How to Avoid Being Labeled Overqualified for a Job

How to Avoid Being Labeled Overqualified for a Job

I’ve been both the candidate and the recruiter on the side of the overqualified coin. So, I get it. As a candidate, particularly, the frustration of being told, “You are overqualified for a job”, is real. Banging-your-head-against-a-wall real.

My degree in Forensic Science I had been so proud of, was no longer playing a part in my career path and even hindering my chances elsewhere. I came to the realization with a tinge of sadness and pressed delete on my degree.

As a recruiter a few years later, sifting through hundreds of candidates it became even more apparent to me - prospective employers do not have time to read between the lines and can make assumptions based on the information provided such as. Assumptions that you’ll:

  • Resign when the market improves
  • Get bored
  • Be unaffordable
  • Not take direction well from younger managers

Now, as a Job Search Mentor, I have helped many defeat the label of ‘overqualified’. I can help you do the same IF you’re willing to fine-tune the following.

Your Resume

If it’s not relevant. Remove it. I’ve said it before but it applies now more than ever. You need to tailor how you present yourself via your resume to avoid being viewed as overqualified for a job. That means minimising the attention on those higher-level skills that don’t pertain to the position.

You need to be strategic, placing emphasis on the skills which will help that specific employer not think of you as an overqualified candidate. A functional resume is perfect for this. Skills of interest are highlighted toward the top of the resume. And more impressive and less relevant titles are given less priority.

Do your research. Find out as much as you can about the company and the position. Understand how your qualifications and experiences apply. Then, sell how you can fulfill the employer’s needs.

Your Cover Letter

Your cover letter is an opportunity to tell your story. Be real. If this is what you genuinely want, show it.

I recently worked with a client who didn’t know how to address the decision to scale back after a highly stressful management role. He wanted to get back to his roots within his industry and was no longer concerned with title and salary.

We had to get to the heart of what he wanted from his next role. We had to figure out why and how that would translate into benefits for his next employer.

We opened with...

“Whilst I have accepted opportunities for promotion throughout my career and was proud to have achieved A and B in my most recent role at C, what I enjoy (and miss!) is the great satisfaction I gain from <core of role applied for>.

My experience <doing XYZ> in the corporate world has given me a wide range of skills that are highly transferable and would provide significant value in <what problem can you solve?>. I am excited about the opportunity to make a real impact on people’s lives, which I know will keep me motivated for years to come.”

And closed with...

“I am confident that my skills and experience, and my aspirations of achieving balance in my life mean you will be getting excellent value.”

You are human. The Hiring Manager is human. Speak the truth with a positive and enthusiastic attitude.

After all, it is your divine-human right to change your mind and career and to take time out to consider your next move. You just need to address it.

Your interview

With that approach, YES, my client landed an interview within the week. Win! We prepared for the tough questions to come, to reassure an interviewer he was not overqualified for the job by knowing how to address the following:

Your strong qualifications may cast a shadow of doubt

  • “They’re getting an employee with the potential to move up.”

They have concern regarding the downtime between now and your last role

  • “The break provided time to reassess your career, clarity around your new path and has provided a refreshed mindset.”

They wonder why you’ve applied for a job that many people would consider beneath him

  • “There is honor in every role”

A positive attitude is paramount in everything you say about the available position and your understanding of, and suitability for it. He also invited the interviewer to share concerns at the end of the interview with questions such as:

  • "Is there anything else you need to hear to assure you that I'm the best fit for the job?”
  • “Do you have any questions about my candidacy that I haven't yet had the chance to answer?"

He took this chance to satisfy their concerns by reinforcing his reasons and suitability with zeal.                             

So, did this work?

My client accepted an offer within the month!

“Thrilled” on both our parts was an understatement.

My final advice

Recruiters and Hiring Managers cannot read minds (and don’t have the time). You need to unpack and explain the motivation behind your next career move.

Understand what makes you tick in a role and clearly convey how this will benefit your next employer.

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