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Desperately seeking over-qualified job applicants

By Tim O'Dwyer - posted Wednesday, 25 March 2009

“It’s hard to get good help.”

Comedian Bill Cosby made this timeless observation - about the difficulties for employers in securing suitable employees - in a television sitcom 25 years ago.

Cosby played a father wise-cracking about his 13-year-old son’s untidy bedroom. This scene comes to mind whenever I have a vacancy at my suburban law office.


The most recent occasion was last month when I advertised on the internet for a receptionist. Experience was not essential, but good communication and typing skills were.

Within 48 hours my office received 161 email applications.

No worries. A number of applicants disqualified themselves with less-than-impressive applications:

“My name is Jessica and i recently viewed your ad in the paper and wish to apply for the vacant position. I am a friendly person and always try to have a smile on my face. I pay attention to detail, im neat and tidy in my work…I am attaching my resume in hope that im your successful applicant”.

“Hi There, I am an 18 year old student come from New Zealand. I think I would suite this job...I have very good computer skills and think my typing is good. I would love to hear from you and about the job”.

“Im a loyal honest hard worker that learns fast. I am able to work effiecently and effectivly as an indervidual as well as a team member. My current part time job insists on good communication skills and a friendly persona, as I am sure my referees will agree, I have these mannarisms.”

A few applicants were eliminated because they lived too far from my office. Would you believe that applications came in from as far away as Melbourne and Perth? No mention of moving closer.

We also rejected several over-qualified applicants. One was a Certified Public Accountant with a Bachelor of Business, was fluent in Mandarin and promised “fast and accurate typing in both English and Chinese”. Another, with experience in public relations and sales, had a Bachelor of Arts (with Honours) from the United States, while a former legal secretary had earned her Honours degree (in Legal Studies with Business) at an Irish University. Yet another boasted a Bachelor of Science in Construction Engineering and a Diploma in Industrial Studies from Northern Ireland. The most over-qualified applicant possessed a Higher National Diploma in Tourism and a Master’s in Management, Accounting and Business from France.


Were these applicants, all in their early 20s, really so desperate for employment, or were some merely seeking a stepping stone. One young Irish (law) graduate, here on a working holiday, was admirably honest:

“I took this year to come to Australia to gain legal experience as when I return home, I will begin my training as a solicitor. I would love an opportunity to prove myself as I’m willing to start at the bottom, any tasks given to me I would give 200%, as they would only help further my career.”

Small businesses, like mine, try to offer security of employment and on-the-job training in a friendly environment. Most hope to attract good long-term help. I have been fortunate in this regard. My secretary recently retired after 19 years, my book-keeper just clocked up 20 years and my senior conveyancing clerk has been with me 25 years.

By the way, our vacancy was not a new position. Our last receptionist, six weeks after starting, took a little sick leave but never returned. She eventually resigned “for personal reasons”. We have now appointed an enthusiastic, and suitably qualified, local school-leaver.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on March 4, 2009

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About the Author

Tim ODwyer is a Queensland Solicitor. See Tims real estate writings at:

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