Life as an overqualified job seeker

Today’s guest is Ronan Kelly, from last week’s Generation Y episode How to find your dream job. No need to introduce him, since we invited him to tell his story. Which is quite inspiring…

Looking back to 2006 and to the moment when I was required to choose what I wanted to study in college, I can say with absolute certainty that I never would have thought I’d be where I am now. My career is not of a linear progression and I put that down to realising my passions and goals for the future later in life than most people.

Big decisions made too early:

young RonanThe moment I refer to was when the College Applications Office (CAO) in Ireland required me to fill out my college course choices list at the age of 17. Applicants had the ability to fill out ten courses at level 8 (higher degree) and ten at level 7/6 (ordinary degree). The problem was, I couldn’t choose one course in the first place, let alone 20 others!

My father is an accountant and has worked for many years in the world of business. That type of work just wasn’t appealing at the time and I remember saying (much to my embarrassment now) “I don’t want to be a suit!” like a child refusing to dress formally for a big day out. Defiant with that statement of intent, I decided upon a job that related to a subject I enjoyed in school (biology) and a career outdoors, Environmental Management (EM).

I studied EM for four years in Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) where I made great friends but around the three year point, doubts crept into my mind about whether I actually enjoyed it enough to make it a lasting career. Nonetheless, I graduated in 2010 with all these doubts hanging above me. It is a bad position to be in as your attempting to remove yourself from the square shaped hole your slotted yourself in over four years ago.

As the environmental sector is enormously broad, I attempted to pivot myself into the only sector I was interested in, energy. You see, the problem with EM is that no one on the outside quiet knows what it is or what they actually do unless they have worked with one before. I envied those that were studying engineering or accountancy as everyone knows what they are immediately and they don’t get the blank faces I did upon explaining my position to them. Misunderstandings aside, I was determined to get to where I needed to be and in September 2010 I began an unpaid internship as a Graduate Analyst with the Irish Energy Regulator (CER) which lasted 9 months.

I thought you said you weren’t a suit?


This was my first experience of working in an office environment and much to my parent’s amusement I was required to wear… a suit! Aside from the fact I was a walking contradiction, I enjoyed my time there. I worked in areas like customer care and electricity retail markets which showed me that the smallest of changes to fuel prices or legislation had a wide effect on society.

My work led me to believe that if I was to secure a full time role in the energy industry a business background would be a requirement. In most cases the EM side of me was still being met with blank faces and that type of science had limited use in that kind of workplace. Three months following the end of my internship with the CER I began a Masters in Business and Entrepreneurship in DIT again which lasted a year up to September 2012.

Introduction to the world of entrepreneurship

Most business people will probably put their heads in the hands when I say this, but what initially sparked off my real interest in business was when I watched The Apprentice television show. It was dynamic, creative, entertaining and on the surface it showed how it could empower people to do what they were capable of. All warrior/lone ranger descriptions, acts for the cameras and delusional proclamations by the contestants aside, it’s what appealed to me. I can remember this initial interest began around the time I doubted my EM college course choice.

I consider the decision to choose that Masters over other ones to be the best decision I have made in a long time as it was like a dormant switch flicked on inside my head. Only five years prior I was uninterested by the things I was doing as part of my coursework and enjoying how much I was improving upon them from earlier education. Despite entering college with a career in the environmental sector I left wanting to work in business or at least start my own business.

Job search frustrations

As aforementioned, I finished that Masters in September 2012 and regardless of having all these qualifications and experience I was still working as a shop supervisor in my local convenience store. I was becoming extremely frustrated with how things were playing out as I had completed a four year degree, worked for nine months unpaid in a government office and completed a Masters in Business. So I kept having to ask my self “why was I not getting noticed?”

I was willing to take anything at all to get me out of the shop that I had been in since I was 16 yrs old to show I was progressing my career, so I took a job as… a debt collector! This involved me calling people and ‘reminding’ them that they owed other businesses credit for various things and it dawned on me that taking any job was not a solution, so after only five hours I left it.

