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The Worst Best Criticism: When potential employers think your MA is not OK

I have an MA degree in Communication and Culture. This is undoubtedly something that I am quite proud of. However, I am applying to entry to mid-level positions in the media and an MA is never a requirement. Throughout my job search I have grappled a bit with the question of how prominently to showcase the masters degree on my applications.

I started out putting my education first on my resume before I realized that my work experience was more impressive to the types of jobs I was applying. I downgraded my education on the second page, but then friends who I got feedback on my resume kept telling me that my masters was most impressive and that I should put it first. I felt however, that hiring managers taking their first glance would see that and might get turned off. I really want to convey, more than the fact that I’m well-educated, that I have a lot of experience, I am a very hard and reliable worker and I am willing to do things that aren’t as “sexy” or high-level, but necessary to gain experience and carve out a place for myself. On the other hand, an MA degree proves that I am capable of a lot of commitment, hard work, independence, and all sorts of other good qualities higher education can also convey. A compromise I came to was mentioning my degree first and only briefly in my “relevant skills” section, but keeping my education on the second page. I have been happy with this arrangement up until now.

Very recently, a few things have happened that have opened up this question again. My friend, an account supervisor at one of the better ad agencies suggested I move my “solid education” to the front of the resume. This brought up again this question of emphasizing the academic qualifications. But also lately, I have gotten a few responses on my resume saying that I am over-qualified. They think I would be “too smart” for or “bored” in the position.

Most recently I had an interview with the COO of a company where they were about to offer me the job, but meeting him was a formality before the offer. He wasn’t completely familiar with my resume and I don’t think saw a cover letter. He was meeting me and basically judging based on a quick resume glance and the fact that I look young. He seemed actually turned off because of my higher education and somehow had the impression that I did not have very much work experience. My over four years of working were outlined, but I assume after seeing my MA, he glossed over the rest. This is the kiss of death that I have been dreading all along. He was more interested in my “down-to-earth” jobs like waitressing or working in a record store, which I did not have room to list on my already jam-packed two-page resume, but he thought were essential for him to know about. I was lucky to have the opportunity to be in the final stages of hiring and speaking with him face-to-face and I was able to outline all my work experience, including the “joe” jobs, and was able to sound quite impressive and hard-working. However, if this was based purely on my resume and cover letter, would my application just be dropped in the “no” pile without a second thought? Probably.

So after giving it more thought, I have decided the only thing I can do is anticipate people worrying that I’m over-qualified by emphasizing my willingness to slog it out and perform necessary lower level tasks, with the expectation of moving up in the future in my cover letter. I’ve decided to keep the short mention of the MA at the beginning and the details on the second page after my work experience. Hopefully this will pique the interest of hiring managers with openings that have potential for growth and they will want to meet me so they will see that I’m down to earth and eager to work hard and prove myself. If the hiring manager looks at an MA as a detriment, that is quite ridiculous, they are missing out, and the company is probably not the right fit in this case anyway.

1 Comment

  1. I have been going through the same situation, over qualified or you get bored. I did MBA which is equivalent to BBA, major in HR & Finance, worked my way up as Manager HR in a Non-profit organizations, after immigrating to Canada, i started taking courses to conceptulize the things specially employment law and health & safety etc, hoping to find something after writing my CHRP knowledge exams this october.

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