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How to Get the Job When You’re ‘Overqualified’


One of the reasons that many qualified candidates do not hear back – or do not get shortlisted in the first place – is because they are overqualified. Why would you consider a job that’s beneath your level? The reasons vary. Maybe you took a break and are now looking at reentering the job market, or you were laid off and now you need to start somewhere, or you really love the job you do, and want to stick to a similar role elsewhere. Whatever your reason, there are ways you can tackle the problem of being perceived as overqualified.

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(Photo Credit: LaPrimaDonna/Flickr)

Being overqualified doesn’t necessarily have to do with age. While years of experience is definitely a criteria, education, certifications, even previous employment history can make you seem overqualified, especially if you are applying for a job at a very small company from a very large and coveted one.

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If you are applying for a role that is not commensurate with your experience, firstly, be clear to yourself. Why are you applying for a job that does not do justice to your qualifications? Often candidates apply for positions out of desperation and that’s a big warning sign for employers. There’s always this worry that you will move on as soon as you find a job that is “right” for you. So even before you try to convince your interviewer about your reasons, assess them yourself first, and be honest.

Other reasons you might be rejected based on over-qualification include:

1. Salary expectations: Because you have more years of experience or higher qualifications than required, the recruiter or the hiring manager may assume your salary expectations will be higher, too.

2. Lack of challenge: If you have an MBA in finance with over eight years of experience as the finance manager for a reputable company, and are applying for a job that requires basic bookkeeping skills, that’s a clear mismatch. Obviously you had better challenges in your past job and this new position will not keep you as engaged as your hiring manager would want you to be.

3. Mismatched expectations: Sometimes, an advertised job just doesn’t have growth opportunities or a clear next level. If, during the interview, you let the hiring manager believe that you will prove yourself in the present role and take it to the next level in no time, when there is no next level, you might find yourself out of the running.

4. You have more experience than the hiring manager: If you are better qualified than your hiring manager, then that could lead to a lot more complications like ego clashes, bigger differences of opinion, and so on. The interviewer might then decide not to shortlist your resume.

5. You do not have direct experience for the job: Maybe the job you’re applying for is similar to one that was a part of your responsibilities when you were holding a bigger position. If you were overseeing another person working on the job, you may not have in-depth knowledge about the role. That’s another reason for rejection, right there – the current job description asks for you to have hands-on experience, to know the ins and outs of the trade and the complexities and challenges that come with it, and you may just not have that.

Here’s what you can do in your job search:

1. Work on your resume. Make it relevant. Information that does not help in your job search does not have to be there. Customize your resume according to the job needs.

2. If you are have weighed your reasons and are sure that you want to apply for the job, be honest with your interviewer. Try to address the concerns that he or she might have in your cover letter. Your intention is to get an interview at this stage – so try your best to get the call. Assuage their fears upfront. “I have worked at several roles of increasing responsibility but find that my true passion lies with XYZ and am prepared for the challenges that come with it.”

3. Also take into consideration how much of a pay cut you are willing to take. It takes a long time to come back to the salary level you are at, if the job you are applying to pays less than half of what you currently make or recently made.

4. Tap into your network. If you have an advocate within the company, that’s possibly the best way to get a call. If it is possible, have your network refer you into the organization.

5. Don’t get into a lower role as a stop-gap arrangement, or do it only if you absolutely have to. If you are exploring a completely new role or have been laid off and the position you held no longer exists, then starting fresh may make sense, but don’t do it out of desperation. It doesn’t help you or your employer in the long run.

6. Sell your experience as requisite for the job. Offer your additional skills as “good to have” for the organization. Set yourself apart in a positive way, rather than as a misfit.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever been branded “overqualified”? What did you do to land an interview/job? Share your experiences below or join the discussion on Twitter.

Padmaja Ganeshan Singh
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