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“You’re Overqualified” – Tackling the Perception and Reality

If you have years of experience, if you are an accomplished manager or if you’re a young professional with multiple degrees, you’ve likely experienced being told you are overqualified.

“Well it seems like you have some great experience, but…”

There it is. The dreaded “but.” If you’ve applied for a job that isn’t a lateral move, or a move up the corporate ladder, you likely know what comes next: “…but this position is definitely beneath you and you’ll be bored with it.”

Whether the hiring manager addresses you with the comment directly during an interview, or simply thinks it before discarding your resume, the end result is the same: you don’t get the job. You don’t even get the interview. To successfully land the position you want, you must overcome both the perception and reality of this common objection.

The Perception

In order to get an interview, position your career and experience to minimize the appearance of being overqualified.

Your Resume
Since resumes are marketing tools, it’s easy enough to frame your history to create a better impression. However, always be accurate with the facts. For example, you can easily remove early-career roles that have nothing to do with your current job search. You could also eliminate the dates of your education. Once in the interview, you can explain the holes and pitch why you are a perfect match for the role.

LinkedIn / Social Networking Sites
After making any changes on your resume, be sure your public profiles (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) match up. In today’s market, expect employers and recruiters to verify everything. If you need help updating your LinkedIn profile, check out this helpful blog.

If you have more degrees than a thermometer, it may be wise to remove the least relevant ones. For example, if you’re applying for a Director of Finance role and you’re currently VP Finance with a BS, MBA, MSF, CFA, or JD, you may not need so much horsepower to be considered. Keeping just the BS and MBA likely won’t scare your prospective employer away as much.

If an employer performs a background check, you’ll have nothing to worry about since everything on your resume is factual. They won’t be contacting your JD alma mater since it’s not on your resume.

The Reality

Once you get past the screening process, be ready to address the “overqualified” question head on.

You’ll be bored
It’s important to highlight the exciting parts of the job you’re interviewing for and not give the impression that you could walk in and do this role in your sleep. Explain which aspects might require a learning curve and provide examples of your ability to come up to speed quickly.

For example, we often advise more seasoned candidates to search for roles they can handle but may be in a slightly different industry or a completely different sector. As companies hone in on the best candidates for the role (and organization), they may consider a more experienced candidate who will need to pick up some of the nuances of their industry and at the same time be qualified enough to drive it.

The role is beneath you
Here you might explain you are in a different stage in your career and have been operating at full throttle for the past 10-15 years. Now you (have young children, want to work from home or are looking for a more flexible schedule) and are seeking better work/life balance. Although you’re willing to put in the hours to get the job done, you no longer need the workload and responsibilities you once had.

You may also discuss how you no longer want the headaches of management and are looking to be more of an individual contributor, meeting goals and achieving deliverables.

You will be looking to leave the new role quickly
A way to deflect this is to describe what attracted you to this particular company in the first place. They may be in growth mode and could take advantage of someone with a broader range of experience. It could be you’d like to be involved with their cutting-edge technology and you’re willing to take a half step back to gain the experience. Or, you may choose to work for a company or non-profit whose mission is personally inspiring.

If the company is a startup, explain you’ve never had an opportunity to help build a company from the ground-up. You can then stress how your experience with strong growth in prior positions can be a valuable asset to them.

In general, being overqualified can be a difficult stigma to overcome, but it’s not insurmountable. By positioning yourself appropriately while remaining honest and factual, the odds are you can land the right job.

Photo credit: Canva

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