What to do when you’re told you’re overqualified for a job
Sometimes having all the experience—and then some—can make it harder to land the position you want.
Being told you're overqualified for a job can feel like someone telling you you're too awesome to date. Come again? You've got the experience of multiple jobs and years of workplace know-how under your belt—how can that possibly be an impediment to getting a job?
“This shouldn’t be a barrier [to employment], but often is,” says Cheryl Santiago, a career transition coach at GetHiredCoach.com.
Hiring managers might figure you’re using this job opportunity as a temporary gig until a more senior position opens up elsewhere, or that you expect to earn a salary that’s commensurate with your experience. But just because a hiring manager thinks you look too good on paper doesn’t mean you’re out of the running.
Overcome your overqualification with these tactics.
Don’t tiptoe around it
In your cover letter, address your experience mismatch outright. “Say you know you have certain skills or tenure that are above and beyond what the position calls for, but that you are looking for an additional type of challenge or opportunity,” says Alexandra Levit, a business speaker and author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe.
Not addressing the elephant in the room is a mistake, Levit says. “You aren’t making clear why the job in question is actually a good fit at this point in your life,” she says, “and all the hiring manager can think is, ‘It doesn’t make sense that this person is applying.’”
Focus on your interest in the job or company itself. Employers will be more likely to take a chance on you if you talk about why you’re passionate about the work rather than the fact that the job requires less travel or offers a shorter commute.
Emphasize your longevity
“The false assumption with overqualified candidates is that they will only take this job while they continue to search for the ‘right job,’” says Donna Shannon, president of Personal Touch Career Services. You’ll put everyone’s mind at ease if you stress that you’re in it for the long haul.
Again, use your cover letter or email introduction to explain why you want this exact job, and be upfront with the hiring manager during the interview that you understand this may be a concern—but that it’s one they need not worry about.
Be flexible on salary
One of the hurdles of bringing so much knowledge to the table is that interviewers expect you to want a commensurate paycheck. In most cases, they won’t augment the salary just because you have some extra know-how, so be prepared to take a pay cut if you want a job you could have taken several years ago.
“If the company asks about salary requirements, make sure to mention that you are flexible if the requested salary is less than what you made previously,” says Joseph Vijay Ingam, head career coach at Interview SOS in Los Angeles. “Never make it seem that the position is beneath you.”
Tap your network
Do you know someone who works for the company, or someone who knows the interviewer? Use that to your advantage. Whenever there’s an imbalance between what an employer is looking for and what you have to offer—be that too much or too little experience—knowing someone on the inside can be the key to unlocking doors.
“A marketing role opened up for one of my clients that was one level below her capability,” says Donna Svei, an executive resume writer at AvidCareerist.com. “She had been cultivating acquaintances who worked for the company through her wide circle of friends. She asked one of those people to give her resume to HR or the hiring manager and recommend her for an interview. It worked.”
Sell the advantages
Think about what your years of experience bring to the position, even if recruiters aren’t specifically looking for it. Instead of “overqualified,” view yourself as highly qualified with something extra to offer the company.
“My client positioned herself as bench strength for promotion when a next-level job opened up and reminded them that she would be there to train her replacement,” Svei says.
Emphasize that you are plenty capable of doing the job in question, and that your abundance of qualifications means you can assume greater responsibilities in less time than it would take to train someone else.
Tweak your resume
A hiring manager might think a candidate with your experience will consider some of the tasks associated with the position to be beneath them. If you’re in a supervisory role, one subtle way to address this is to take on tasks you might otherwise assign to others and list them on your resume.
“That way, prospective hiring managers will see that you aren’t so far removed from those [lower-level] responsibilities as they may have previously thought,” says Lori Rassas, a career coach and author of Over the Hill But Not Over the Cliff: 5 Strategies for 50+ Job-Seekers to Push Past Ageism and Find a Job in the Loyalty-Free Workplace.
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