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How to Tackle the “You’re Overqualified” Challenge


As a job seeker in a tough job market, it can be tempting, if not necessary, to take a job that is below your skill level in order to keep working. In these situations, the fear of hearing, “You’re overqualified for the position” can be a concern. The key to overcoming this hurdle is to be able to position your skills appropriately and be prepared to address the “overqualified” label head on.

Although extensive experience would typically bode well in a job search, in an economic downturn the job market is more competitive – there’s an influx of job seekers and fewer jobs to be had. Over-qualified job seekers often fall into one of several categories in the minds of hiring managers.

  • Out-of-work-and-will-take-any-job applicant: This senior job seeker is applying for a position at a lower skill level and can be seen as someone who will leave as soon as a better offer comes.
  • The incompetent applicant: This job seeker worked at the same level for longer than they should and without giving a reason why s/he never sought a promotion. They could be seen as a liability.
  • The over confident applicant: This job seeker, often older than the hiring manager, comes off as having way too many years experience and sounding as though s/he was responsible for every major accomplishment in the field.
  • The over paid applicant: This job seeker was currently earning a significant amount more than the very top of the new position salary range and is seen as someone completely out of touch with reality.
  • The over experienced applicant: This advanced job seeker has extensive experience, but wishes to return to a job with less responsibility. Without explanation s/he can be perceived as washed-up, burnt-out, or in the worst case, too old.

Combat each of these negative perceptions by adding a short statement to your job-search correspondence explaining exactly why you are seeking the position given your background. Perhaps you want to get back to doing what you enjoyed before being promoted to the next level or maybe you want to reduce your stress level at this juncture in your career. It is important to highlight why taking this step back is important to you and your overall job satisfaction, as well as what it means to prospective employers. You also want to simplify your resume focusing on skills mentioned in the job description and downplaying experience in other areas.

Be prepared and have a strategy to address the claim that you are overqualified and may get bored with the position. Rather than saying you are willing to take anything in this economy, highlight how your experience will make you an asset to the company and when the economy starts to turn around, you look forward to being able to contribute further to the growth of their organization by taking on more responsibilities. Show what you can do for the organization both now and in the future with your skills, industry knowledge, and enthusiasm.

Take salary off the table by making it clear that you are flexible about compensation. If asked if you will accept a decrease in salary, focus on the positive by saying that you are willing to take a pay cut in exchange for other benefits, such as working for a strong, stable company, a great work environment, flexibility, or the opportunity to learn new skills. You can also focus on ways in which you can save the employer money by helping to mentor less experienced workers which, in turn, will help the organization with retention and their overall succession plan.

Calling attention to loyalty when you have longevity with a past employer is a great way to show future employers that you are reliable and are not going to leave as soon as a better opportunity presents itself. Let them know you are interested in learning the business and contributing your knowledge to their organization.

Illustrate how you are the perfect candidate for the position by keeping a positive attitude, having enthusiasm and showcasing your skills without overwhelming the hiring manager with your experience, or your ego. Sell yourself, but also let your network speak for you. Nothing could be as strong as a positive recommendation from someone who knows you well.

If you feel the hiring manager still has doubts ask directly what you can do to convince them that you are the best candidate for the job. And then, if you don’t get that job, use the response to enhance your presentation at your next interview.

Click here for a list of sample answers to the interview question, “Are you overqualified for this job?”

Click here for a list of additional tough interview questions you should be prepared to answer

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