Overcoming “Overqualified”

Being rejected from a job for being “overqualified” can be a particularly hard blow to bear. It’s like you’re being penalised for being “too good” or “too successful”!

However, the sad truth is that many are rejected for this exact reason. In the current economic situation, many are looking for work due to retrenchment or because they wish to come out of retirement – and getting this answer with every application.

Hiring managers reject overqualified candidates for a variety of reasons. They’re afraid the applicant is only working to stave off boredom or until the next big break, they don’t think they can meet the salary expectations, or they have prejudices about older workers or academic knowledge.

While you can’t deal with every question in a hiring manager’s mind, there are some things you can do to lower the overqualified barrier. Read on to find out.

  1. Retool your resume

    While you should always tailor your resume to the position you’re applying for, you need to go deeper when applying for a job “under” your current or previous positions.

    For starters, avoid burying the hiring manager in degrees and achievements by leaving off less pertinent qualifications. As a rule of thumb, you can omit higher education degrees and education dates that aren’t relevant to the position. You also don’t need to list every job you’ve held or your long string of promotions – keep to those that relate to the work on offer.

    You may also wish organise your resume functionally instead. A functional resume can help reduce the impact of big titles and long lists of work tasks. Instead of putting jobs down in chronological order, start off by presenting your skills and abilities and relate them to the job.

  2. Talk tangible

    In your resume and during the interview, phrase your achievements in terms of what they brought to the company. Mention revenue growth, profits earned, cost savings, or managing high-value projects. The interviewer is not interested in your long experience or big title, but in what you can do for their organisation, so use language that will get them to take notice.

    You can also bring up leadership skills and communication skills this way. For example, your experience in team management may be valuable when it comes to communicating with different stakeholders, or your industry contacts may make for a more efficient supply process.

  3. Use the cover letter

    The cover letter is your chance to explain why you want a certain position, even if you seem overqualified for it. Make use of it!

    Describe your motivation in the cover letter. Are you coming out of retirement, and looking to get back into your industry? Or maybe you have a personal connection to this company, or you just want to leave management behind and get to more “on the ground” work? Put all this information in the cover letter for a strong, personal appeal as to why you want this job.

    While you’re at it, you should emphasise how you’re in for the long haul. Overqualified candidates are often rejected because the interviewer assumes that they’re just there until the next better offer comes along. Hence, you can address this in your cover letter by using firmly declaring your intention to stay and why.

  4. Avoid overselling

    Hiring managers often flag overqualified candidates for “overselling themselves”. They are too eager to describe how they fill every position or their extensive experience with every task. This can come off as arrogant or overconfident, and make the hiring manager wonder: why hire you, when you’re too good for us?

    Instead, adopt a humble attitude and emphasise what you hope to learn. Dial back “punchy” language in your resume and emphasise your worth as a team player and good listener. (For example, change “spearheaded” to “helped with” or “oversaw” to “collaborated on”.) In your cover letter, you can mention what aspects of the company impressed you and inspired you to apply for them. During the interview, discuss what experience you can gain from them, not the other way around.

    By keeping the focus on your potential contributions to the company, you will impress the interviewer with your willingness to cooperate and contribute.

  5. Discuss honestly

    If the topic of you being overqualified comes up during the interview, answer honestly! It’s actually a very good sign that the interviewer is seriously considering your application, and hence probing for more information about you.

    Ask for what specific concerns he or she might have, and address them as they come. Are they afraid you’ll get bored, or do they think you might have a problem working under a younger boss? Tell them about your intention to “start over” from the basics and keep yourself engaged, or give them examples of the many different team managers you’ve worked under in your time.

Don’t hold yourself back from a job just because you think you’ll be rejected for your qualifications. Instead, take ownership of them and look forward to applying them to your next positions.