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Here's what to do when you’re overqualified for a job (but want it anyway)

March 16, 2022 - 14 min read

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Can you be overqualified for a job?

5 reasons why potential employers reject overqualified candidates

How to know when you're overqualified for a job

7 tips for what to do if you're overqualified

Your next step: 5 extra tips for your resume

Looking ahead

The recruiter was confused. The resume showed a professional with 15 years of Marketing experience. She’d been leading large teams for the past 5 years. Why had she applied for this Product role? The role was definitely for a more junior individual contributor. 

It must have been a mistake. No one with that much experience would be happy for long in a junior role. The recruiter clicked the “reject” button, reason — overqualified for job. 

Little did he know that the candidate had reached a point in her career where she wanted more meaningful work. She had a growth mindset and was looking for new challenges by breaking into a new function where she could have more impact. The role would have been a great fit.

Since when is it a bad thing to be overqualified for a job? 

How is it that you can be overqualified for a job? Half the time we feel like we aren't good enough, and the news keeps telling us there isn’t enough talent available to fill the open roles. 

Being the perfect match for a job is difficult. Job hunting is stressful enough, but having recruiters and hiring managers turn you down because of your overqualification can be disheartening.  

It's frustrating because you could enjoy the job, but your skill sets and experience level appear too great for the opportunity. You might feel like there’s nothing you can do about it, but you can. Targeting your job search to the right opportunities and customizing your application, resume, or LinkedIn profile to the position you want is within your control

With preparation and a few strategies in mind, you can better understand what it means to be overqualified and how you can present your resume and yourself. Learn how to be an appropriately qualified candidate — the candidate they need to hire. 

Can you be overqualified for a job?

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Qualified people meet the experience level that's outlined in the job description. They check all the boxes and show the potential to grow. These job candidates don't lack any of the non-negotiable characteristics or required skills or experience for the role’s current needs.

They also demonstrate that they’ll continue to develop new skills and capabilities that the organization needs in the future. A qualified job candidate usually has a track record of improving to reach their career goals. 

Appearing to be either underqualified or overqualified can disqualify you from contention. 

Being underqualified means that you don’t have enough experience to thrive, or you lack some key skills required for the position. Being overqualified means that your experience and skills far exceed what is needed. You're not the ideal match for the position because you might expect to have greater authority or challenging work than the role offers or you won’t enjoy the position. 

You still might be confused why hiring managers don’t see your overqualification as an asset. It’s partly about transferable skills and experiences. Perhaps you have tons of experience leading a team and being in charge, but if the job is a junior role involving data analysis, then your skills don't completely connect. 

In addition, recruiting, hiring, and onboarding are costly and time-consuming. The employer might be looking for someone whose values align with the work and organization. They might want someone whose experience levels match more with the job description to make it less likely you’ll leave the company. 

If you discover that you’re overqualified, consider whether you'd be more suited for a higher-level position. When you’re leaving a position, especially if you’re suffering burnout, a lower-level position might seem appealing, but your job satisfaction may fade if it doesn't use at least some of your skills to their full potential.

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5 reasons why potential employers reject overqualified candidates

A hiring manager could have plenty of reasons they don't want to hire you if they think you're overqualified. Some of them come across as judgemental and could misunderstand your real intentions. Others could be accurate.

Take a read through these five concerns a hiring manager or recruiter might have that would cause them not to hire you:

1. You won't stick around

The hiring manager could be under the impression that you don't see a future with the company. If you’re overqualified, you may only be interested in the job as a short-term stop-gap between real opportunities or to get your foot in the door.

They fear you’ll job hop once a new job that's your level comes available. Companies want to avoid a high employee turnover rate. Plus, they don't want to invest the time and money into training someone who ends up leaving too soon.

2. They can't afford your salary

With years of experience at a higher-level job, your potential employer could reasonably assume that your salary expectations will be high. If they proceed with you in the hiring process, you'd give them a number they couldn't match, and you'd end up walking away.

Or, you'd be unwilling to take a pay cut for this job. Either way, money influences the hiring process, and recruiters and hiring managers don’t want to waste their time.

