Overcoming Overqualification

Woman working at home on laptop

Most of us spend so much of our careers trying to prove we have the right skills to get a job or a promotion that it seems impossible to imagine we will reach a point where having such great qualifications could be an impediment to getting a job. And, yet, time and time again seasoned professionals hear they aren’t moving forward in an interview because they are “overqualified”.

The unfortunate reality is that the longer you stay in your career, the more senior you become, which leads to fewer positions more senior to your current role that you will be able to move up into. So when you are ready for a new challenge, to re-enter the workforce or just want to leave a work environment that’s no longer working for you, you may find yourself falling into the “overqualified” bucket. Don’t fret though. There are ways to position your qualifications as an asset and not a negative.

Read on to learn more about what causes the concerns around overqualification and how you can put hiring managers’ minds at ease to move forward in the interview process.

What’s the concern about overqualification?

Concerns around overqualification:

▶️ Looking for something better

▶️ Need a higher salary than is standard for the role

▶️ Your experience will expose gaps in the current system

▶️ Won’t like having a younger supervisor

▶️ Aren’t interested in prioritizing workplace responsibilities

Anytime an applicant is considered overqualified, hiring managers/employers tend to be suspicious of their motives for applying for the role. There are a lot of variables into why they could be concerned. They might think you are interested in this role as a temporary stop while you look for a better job. They could think you won’t like having a supervisor younger than you. That you are looking for a job that has less responsibilities because you don’t want to pull your weight. Or that you might ask for a higher salary than the role offers. It’s also a possibility that the hiring manager is concerned that your experience will mean you’ll outshine them at work or expose gaps in their ability. 

Whatever the reason behind the decision doesn’t make a huge difference. The main thing to focus on here is how you can turn the opinion that you are overqualified around to make the hiring manager believe you are the right amount of qualified with some added bonuses to your experience.

Ease the suspicions

One of the biggest reasons overqualified job seekers get turned down is the hiring manager doesn’t understand why they are pursuing the lower position. There are a few ways to ease their suspicions at every step of the interview process, from your cover letter or Why Me? statement to the final interview.

Address it early

If you are concerned that you might not even get the interview because of being overqualified, there is no sense in ignoring this possibility. Call out your qualifications and reasons for pursuing this opportunity in your cover letter, in an email to the hiring manager, or in your communication with people you are in touch with at the company — however you can let the decision-makers know your reasons. Use the tips below to clearly communicate your intentions, ease their concerns and show that you have put thought into your application for the position.

State it outright

There’s no benefit in hiding your qualifications when they are written in black and white on your resume. If you don’t address the elephant in the room upfront the hiring manager will spend their time wondering what your reasons are for applying. They may decide that it doesn’t make sense for you to apply for the position and move on without you intervening.

State your reasons outright. You can let the hiring manager know you have certain skills or experience that are beyond what the position calls for, but you were drawn to this role. Tell them the specific reason the opportunity is appealing or challenging to you so you can make clear why this job is a good fit for you at this point in your career.

Answer the timeline question

Explain why this position is a good fit for your career trajectory and why you will be content with the position for the long haul. This small step can go a long way to putting the interviewer’s mind at ease when questioning if you are holding out for a better opportunity or not.

Showcase passion for the role and/or company

Focus your interest on the company itself or for the role. If you take the time to talk about why you're passionate about the role or the work the company is doing it will help shed some light on why you are interested in a role that is more junior than your current or previous positions.

Focus on the employer's needs

Draw a clear line between how your skills and experience fit the needs of this particular role and the employer. If you have excess qualifications for the job then make a case for how that experience can enhance your effectiveness within the role. Additionally, you can position your experience in a way that means you can assume greater responsibilities in less time than it would take to train someone else.

Think about this portion of the interview logically. The better you can show you are a logical fit for the role, the better your chance of getting through to the hiring manager.

Be flexible on salary

When you come to the table with a vast store of knowledge and experience then companies assume you’ll want to be paid commensurate with that level. In most cases, companies won’t approve a higher salary for a candidate with more experience than the role needs so be prepared to take a pay cut if you are interested in a job that is below your level of experience. 

And don’t forget to evaluate a potential job offer to make sure the salary makes sense in terms of other benefits.

Overqualification isn’t impossible to overcome

Being told you are overqualified is one of the more frustrating aspects of job searching later in your career. If you take the time to set the stage with your reasons for being interested in a particular role and how your abundance of qualifications can actually be a book for the company you can set the stage to showcase why your experience gives you an advantage over other applicants. 

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