How to Handle a Job Search Where They Say You Are Overqualified
By: Cate Murray | Updated: 2021-12-10 | Comments | Related: More > Professional Development Interviewing
You applied for a job you were really excited about and know you have the required experience, only to be told that you're overqualified and thus won't be considered for the role. Is this something you have experienced? Sound frustrating? Well of course it is, especially if you know you were a great fit for the job at hand and it was something you wanted to pursue.
In this article, let's focus on the reasons this may be happening and how to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future. When examining the why, we need to look at both perspectives: from the hiring manager/client point of view and from the candidate point of view.
Candidate Point of View:
As a candidate, what can you be doing throughout the application and interviewing process to ensure you don't hear the words "you're overqualified" or "we're concerned this would be a step down for you?"
1 - Communicate Interest
It's not enough to communicate your interest and excitement during the interview, rather it's something that must be done throughout the entire hiring process. Seriously think about why you are interested and excited for this role? Doing so and effectively communicating that throughout the hiring process helps alleviate client concerns from the beginning. Are your reasons for applying and interest level consistent throughout? Maybe you are changing careers or maybe you are currently a manager over a team and want to be an individual contributor again. Whatever the reason, it's imperative that it's communicated from day one. It's easy for hiring managers to look at a resume and say, "this person has 20 years of experience there is no way they're going to want to do this job!" But if you can explain the why behind your interest, it will only help your cause. Be specific about what responsibilities you're excited to dive into and why.
2 - Transparent Communication
Are you working with a Recruiter? If so, have an honest conversation with them about your resume and the jobs you're interested in. Hopefully they have a strong grasp on the requirements so that you can fully understand the role you're applying for. Once you have that understanding, effectively communicate how it matches your experience. This is also a great time to ask them about your resume and/or overall experience. Do they think it's a concern? What guidance can they give you based on their track record supporting this client/Manager?
3 - Make Resume Tweaks
Are there certain adjustments you could make to your resume that would aid in your overall candidacy? I speak to a lot of hiring managers on a weekly basis. I'm here to tell you that no one will read a 10-page resume. The majority of hiring managers look at the first page to gauge interest – this is prime real estate – and many do not go beyond that. I know some manager's what will automatically rule out candidates that have more than 3 pages. With this in mind, how closely does your first page of your resume fit the job description and requirements? If you're someone with 10+ years of experience, I strongly recommend you condensing outdated experience into one line with the client's name, job title and dates you were there. Unless it is critical to the role you're applying for, cut out irrelevant and outdated work history!
On the prime real estate note, if you are someone with extensive experience, what tweaks could you make to your resume to clearly show on the first page that you've successfully done those specific responsibilities? For example, I would recommend leaving out an intro that says, "Database Administrator with 15+ years of experience" and shifting to something like "Experienced Database Administrator". Unfortunately, calling out number of years can shock some folks into thinking you're overqualified without taking time to learn more about your skills. Is this fair? No, but it's the reality just adjust accordingly.
Remember that you are your best advocate! Equip the Recruiter with what they need to know to ensure the hiring manager is viewing you in the best light, and this includes giving them information on why a role you're pursuing is appealing to you and that it's what you're looking for in your next opportunity.
4 - Submit Relevant Recommendations
Getting strong recommendations via LinkedIn and/or featuring them on your personal website, etc. is always a top tip for effectively branding yourself during a job search. They can also be helpful in cases like these scenarios. Identify which previous co-workers, Managers, end clients, or other key stakeholders who've seen the work you've done that align with the jobs you're applying for, and ask them if they'd write you a recommendation around that work you did. Then share those with the recruiter and/or hiring manager to reinforce your qualifications and your interest in doing that type of work.
Hiring Manager Point of View:
From my experience, these are the main reasons candidates have been deemed "overqualified" for a role from the clients I've supported.
5 - They're Worried You'll Leave
You have more than enough experience to do the job, so they're worried their role is temporary and you'll jump at the first opportunity. How do you combat it? It goes back to what we talked about in number one: you must consistently and effectively communicate your interest in the role/team/organization from the beginning. Have you always wanted to work in their Industry? Are you passionate about their mission due to a personal reason? Did you make a career change only to find out you truly loved what you were doing previously? Those are all fantastic reasons, and if communicated effectively, will alleviate any concerns in the mind of your future employer. Always remember what you bring to a role and to an organization and be passionate about it! Need more? Make sure to execute on tip #4 above and ask your references to speak specifically to your commitment and loyalty, in addition to skills!
6 - They're Worried You're Set in Your Ways
Employers want employees that are adaptable and open to change, and it's been frequently communicated to me that "I want to hire someone we can mold into our company and technical environment." There is the saying that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." For the record, I disagree with that statement because I believe that most people, with the proper training, support, and opportunity, genuinely want to learn new things and expand their skill set. But not everyone has this mindset. Therefore, be excited and vocal about what you want to learn and how this role will afford you that opportunity. Being flexible, humble, and open to learning opportunities will show that you are an ideal candidate. As a bonus tip, I'd encourage you to look at the job description and determine from that and/or the Recruiter "what are the top 3 skills/technologies this Manager is looking for?" Then spend an hour or two on each of those if it's been a while since you've worked with them.
7 - They're Intimidated by You
It pains me to write this, but it's true. I've personally experienced a hiring manager turning a candidate down because "they know way more than me and would probably try to take my job". Awful, isn't it? Honestly that candidate probably dodged a bullet because ultimately that is not an environment or culture that you want to be a part of. I don't know about you, but I want to work in an environment where I'm supported and surrounded by people with different skills and work experiences, so I can learn and grow.
Being deemed overqualified is especially frustrating when you know you have a lot to bring to the table. Here are a few things to remember to hopefully avoid this in the future:
- Communicate interest level and excitement from the beginning. If a position seems beneath you, explain the why behind your interest and how your skills and experience line up well. Be consistent with this communication throughout the hiring process.
- If working with a Recruiter, ensure you understand the job well so you and the Recruiter can effectively explain how it matches your skills and experience.
- Alter resume as needed. This goes without saying, but you do need to make tweaks to your resume for every job you're applying unless they are identical. Check out this article for more hints on beating the ATS (Applicant Tracking System).
- Get rid of irrelevant and outdated work history and work on getting your resume to 2-3 pages. Remember that the first page is the most important and managers/recruiters/talent acquisition folks are reviewing for 6 seconds before deciding if they want to move forward!
- Show a willingness to learn. Even if you have double the experience the client is looking for, all employers are eager for employees that are adaptable, coachable, and willing to learn new things.
- Have references on hand that show your commitment, skill level, and expertise!
- Address the situation head on and practice your response if it comes up
that "I'm worried you're not going to be challenged enough
in this role" or "Aren't you targeting something more senior?"
- If you know it's going to come up, it's better to address it and explain yourself from the beginning. For example, say you're applying for a Programmer role when you've most recently been a Manager of Software Development. Your explanation might be something like, "At this point, I'm really interested in moving back into a full-time coding role. As much as I enjoy helping develop people and being part of the technical strategy, my passion will always be building great software that solves a pain point for a client. I'd still be interested in mentorship and helping to train if needed, but I want to get out of management." This is also something great to role play with a Recruiter!
About the author
View all my tips
Article Last Updated: 2021-12-10