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.
After you’ve worked at multiple jobs and tucked years of experience under your belt, you might feel like you’ve got the talent and expertise to land any position you want. What you might not expect is that your abundance of know-how can actually make it harder to get a job.
“Mid-level executives who are job hunting are sometimes faced with applying for a position where they may be overqualified based on their skills and experience,” says Cheryl Santiago, a career transition coach at GetHiredCoach.com. “This shouldn’t be a barrier [to employment], but often is.”
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.
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.
Of course, if you actually don’t want to do those tasks, you may want to re-think your interest in the position.
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.
How To Write a Cover Letter When You're Overqualified for a Position
What can you do if you're overqualified for a job, but still want to apply? When the job market is difficult, there may be a shortage of jobs that you are qualified for and it can make sense to expand your job search. Or, personal reasons — such as starting a family, wanting a shorter commute, etc. — may make jobs a few rungs lower on the career ladder appealing.
If you do appear overqualified for a job, you'll need to carefully craft a cover letter to your application will be considered.
Employers are notorious for discarding overqualified candidates. That's because they're afraid that the person will be bored or unmotivated and might move on to another job in short order. Employers are most eager to hire people who will stay with the company for awhile, since hiring, training, and onboarding new employees are costly.
If your work experience or education could make you appear overqualified, it's important to construct your cover letter and resume to counteract the perception that you'll be unhappy in the position and only in it for a short period.
Explain How You Enjoyed Similar Jobs
A key factor in getting your cover letter noticed is to highlight any similar jobs you have held even if the position was not your most recent. You will need to point out why those comparable jobs were satisfying and successful experiences for you. This will show potential employers that despite being overqualified, you don't necessarily plan to move on to a more challenging role in the near future.
For example, take the case of someone who is applying for sales assistant job, but has worked most recently as an account manager or salesperson. If they have had enjoyable jobs as an assistant in the past and excelled in that role, it will be critical to highlight those experiences.
You can also consider acknowledging that you are overqualified for the position at hand, and explaining why you're still interested.
Being honest, and not letting your qualifications become the elephant in the interview room, can be helpful.
In the example above, for instance, where a salesperson is applying for a sales assistant position, the candidate might point out that she prefers organization and detail to persuasion, and then focus on her successes as a sales assistant.
As much as possible in your letter, seek to assuage potential employer concerns about how long you'd be with the company. If you've always been at jobs for several years, for instance, you can mention your loyalty and that you are eager for a long-term relationship with your next employer.
Write a Targeted Letter
A one-size-fits-all cover letter will not do in this instance. If you appear overqualified in your resume, use your cover letter to make it clear why you are actually a good match for the position. For example, maybe your experience at some high-level positions will still help and inform your day-to-day work in the current position (or can be an add-on that you provide).
It will be critical to analyze the skills, interests, and assets that an individual would need to possess in order to excel in the target job. Then, in your cover letter, use concrete examples to show how you possess these assets, and have achieved success in past jobs, volunteer work, or course projects.
Finding the right job will require you to know how to write a targeted cover letter and how to match your qualifications to a job.
If you're unsure of where to start writing a cover letter, using an example cover letter from your industry or based on your level of experience is a great place to start.
During your interview, be prepared to answer questions about being overqualified — as in your cover letter, use this as an opportunity to tell a story that shows you're a candidate who plans to stick around in the position long term.
Follow up communications after the interview should show enthusiasm for the actual content of the job. If possible ask a former colleague who supervised you in a similar role to make an unsolicited recommendation call (or send an email) to decision makers.
Having a clear strategy about how to follow up after your interviews is important, so plan one out before you walk in the interview door. When possible, adjust your follow up to include details from your interview itself.
Showing your enthusiasm for the role will help convince the interviewer that this isn't a desperate measure and that you really do want the job. The unsolicited recommendation call or email will also demonstrate your interest in the role.
It's easy to be overlooked when you're overqualified for a position but by putting a little extra effort into your application, you can show the interviewer that your interest is sincere and not fleeting or desperate.