Overqualified for a Job? Here Is What You Need to Do

If you have a lot of experience, chances are you may be considered “overqualified.” This is because the employer is not looking for a candidate with decades of exposure; rather, they are looking for someone who precisely matches their required skill set. Unfortunately, being too good for a job is a real thing.

And frankly, your experience may come across as intimidating!

Before we talk about why there’s such a big bias against employees who have more experience, let me share a two-page, annotated resume cheat sheet with you based on a professional who had more than 12 years of experience in just one company. I also break down the exact steps they took to double the initial salary offer when negotiating their pay:

 

You can grab it by putting your information into the form above.

Hiring managers might question your interest in a job that you are overqualified for. However, there are numerous reasons you could be applying that hiring managers may not seem to understand:

    • You might be switching the industry you work in. Due to technological advancements, some industries offer more growth opportunities than others, and you might feel it is time to explore new avenues.

    • You might be relocating for some personal reasons.

    • You might be trying to achieve a better work-life balance. Feeling that you have too much on your plate and the hectic work life is just adding more pressure.

Being overqualified for a job puts you at a disadvantage. The employer’s skeptical of your intentions.

“Why is this person going after a job when they can 'do better’? Are they hiding something? Were they not good at what they did before? Do responsibilities overwhelm them?”

We need to mitigate any suspicions that the employer holds, or they might see you as somebody who:

Gets bored easily. 

You might have tackled challenging tasks at your previous jobs but the new position might not be as exciting as your old one. You could find the work dull and monotonous. Shifting from making strategic long-term decisions to following mundane day-to-day tasks could seem repetitive and boring.

However, you need to communicate to your employer that increased job stability and reduced workload and risk are what you value. This so-called “boring job” brings the predictability that you crave.  

Wants a promotion, stat.

You accepting a lower position could make the employers think that you will be expecting a promotion shortly. Why else would you take up a job you are overqualified for?

Well if being promoted to a higher position was your end goal, why wouldn’t you apply for that job level? You are certainly qualified for it. You will need to show how your interests align with the job requirements and how you are the perfect fit for this job.

Scroll to the bottom for a few examples of great interview responses for concerns like these.

Wants a higher salary. 

Even though you are applying for a less challenging job, employers would expect you to ask for high pay given your experience and skill set. They will be anticipating a number that reflects your market worth, rather than what the job entails.

 

When the question is raised, convey that you are more interested in the work and its nature rather than the salary. You need to show your employer that you are flexible and willing to adapt. Why else would you sign up for a job you are overqualified for?

Switches jobs as soon as a better offer comes along. 

You will be seen as someone with one foot out of the door. Having lots of experience and accepting a job that requires less could translate into trust issues on part of the employer.

You need to explain that this job is not just a stepping stone for you.

Rather, you are here to stay. You can make your case by highlighting your longevity at your previous workplaces and establishing that you are a devoted employee who can be counted on.

Struggles with taking orders. 

It is likely that your supervisor has less experience than you! They might be concerned that you will belittle their authority or that you might have a difficult time fitting in. While you and I know that you don’t struggle with taking orders or keeping up with them, it is something that you need to convince your employer of.

Refer to your track record, as it is concrete evidence of your stellar work ethic. Remind them how you are not a stranger when it comes to taking orders. After all, that is how you climbed the corporate ladder. 

So how do you work around these perceived misconceptions?

Here are some tips that can help improve your prospects of securing a job that you come across as overqualified for:

Add filters to your resume.

Take a close look at the job description at hand and see how you can talk about your career milestones so that you come across as the best-suited candidate for the job.

For example, if you were a CEO who now wants to transition back to a program management role, you probably shouldn’t mention that you managed eight departments or oversaw the acquisition of a $4B company. You should focus only on the products you developed and how successful they were.

Exclude education that is irrelevant to the job.

You might have a doctorate in the required field but the recruiter may not be looking for someone with such qualifications.

