You’ve been told four or five times: “I’m sorry, you’re overqualified.” Is this the real reason you’re not getting hired? Even if it is, what can you do about it?
“Overqualified” is one of those convenient HR words that gets used to plaster over a number of different reasons why a candidate doesn’t get the nod. Most hiring managers, to say nothing of large HR departments, have been coached not to say anything prejudicial that could cost the company a lawsuit. Apparently “overqualified” is still one of the acceptable explanations for turning down a candidate.
Why are you getting this response? You think “Why wouldn’t they want someone with my extra skills and experience? They should know I’d do a better job.”
Not necessarily. The employer may be thinking: “She might not fit in with all the entry level people, and there will be friction.” Or worse: “She’s likely to hit me up for a salary increase early on, based on her advanced skills and training.” Or, worst of all: “She just wants this job because she’s desperate. She’ll keep looking and when something better comes along, she’ll leave fast.”
Of course “overqualified” may be a cover-up for an employer’s concerns about your age. This concern may boil down to:
- Too expensive, given higher health care usage and premiums;
- Unwilling or unable to learn new technology, and 3) difficult for a younger manager to manage.
- If your spouse has health insurance, tell them you don’t need it;
- List all your computer accomplishments on your resume, and if you look weak, enroll in a class now and mention it;
- Express how well you work with and for younger bosses.
“Overqualified” might also be a polite way of saying “Your resume makes me nervous.” As an employer, when I saw 3 degrees in different fields, it set off some warning bells. Why did this candidate keep changing fields?
If you are dubbed overqualified more than a few times, it’s time to take stock and take action.
First, look back at the job descriptions you have applied for. And ask an honest friend. Do you have more credentials than the job posting asks for? If so, you have a number of choices — all better than continuing to bat your head against the wall, going after the same jobs with the same resume. Here are some options:
Option 1. Apply for higher-level jobs, ones more in line with your credentials. Lower level jobs aren’t necessarily easier to get. Ironically, for you, higher level, higher paying jobs, although scarcer, may be easier for you to land.
Could it be that you are aiming too low because you lack self-confidence? If so, talk with a career counselor or trusted fried. Outline your skill sets. Prepare a SAR story about each accomplishment you claim on your resume. S – what was the situation; A – what action did you take; and R – what was the result? If you mentally prepare at least 10 such stories, you’ll remind yourself how good you really are. And you’ll go into any interview more confidently, and armed with what interviewers like best — accomplishment stories that show how you did things in the past — far better than mere claims.
Option #2. Negotiate the job. By this I mean that you apply for the lower level job, but during the interview, try to expand the job description and the duties. Convince the prospective employer that you could handle extra tasks. For example, one marketing client with experience doing outsourcing of IT made the case that she could help find cost-effective outside vendors for several functions that were being done by salaried employees, and that her skills could allow reduction of one FTE, saving half his salary. Show how you could provide extra value to a company. Then ask for a better title and compensation.
Option # 3. If you need to find a job fast, consider a staffing agency. Some make long-term placements at fairly high levels. Let them decide how to pitch you. You may not get the same benefits, but you may have an opportunity to prove yourself at several organizations, and get hired when an opening comes up.
Option #4. Consider toning down your resume. Do you need to include that you supervised 25 people and brought in 12 new accounts in 6 months? It’s important not to lie, but there’s no rule that you have to tell your whole story, especially if some of your accomplishments aren’t relevant to the job you are seeking.
Once when I was seeking an internship in my new field of counseling, I left off my old Ph.D. in International Relations. I got the job. Months later, when my boss found out, he was quite upset. Better plan: leave an irrelevant degree off your resume, but bring it up casually in the interview, saying it’s not relevant to the job, but you wanted the employer to know about it.
Option # 5. Leave your resume as is, but offer an explanation in your cover letter. One of the best: “I want a lower level job so I won’t be on 24/7 and can count on being home evenings with my 6 year-old.” Or some other personal reason — taking a graduate course, or having time to play drums with your jazz group. One man who loved sales found he hated (though was successful at) sales management. He explained he wanted to go back to the job he really loved. Very credible.
In short, if you keep getting feedback that you are overqualified, don’t just sit there — do something. But pick the something carefully. You’ve got options.