outcome - neither was an option.... – Sabine Dec 16 '19 at 11:42
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    @Buffy Yes. I am from a library background. – MarySaraf Dec 16 '19 at 15:13
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    I don't see how this is on-topic: it's not about academia but, rather, about trying to get a job with a particular set of qualifications. It might be on-topic at The Workplace. – David Richerby Dec 17 '19 at 1:14

When they say you are overqualified, it probably means:

  • They are afraid that someone with a Ph. D. will demand a higher salary than they can afford to pay;
  • They are afraid that you will get bored with the job and quit after a few months because the work won't be challenging / intellectually stimulating for someone with a Ph. D.

So, in your cover letter, you have to tell a good story that addresses the above two items (i.e., tell them why you know you will love this job and not get bored with it). If you search around on google, you can find many articles / blog posts giving more detail.

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    There's a third fear that may be in play here, a fear of upsetting them during rejection. other causes e.g. A lack of work experience might be replaced with overqualified on a rejection letter. "Overqualified" sounds a lot nicer when you are writing a rejection letter than "not enough experience" even when the second answer would be more useful to be told directly. – J.Doe Dec 17 '19 at 16:47
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    The first point makes no sense. So what if they demand a higher salary? They can say no, and that's the end. Or they can make a counter-offer and the applicant can accept or reject. I don't understand why this would be a problem - salary negotiation is a standard part of any job application. In my experience, it's the second point that is almost invariably given as an explanation when you ask for reasoning. – JBentley Dec 17 '19 at 17:28
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    @JBentley because there is a non-trivial cost in interviewing someone. In the best case, you have used an interviewers time, and interviewers tend to be highly placed in the organization. In the worst case, the company may pay travel expenses and use up a lot of time of several highly placed interviewers. Most companies are also reluctant to make more offers than they have positions, so a rejected offer slows the process and lengthens the time the position is open. You don't want to make those investments unless you think there is a reasonable chance you will actually hire the person. – TimothyAWiseman Dec 17 '19 at 22:19
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    @JBentley "salary negotiation is a standard part of any job application" - quite often not if you are applying for an entry-level position in a government run organization (which libraries usually are). In that case, it will be advertised as a "a Grade 3a" position, and the salary will be fixed. Even if the employer does say "no", you are still back to the other fear: that the OP will leave for a better paid job after six months. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Dec 18 '19 at 10:58
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    @MartinBonnersupportsMonica Yes, but I wasn't disputing the second fear, only the first. If the salary is fixed, then demanding a higher one doesn't enter into the equation in the first place (in relation to the first fear). – JBentley Dec 18 '19 at 12:15

Some ideas are:

Apply to better libraries. I doubt that the Bodleian Library has a problem with PhDs.

Apply for other jobs that are a good match for your qualifications. Some libraries hire Researchers, and an advanced degree might be a help there. Such people help others find obscure resources. And, of course, academic jobs are made for you. Perhaps there are high level, busy, academics who would hire you as a researcher. This could be a pathway for an academic position of your own.

Finally, I was once in a similar situation (I assume) in which jobs were very scarce at my level and was advised by a professional employment advisor to prepare a CV that mentioned my MA degree, but not my PhD. Some employers would be more comfortable hiring someone with lesser qualifications than more. Sad, but true.

I hope this is only necessary as a fill in while you work out a career that does, in fact, match your qualifications. Good luck.

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    Can you really hide a PhD from prospective employers? It is going to be difficult to explain that 3-5-year gap... apart from being dangerous if they find out later. – wimi Dec 15 '19 at 18:43
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    Actually @wimi, I questioned it at the time. I don't recommend lying if asked, but just omitting it. You can always just say you were in school, I suppose. But answer honestly to a direct question. And there are situations in which a person is fairly desperate for a job. I had two kids in a very poor market at the time. We needed to eat. – Buffy Dec 15 '19 at 18:45
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    @JohnB it is not necessarily dishonest. The lady who tends to my feet, a podiatrist, actually has a doctorate in biology. She does not advertise that fact because she thinks that it would mislead her patients if she called herself Dr, when her doctorate has nothing whatever to do with her current profession. – JeremyC Dec 15 '19 at 23:03
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    @JohnB, If I'm asked for my highest degree I have to answer PhD. If I'm ask what qualifications I can bring to the proposed position, I can answer honestly without mentioning it. Precisely because they don't consider it a qualification, but possibly a disqualification. But if I have to assume that, then I can never apply to a lot of jobs for which I'm properly qualified. – Buffy Dec 15 '19 at 23:15
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    I agree, except perhaps with the use of "CV" for this, if we're speaking American English. In the US, a "resume" is a short document listing your qualifications, accomplishments and skills most relevant to the position, so it would be a mistake to list an irrelevant degree. A "CV" to me would usually mean a document for academia listing all education, all publications, all conference participation, etc etc, but presumably this non-PhD-listing document was not one of those. – Kevin Carlson Dec 15 '19 at 23:25