3. You're too old to adapt and move quickly in the role

This reason has age discrimination written all over it. The potential employer could be sneaky and not want to say that they aren’t hiring you because of your age, but blame it on being overqualified. With age comes experience, but employers could still look at you and fear that your expertise will keep you from being curious and open to learning.

Whether they say it or not, they may also want someone younger for cultural reasons or training purposes and pass on you.

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4. You’ll be unhappy or disengaged with the work

If you've already gotten the promotion that someone in the position you're applying for would want, the hiring managers might worry about motivation. You might get bored with the work you'd be lowering yourself to, and they wouldn’t have any rewards to pique your interest.

If you don’t express where you have room to grow or learn from this experience, they might assume they have nothing to offer you because you know it already. You wouldn't face as much burnout since the work would be so easy for you. Your overall productivity would be low, and you wouldn't have as much motivation to work harder toward your goals.

5. You won’t work well with a less experienced manager and team members

Your inability to take direction from someone less experienced than you, as someone used to being in a higher-level position and possibly being the boss, is a worry. It would make collaboration harder within your team, and you could feel annoyed following someone else's leadership. 

How to know when you're overqualified for a job

Knowing when you're overqualified for the job helps you in the job-hunting process. It helps you get better at determining what job postings you would be deemed qualified for and which you'd be overqualified for.

Check out these tips to know when you're overqualified for a job:

  • You don’t get excited by the roles and responsibilities described in the job posting
  • You aren’t curious or eager to learn something new — especially about this field or industry
  • The salary you had before is significantly more than what the potential employer is offering
  • You exceed every requirement on the job description
  • You flew through the evaluation or take-home assessment

If you have reasons for wanting this particular role despite being overqualified, find someone who will help you articulate why you’re the right person for the role after all. Or, if you keep targeting roles that are too low, get support from someone who can help you understand your worth and what you're capable of.

BetterUp can provide the perspective and support you need to explore your values and aspirations and apply to jobs that fit your experience and needs.

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7 tips for what to do if you're overqualified

It's okay if you realize that you're overqualified. That doesn't mean that you'll never get a job because of your level of experience. It means that there are some things to be mindful of to make your job hunting experience more successful.

You also might have valid reasons for choosing a lower-level job, such as wanting to transition to a new career or seeking more purpose or fulfillment from your work

Here are seven tips on how to address being overqualified for a job:

  1. Take your time while answering any job interview questions
  2. Address the question of being overqualified, in the appropriate amount of detail, in your cover letter
  3. Use filters on job search sites like LinkedIn and Monster 
  4. Look for profiles of people in roles you aspire to on LinkedIn and study how they present their job history, experiences, and skills — update your own profile to fit where you want to go, rather than where you’ve been
  5. Explain clearly why you're applying to jobs that you're overqualified for and what excites you about the opportunity
  6. Explain how your experience and skills would benefit the employer and think creatively about what you bring that is relevant to other roles
  7. Network in your field to understand what companies are looking for

Your next step: 5 extra tips for your resume

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When you apply to any job, your resume is what gives your potential employers their first impression of you. Your resume needs to make you appear fit for the job and not overqualified enough to have you passed up immediately. If you're looking to take a job that you know you'd be overqualified for, there are resume writing tips to seem like you're the best fit.

To finish off this guide of addressing how you're overqualified, here are five tips to make your resume pop but not explode:

  1. Tailor it to the exact job requirements and description
  2. Exclude dates of your education and advanced degrees
  3. Take off less relevant jobs if you have too much experience
  4. Tell your story in the summary or objective section
  5. Use language that's simple and not overcomplicated

Looking ahead

The job search can be tough. Even in a good job market, it’s hard work to do the Inner Work® of understanding your values and goals and translating that into job opportunities. 

If you’re at the stage where you might be overqualified for a job, it’s that much more important to seek guidance and perspective.

Get support from someone outside your job industry. BetterUp can provide the guidance you need at every point of your career development to ensure that you find more fulfillment in your career and your life as you move toward your goals.

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Published March 16, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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