I often have to explain to people that I left it not because of a moral hazard but because of the people around me. They were uninspired twenty-somethings only too happy to do the regular 9-5 hours and to me it was going to be soul destroying being in that environment everyday. It was the first time I had ever left a job and that did not sit well with me as it was a foolish to quit a job and start another one that deep down I knew wasn’t right for me. It was a case of being frustrated with how everything was playing out and knowing that I owed it to myself to work somewhere that I could excel and not just do average work.

No job, gap in the CV and bank balance running down – time to panic?


At this point I was in a bit of a panic as I spent the next month and a half job hunting to no avail. I went to a graduate recruiter’s exhibition and I saw the application for the Corkscrew 28 Day Programme. When I learned more about it I really wanted to be accepted to go over. To my delight, I was accepted and it was something that allowed me to put what I had learnt in college into practice, in another country, with like minded people from other nationalities and backgrounds. Personally it done a lot for me as it kick started my brainstorming for ideas and creativity which not for it, I’m sure would have been lost or taken a long while to get going again. The workplace, the dynamic ways of getting work done, the energetic people, that’s the type of place I wanted to be working in for a long, long time.

Are you with a recruitment agency?

In the past couple of months I have been asked by people who heard I was looking for work whether I was with a recruitment agency and I was but not like you would normally expect. The week before I had been due to leave for Exeter and Corkscrew, I got a call from someone who owned a recruitment agency. He heard I was looking for work so I thought the agency was being used to find me a suitable position with one of their clients but it transpired he wanted me to work for him. I just sat there thinking to myself, “I want to get a job, not other people one!”. Nothing to lose and skills to be gained, I began there on a part time basis in January and it involved a lot of cold calling and searching for all sorts of candidates as you would expect.


Being on phones all day and calling strangers is something that I know I am not suited for. I have friends that are brilliant at this line of work and I have much respect for them as it takes a lot of rejections and a bruised ego to get the breakthrough. What kept me sane is that the skills of cold calling and persuading people of things is everything a businessman needs in his skill set so I kept with it, as you don’t learn inside your comfort zone. However, it wasn’t where I wanted to be as I know I can offer so much more and it felt like I was mentally chained into doing certain things rather than putting my other skills to use.


This leads me to ask, is that what it means to be a graduate now? Let’s say you haven’t been successful in getting on a graduate scheme or found a successful placement, must you take anything that pays? Yes, you will be financially secure but is that worth being miserable and feeling like you should be elsewhere every time that alarm goes off before work every day. When does that change from going into the job you dislike to the one you enjoy?

Talking about it to Elza Gonçalves (Generation Y’s reporter) and having to admit that I wasn’t happy in recruitment felt frustrating and all to familiar to when I began work as debt collector. Adding to that same week, I received a rejection for a job I went through numerous selection stages for and thought I done well with. That was a tough week and I had to really evaluate where I was going.

The future

What may surprise people is that I’m glad these things have happened. It has made me realise what I want out of a career and where my strengths lie. Twice in the space of a year I have taken two jobs that I should never have went for and now I’m setting out to do what I enjoy. Whilst working in the recruitment agency and realising that I wouldn’t be there for the long term, I began working on a business idea in my free time with one of the other participants I met in Corkscrew, Sean.

We began to get the idea moving and now that I’m free to do so, I’m full time in our start up. As I am nearly 25 now, I can’t be living under my parent’s roof for much longer and I’ve been telling my mother (who is now looking at me more like a roommate than a son these days) that I would either find a job or create one. Yes it’s a risk, not just in monetary terms but time. Whatever happens with this start up I know that I’ll come out far more experienced than if I had just sat at the desk on phones all day. Think big, do what you’re passionate about and don’t settle for less in finding that dream career.

You can keep up to date with our start up at:



3 thoughts on “Life as an overqualified job seeker

  1. This is a great story and one that I feel so many other entrepreneurs can relate to on different levels. Knowing when something isn’t a right fit, like when you quit a job after just 5 hours, takes guts but it is also critical to moving your career toward your goal. Don’t waste any more time than you have to doing a job you hate! Thanks for sharing this story.

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