Too Good for the Job? Overcome Being Overqualified

Posted by Cara Scharf on June 19, 2011
Too Good for the Job? Overcome Being Overqualified

Not having enough experience is a common obstacle to securing the job you want. But so is having too much experience.

Being labeled as "overqualified" is a problem that job seekers can face at any point in their career. The label is applied in situations where your background-education, experience, or previous title or salary-is well beyond what the job requires.

An overqualified applicant raises several red flags with hiring managers. They may question why you're willing to take a step down, and whether you'll jump ship as soon as something better comes along. If they suspect you're applying for the position because you're willing to take any job, you'll be quickly passed over. The last thing a company wants to do is invest in hiring and training someone who isn't dedicated to sticking around or willing to perform the expected duties. An employer might also take a look at your resume and assume that you're out of their price range.

If you apply for a job below your experience level, you need to prove you're genuinely interested in the position for the long term and that your advanced skills won't deter you from performing the job, but rather will serve as a great asset to the company.

Be Honest With Yourself
Before you approach any employers, you should first come to terms with why exactly you're pursuing a lower position. In a down economy, many people apply to jobs below their skill level out of financial necessity. "When people need to get paid, they believe they're willing to do anything," says Lou Adler, CEO of the Adler Group, Inc., a California-based consulting and training firm. But even if you're desperate, you should still apply to companies where you'd normally want to work, in a relevant industry, or for positions that will foster your professional development.

In other cases, some mid-career professionals take entry-level positions in order to make a career change. Sometimes the only way to break into a new industry or forge your way into a new field is to start at the bottom. If there's a specific company which you feel you have to work, you may have to make sacrifices in order to get a foot in the door. However, it's important to consider how much of a pay cut you can realistically live with and whether you see a future with the company. Solidifying your intentions will make your job search more fruitful, as well as allow you to convince employers of your goals.

Highlight Your Skills

To ensure your resume isn't tossed, use a performance-based format that lists relevant skills and accomplishments first and your (extensive) background second. Use your qualifications to your advantage. Focus on skills that will make you more efficient in the position, allowing you to handle a bigger workload than your competition. Be honest about your previous work experience, but be sure to put more emphasis on your skills and responsibilities than your previous job titles or education.

Make Your Case

Your cover letter is a great place to alleviate any fears an employer might have. "You can be forthright about your far-reaching background," says Drew Fiorentini, recruiting team leader at Bayer. "But follow it up by saying why you're interested in the position. Maybe you're looking to broaden your horizons in a new industry, learn new skills, or work for a new company."

Once you've done this, describe how your skills make you valuable-whether it's because you'll bring in money, new ideas, or specialized knowledge. A hiring manager will have a hard time turning you down if you present concrete ways in which you'll be an asset.

Turn the Tables
Be prepared for when your interviewer asks if you think you're overqualified. What the question really means is "Are you a good fit for us?" Your best course of action is to turn the question around. Ask the interviewer what their ideal candidate looks like, and show that you fit that description. "It's a very positive move that will reframe the conversation and start a dialogue where you'll be able to give examples of your relevant experiences," says Adler.

If an employer inquires about salary, say that you're flexible and be candid about the fact that you're willing to do with less. That demonstrates that you've thought about the issue and that salary isn't your main concern.

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