Your resume may even get automatically screened out by an Applicant Tracking System. Therefore, you should only incorporate verbiage used in the job description. It will also help make your resume ATS-compatible.

Removing older experiences. 

Folks who are overqualified for the job also tend to be older, and according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, ageism is one of the most common forms of discrimination in the United States.

Also, it is highly likely that your most recent experiences cover every competency that you need to showcase anyway, so getting rid of those or at least heavily summarizing your earlier experience won't hurt your candidacy.

Add a cover letter. 

Since the resume highlights all the hard facts, it showcases your perceived over-qualifications. Therefore, your application needs a human side, which is what the cover letter provides. It gives you a chance to focus on the qualities that the other candidates might lack.

If you need help with your cover letter, you can download my free cover letter template by putting in your information below for a step-by-step template that will help you wow even the most jaded of employers:

 

In your cover letter, talk about how you were faced with a problematic situation, the course of action you took to turn it around, and the results that it produced. Avoid merely describing yourself.

Justify why you want this job.

During the interview, address the elephant in the room. Despite being way more experienced and knowledgeable, why is this job ideal for you? More importantly, why should they hire you? You could mention any of the reasons discussed at the beginning of this article.

Whatever your reasons might be, be honest but refer to your strengths as they relate to the role you're interviewing for. When doing so, try to reiterate how you are here to stay and going to bring value to the firm. Try to think of your answer beforehand and rehearse it to avoid rambling.

Here is an example:

Give context: I was asked to take a senior position at this company to help them achieve their marketing goals.

Explain what you didn't love, and talk about what you did well: However, people leadership isn't something I enjoy, though I did do it well and hit all our goals.

Tie your passions in with the role you're interviewing for: I really missed working purely on analytics. This role gives me the chance to go back to what I love doing most – helping inform marketing decision-making using data analytics.

Highlight the advantages of being overqualified. 

Communicate how you already have the majority of skills that are required for the job. Hiring someone else will incur training costs, in terms of time and money.

You are not only equipped with those skills but are willing to train those around you. Your willingness to go the extra mile will be viewed as your dedication to the workplace.

For example:

Despite having majored in marketing management, I am familiar with numerous analytical tools. I have used SAP, Tableau, and R Programming over the course of my career. Therefore, I don't need any additional training to make informed decisions using market data. I would love to help those out those who are on my team so that the process is more efficient and the results are more insightful.

Keep it courteous. 

There is a high chance that even your supervisor, or even the person interviewing you, is less experienced than you.

I've heard horror stories of overqualified candidates laughing at their interviewer and calling them “young lady” or saying “trust me, I know what I am talking about.”

At times, your contributions could be seen as oversharing, which is why you should only make suggestions that fall in your job description.

Let them bring up salary.  

Since you are an overqualified employee, the recruiter is already apprehensive about your expectations. Whatever you had been earning may not be matched. You will have to portray yourself as someone who prioritizes work over salary. If it comes to that, tell them that you are financially stable during this transition.  Therefore, you are flexible when it comes to monetary benefits. 

However, if you feel that you can negotiate your way to a higher salary, do it tactfully. Say that you would like a number five to ten percent higher than the market competitive salary. Glassdoor is a great place to start your research and gather information on salary packages.

You will have to rationally build a case of how you are skilled for most things while others will require training. You will be saving the firm time and money. Moreover, you could also offer to help your coworkers with their assignments whenever need be.

Try to get referrals and recommendations. 

This is where your bigger portfolio and network will come in handy. A referral from someone, working within your desired company can be extremely beneficial, as your credibility is being validated by someone the interviewer knows and trusts. Additionally, a recommendation from your previous boss could also illustrate how you are a dutiful and faithful employee who can follow instructions.

If you are overqualified for a job, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get it or that you won't be great at it. You have so much more to offer than the other candidates. You just need to highlight your strengths and be flexible.

If this is something you're struggling with, you can download a copy of my interview cheat sheet below:

 

In it, I break down the seven questions almost everyone messes up and what you need to say instead.

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