If you’re stuck in a cab in Bangalore with Tom Friedman, you’re probably going to end up hearing about how the key to competitiveness for American workers is more education. One problem with this line of argument could be called the It Can’t Hurt fallacy: the idea that the worst case scenario for choosing more schooling is incurring direct (usually debt-financed) and indirect opportunity costs that result in no significant improvement in the graduate’s employment prospects.
The reality is quite different:
Paul Krugman’s column summarized the problems of job hunters quite well. Often overlooked is that 50 percent of the employed are dissatisfied enough with their jobs to also submit their résumés, resulting in thousands of applications for advertised jobs.
Employers use sophisticated applicant tracking software to schedule interviews with only a handful of candidates who seem a 100 percent job match. Overqualified candidates are rejected as well, practically eliminating the chance for anyone unemployed to take on a lesser job.
In the past, an applicant could “simplify” a résumé to get at least some work to pay the bills. This doesn’t seem to work anymore, as recruiters do Web searches that can easily reveal an applicant’s advanced education and skills.
(Referenced Krugman column is here.)
I see this all the time in the legal world: people find that getting a JD actually hurts their job prospects, not just because they can’t get jobs as lawyers (48% of the national class of 2012 didn’t have real legal jobs nine months after graduation), but because, despite self-serving claims of legal academic administrators and faculty that a law degree is “versatile,” most non-legal employers consider a law degree either a negative or a flat disqualification for a job candidate. (Perhaps the most stark example of this is provided by paralegals who quit good jobs to go to law school, then discover that employers won’t hire people with JDs to do paralegal work).
And, as the quoted letter indicates, in the contemporary panopticon it’s becoming increasingly impractical to take a degree off your resume, while hoping an employer isn’t too inquisitive, or perhaps coming up with some acceptable-sounding explanation for the biographical lacunae. In a googled world, the discreet resume gap is ceasing to exist.
I have no idea to what extent the over-qualification trap has been or is becoming a problem for people in other graduate and professional schools, but I would be surprised if this is limited to law graduates.