I've seen this a few times where hiring panels have given the response of 'overqualified for the position' as a slightly dishonest cop-out answer to avoid giving more accurate feedback. In these cases, what is actually meant is 'we don't think your academic experience is valuable in this workplace environment, and may actually be detrimental'.

Note that I'm coming from an engineering/computer science perspective, and experiences may be different in other fields, but often there is a stark difference between academic and commercial practices in the same industry. Someone who has advanced to the point of achieving a PhD may be seen as being too ingrained in the academic world to adapt to the commercial environment. This could be the balance between doing their work perfectly and doing their work quickly, for example.

The other case is sometimes that a person is very qualified in an academic sense, but has very little workplace experience, even outside of the industry they're qualified in. Some academics have never worked outside of a university, and there is a good chance that someone who has never worked at any job will take quite some adjusting to a working environment. This is a risk employers can avoid by hiring someone less academically qualified (if the qualifications are unnecessary) but with more working experience.

It sounds like in your case, you're applying for a role where your PhD isn't valued, so you may need to explore what else is on your resume. Would your resume impress a prospective employer even if your PhD wasn't mentioned at all? Have you included things that will be valued - such as working experience, even if not in the industry you're applying for? This could be part-time work done while you were studying, particularly any internships or secondments.

Lastly, it could be helpful to demonstrate (either through an application letter or in an interview) that you understand what the daily duties are of the role you're applying for, and importantly how they are different from your experiences in academia.

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    Anecdotally, I would argue that the engineering/computer science fields are unique in that anyone can be a "qualified professional" anymore given enough time and money. The hiring world for CS positions is much, much different than most other fields. The market is saturated and it's been proven time and time again that, unfortunately, a degree doesn't equate to skill (and vice versa). – Qix - MONICA WAS MISTREATED Dec 17 '19 at 10:52

You could simply leave the fact that you have a Ph.D. off of your résumé:

  • If your Ph.D. was 100% inside a university, you could mention it as work/internship (it that matches the contract you had).

  • If your Ph.D. was done in cooperation with a company, you can simply mention your experience at the company.

  • For someone applying for a librarian job a gap in the CV doesn't seem inadmissible either.

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    Leaving a PhD off of a CV is basically lying, a CV should contain all info about your academic background. – eps Dec 17 '19 at 16:13
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    @eps Your CV should contain everything you want your employer to know. Nothing less, nothing else. Leaving a PhD off your CV isn't lying. It just doesn't matter for the position. – Roberto Dec 17 '19 at 16:25
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    This is terrible advice, to say the least. – gented Dec 18 '19 at 9:13
  • @eps It would be lying if the job application form specifically asks for "the highest degree you hold" or something similar. If the employer asks you to "describe your education", or you simply provide a CV, you're free to mention only the parts you deem relevant. – Dmitry Grigoryev Dec 19 '19 at 7:40

Well, the resume should be tailored to each individual job you apply for anyways, because you are trying to use it to show yourself in the best light with relevance to each individual position.

So the question is, is your PhD relevant to the librarian position? If it is, I'd leave it on there and see how you could leverage the skills to stand out among other candidates for the librarian position. But most likely it isn't, so you'd be better off leaving it off the resume, especially if you could easily replace it with something that is (much) more relevant to the librarian position that you are applying for.

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    Agree, but might be subtle, though. You have to do some research into the organization to guess. But you should do that research anyway. – Buffy Dec 17 '19 at 21:49

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