At some point in your job search, you’ve likely felt unqualified. Maybe there’s a required skill you’re lacking, or perhaps you simply don’t feel like you have enough experience. In those cases, you’ll have an idea of what you need to achieve to reach your dream job. But what do you do when you’re overqualified?
Surely employers would love the chance to hire someone that exceeds their wildest expectations, but the opposite is often true. Hiring managers may think you made a mistake or that you won’t be fully engaged and invested in a position seemingly beneath your experience level.
There are a myriad of good reasons to apply for a job you’re overqualified for, but there are many more reasons employers will be wary. If you wish to proceed regardless, we’ll analyze what these employer fears are and how you can quash them.
“For overqualified applicants, an impressive résumé might sometimes be the reason for employers to say, “Thank you, next!”” –Hire Veterans
Why apply for a job you’re overqualified for?
Being overqualified simply means you far exceed the education, experience, and skill level of what a job description is seeking. For example, if you’re applying for an entry-level sales role after leading a sales team for ten years, you’ll be viewed as overqualified.
While an employer might question your reasoning, there are plenty of good reasons to proceed. Maybe you want more meaningful work in your industry and need to seek a lower position to find it. Maybe despite your experience, you’re looking for new challenges or opportunities within the role. Or you may simply need a job in your industry. Layoffs and relocation happen, and sometimes you need the work.
Whatever your reason, you’ll need to be conscious of it, because employers will be asking.
The problems of overqualification
So why is being overqualified actually a problem? While companies want the best hire for the job, there are plenty of questions surrounding why someone with your qualifications would want to stay for the long term.
Madeleine Burry lists four principal problems with being overqualified: fear you’ll be bored, concern you’ll be temporary, the uncertainty you’ll follow directions, and nervousness that the pay won’t be enough.
The main fears are if this appears to be a step backward at this stage of your career, will the work and benefits be enough? The work may not be challenging enough for you, leading to boredom with your daily duties. For someone used to more responsibilities and a higher salary, potential employers will worry what they offer isn’t enough. Because of your experience, you may not follow their directions if you’ve done things a certain way or the person training you is less experienced. These factors lead to the idea that you’ll quickly move onto another position, costing the organization time and money.
Shonna Waters of BetterUp adds that employers can be guilty of age discrimination and use overqualification as an excuse to not hire you. They may fear you won’t be quick to adapt to new ideas or try new ways of learning.
“Whether they say it or not, they may also want someone younger for cultural reasons or training purposes and pass on you.” –Shonna Waters
Indeed also believes that these factors can lead to a negative work environment. If a person isn’t feeling engaged or challenged, it could create a toxic work environment.
What to do if you’re overqualified
If you’re set on a job you’re overqualified for, don’t let these common objections stop you. You’ll just need to do a bit of extra work and be ready to answer the questions when they come.
Shonna Waters says to make your resume “pop,” but not necessarily explode. Tailor to the position as always, but feel free to downplay your accomplishments or leave off irrelevant positions (obviously, be truthful). You still want to prove you have the skills needed to succeed in the position—you don’t want to take off too much and appear unqualified! But you can certainly downplay just how experienced you are.
Feel free to rip the Band-Aid off early and address the overqualification issue in your cover letter. Emily Morrison thinks this is the best way to get ahead of the question and express your genuine interest immediately. You can tell the recruiter you’re looking into a new industry or that you’re excited about the chance to learn new skills and have new experiences. This allows you to showcase your passion and express your desire for growth.
“You can make sure that they look past your qualifications by emphasizing two different things: that you’re looking for an opportunity to learn beyond what you already know, and that you’re looking to stay somewhere for a long time.” –Emily Morrison
Only you can decide if a job position is right for you. There are plenty of reasons one might seek a job they appear overqualified for. Hiring managers may be skeptical, and often for good reasons, but if your heart is truly set on a position, go for it! Take the extra time to tailor your documents and position yourself as a passionate person eager for new experiences and you’ll put the opposition to rest.
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