If you are applying for a job for which you are overqualified, you may worry that the potential employer won't give you a chance. Sometimes in the hiring process, too much experience can work against you.
When you’re overqualified for an open position, it means you aren’t the ideal fit for the job, either because you have more skills than the job requires or because the position is entry-level and offers low pay — probably lower than someone with your experience should expect.
You might be looking for less responsibility, hours, and stress. Maybe you’re trying to get a foot in the door with a specific company. Or it could be you’re making a career change, and though you have most of the required skills, it can be hard to get a start in a new industry.
Whatever your reason, landing a job below your level of experience can be a challenge, but with a few precautions, you can make yourself the perfect candidate.
While the thought of an overqualified applicant may seem like a completely bogus idea, many HR teams and recruiters around the globe treat it as a real concept. Why? These employers worry that overqualified job seekers won’t fulfill roles adequately in the long term. They may make assumptions about your reasons for applying, how long you’ll stay, or other factors, and you’ll have to persuade them that you’ll be a good fit.
Forward-thinking employers value these individuals and want them on their team (and may even adjust positions or budgets to accommodate them). It just makes sense to bring on highly qualified individuals for any open position.
But if you think about it from a concerned employer's perspective, it makes sense that they could be worried for several reasons.
An employer may assume that an overqualified candidate will:
Try and move up within the organization ASAP and quit if that’s not possible — An employer may assume you're just looking for a way to make yourself look good by getting promoted through the ranks swiftly. By starting in a position in which you already know how to quickly master, you’ll look for promotion beyond the position in a short time, and the manager will be left to fill the job all over again.
Continue to apply elsewhere for positions that match their abilities — You may just want any job while you continue searching for a perfect match. By taking a job an employer sees as “beneath” you, they worry you may only be using their job as a placeholder while you find something more suitable. As soon as that happens, they’re back to where they started.
Want a much higher salary than is on the table for the current position — They worry the pay won’t match your expectations, and you’ll leave them for a better-paying job as soon as you find one. Even if you say you’ll accept a lower wage, once you’re forced to live with less money, you might decide you need more.
Be difficult to manage — People who have more experience than their superiors don’t always take kindly to being told what to do, especially if they think they know better.
Be disengaged and deliver a poor quality of work — If you’re downgrading your career and want less stress, managers might assume that your goal is to simply phone it in for a low-effort paycheck.
Research the company to see what kind of backgrounds they hire from. If they only hire people with no experience or fresh out of school, they may not be willing to work with anyone with a little experience under their belt.
Start with their company website. Read their About Us or Meet the Team pages to learn what you can about the company culture. This will also give you a concise picture of their hiring practices and overall mission. Have their employees worked their way up? Are managers and executives outside hires? Is there lateral movement within the company?
A company’s social media pages will also offer a glimpse of its culture. Do they value experience, or does it look like they have a high turnover? Do their employees all look young and maybe fresh on the job market? If they are, this employer may be less likely to hire someone who's “overqualified.”
Tailor your resume to each position and company. Don’t use a generic version of your resume to apply for every position. Create a new one designed for each specific job. Leave out information that isn’t directly related to the position, as this calls attention to your overqualification. Play with resume styles to create a tailored resume.
Write a cover letter that explains your reasons for wanting the position. This is your chance to speak directly to the employer or hiring manager. Their concerns may diminish if they know why you’re willing to take a job below your skill level. If they don’t know your why, they have to fill in the blanks on their own, and the negative reasons usually rise to the top.
Don’t give too many reasons — settle on one or two and explain why you’d be an asset in the position. If you’re looking for less responsibility, give a brief but positive explanation as to why. By showing your reasons in a positive light, you let the employer know you’re excited about the position and that the move is advantageous for you.
During the interview, instead of highlighting all of the accomplishments on your resume, focus specifically on roles and responsibilities that align with the potential position. Be specific and straightforward! The goal is to make yourself appear in line for that position.
When you’re overqualified, you'll likely receive a salary reduction, and it’s important to convey to the employer that you’re willing to take one. So, be sure to address the elephant in the room! Make it clear that the role is within an acceptable range for you. For example, if you were a manager in your past position, but you are now looking for an individual contributor role, make it clear you're not expecting a similar salary because you know this function has less responsibility.
Identify other differentiating aspects that point to a lower salary and what makes this acceptable to you. To an employer considering hiring someone who's overqualified, it comes across as more reasonable when they understand that you’ve considered all the angles of the downgrade. If they think there’s something you didn’t consider, something that might make you come back and ask for more money, they’ll be more reluctant to hire you, or even bring you in for an interview.
During a job interview, expect questions about why you want the job, given your experience level and skills, to come up. This is likely the first question the employer will ask, so having a great answer prepared in advance is very important.
First, acknowledge that you know you're overqualified, and next, provide reasons hiring you benefits the company. This could be that you plan to use your wide range of experience to mentor team members or help when coworkers are out, sick, or on vacation. Think about how being overqualified is an advantage to that company and sell it to them! Hiring you will cost them less money as you’ll need less training, and you’ll save them the time spent training you as well.
When you research the company before applying, determine who they are and where they need assistance. During your interview, show them that you understand their problems and outline what your experience can bring to the organization. You're at an advantage because employers know that hiring someone with more experience means the learning curve for training will be shorter and that someone with more experience at a lower price can greatly benefit them.
Just because you’re overqualified doesn’t mean you should put on the brakes and think getting the job can’t or won’t happen. Instead of seeing yourself as overqualified, view yourself as highly qualified with something extra to offer the company! And, of course, avoid thinking/acting like you are "too good" for the role.
Also, be aware that even though you are overqualified for the role, it’s not a guarantee that the job is yours based on your experience. Even though you have all that great experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean you'll land the job on that alone. You'll still need to convince the company of what you can do for them and stand out from other applicants. Show them that you want the job and you’re excited about the opportunity. And ultimately, it's your decision whether you'll accept or decline the job offer.
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