It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s possible to be too educated, too credentialed, and too experienced to get hired. (You can also, it turns out, be too good looking to get the job.) When employers feel that you are overqualified for a position that you really want, all of the assets that you’ve built up in your career can work against you.
We’ve written before about how you can still get hired for a job when you are underqualified. This time we’re tackling the opposite problem. Here is why employers can be reluctant to hire overqualified candidates and how you can overcome this and still land the job.
Why employers reject overqualified candidates
You might be too expensive. Employers might be inclined to skip over resumes of candidates with too many credentials because they assume you won’t want to work for the amount of money that the job pays. So why waste time?
You would be a flight risk. Employers can be reluctant to hire overqualified candidates, because they fear you may just be trying to land an interim job until something better comes along. It can be a huge waste of time and money for companies to hire people who only stay on the job for a short period of time.
You may be hard to manage. If you have held a series of upper-management positions or are a credentialed leader in your field, employers might fear that you wouldn’t take direction from your supervisor in a more junior position.
You could be competition for your boss’ own job. Hiring managers might worry about bringing on a candidate who is more qualified than they themselves are – and who could potentially outshine them on the job. They want to hire someone who can make their team successful and make them look good as a manager, but not someone who could challenge their authority and put their own position at risk.
How to overcome these objections and still get hired
Write a resume / application specific to the job
Your resume is a marketing document designed to sell your candidacy for a specific position to a potential employer – it is not a permanent record of everything you have studied, worked, and accomplished in your career. So, don’t start your resume by listing your five Master’s Degrees and all of your top accomplishments. (See: Why you should list fewer skills in your resume.)
When you want to land a job for which you appear to be overqualified, focus on those credentials and achievements that can be of the most benefit to that role. Pick the ones that will matter most to the employer for the job you are targeting.
If you have all of the qualifications and much more for a job, then you should be able to be great at it. Write the resume that demonstrates that for employers.
Focus on the employer’s problem
Show how your work experience and credentials – that might not be traditionally what is required for the job – could allow you to be particularly successful at it. How could you make it more efficient, less expensive, more successful? Think about the specific challenges of the role, and show how your advanced credentials can help solve them.
Don’t act like you’re overqualified
Employers don’t want to hire someone who seems to think that they are too good for the job. This can be something they are sensitive to and on the lookout for with candidates who appear to be overqualified.
Treat the hiring process with the full respect it deserves. Dress up for the interview, prepare to talk about your work history in ways that are relevant to the employer, and demonstrate your enthusiasm for the opportunity. You aren’t slumming, or killing time until a better job comes along, you are genuinely passionate about joining the company.
If the job pays noticeably less than your recent work history, but you want it anyway, explain this. While it is generally not advised to bring up salary in the job interview, in this case it can help. Defuse the salary problem with something like, “I understand the pay range for roles such as this, and I’m happy to work within that. I am very excited to contribute to this team…”
Explain why you want the job
Explain why you really want to be hired for the job. Are you passionate about joining that company? Do you love the brand? Is it a new sector that you want to transition into? Is it the lifestyle: work/life balance, commute, social interactions, etc.? Whatever it is that draws you to the role can be a selling point for your candidacy.
Why do your wants and needs matter to the employer? Because hiring managers don’t want to hire, onboard, and train someone for a position that they won’t be happy in, and are likely leave after a short time. That situation costs time and resources and leaves them right back where they started.
On the other hand, if employers are convinced that you are enthusiastic for the job and can be great at it, you’re happy to work for the pay, and that the position suits your goals and plans for the future, then your advanced qualifications can become assets rather than liabilities.