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What to do if you’re overqualified for a job

Debra Auerbach | February 14, 2018


Get tips for easing employers' fears if you're overqualified for a job you want.

You may think the more experience you have, the better shot you have of getting a job. Yet having too much experience could make you overqualified for the job – which could be to your detriment. Employers may worry you’d demand too high of a salary, you’d want a promotion right away or you’d get bored and move on to another job quickly.

So, if you’re eyeing a job that you are overqualified for, what should you do to show the employer you’re serious about getting – and staying at – the job? Here are some tips.

Ask yourself some tough questions

Before you even apply for the job, do a gut check to make sure it’s what you really want. Christopher K. Lee, founder and career consultant at Purpose Redeemed, says to consider the following questions: “Can I perform the duties and excel in this role? Will I be satisfied with the compensation (you may need to take a pay cut)? How long will I be content in this role (especially if taking this position is to ‘get a foot in the door’ before moving on to higher positions)?”

If you answer these questions favorably, Lee says to go ahead and apply for the job.

Use the cover letter to explain yourself

“In your cover letter, explain why you want that particular position, even if it's not as high level as your most recent position,” suggests Kelly Donovan, principal at Kelly Donovan & Associates. “For example, you could say, ‘Although I'm proud of my work managing a marketing department, I'd like to be able to focus once again on my favorite aspect of this field – executing digital marketing campaigns.’”

Find more interview tips here

Don’t oversell yourself on your resume

It may seem counterintuitive to not want to highlight all of your accomplishments on your resume, but when applying for a position you’re overqualified for, you want to focus specifically on roles and responsibilities that align with the prospective position.

“Your resume must represent your job history accurately, but beyond that, you have plenty of leeway in terms of what points you choose to emphasize,” Donovan says. “If the position you're seeking is an individual contributor role, don't include a bullet in your summary talking about your leadership skills. And don't refer to yourself as an executive in the summary unless you're going for an executive role.”

Be ready to answer ‘Why?’ in the interview

If you get to the interview stage, expect questions around why you want the job given your advanced experience and skills. “This is the first question the employer will ask … [the] worker needs to be prepared with a strong and credible answer,” says Laura MacLeod, HR expert and consultant. “Consider the employer’s concerns: You are only taking the job until you find something better; you'll be difficult to manage because you'll feel superior to team members and maybe even your supervisor; your attitude will be poor … and you'll eventually become lazy – dragging others down with you.”

MacLeod says you’ll need to ease the employer’s concerns by first acknowledging that you know you're overqualified and then providing reasons why it’s to the company’s benefit to hire you.

“This might be your ability/willingness to mentor team members, step into spots when other workers are out sick or on vacation, [or] assist the team in higher achievement,” she says.

Ease their salary fears

One of the biggest roadblocks to getting a job you’re overqualified for is coming to terms with a salary reduction – and convincing the employer you’re willing to take one.

“From a salary perspective, the candidate may be out of the range the company is looking for, so in their application, they'll have to make it clear the role is an acceptable range for them,” says Jennifer Braganza, a success champion, coach and speaker. “For example, maybe you were a manager in [your current] function and are now looking for an individual contributor role given your current phase of life (new baby, approaching retirement, taking care of ailing parents). In the interview, you'd have to make it clear you're not expecting what you were getting because you know this role has less responsibility.”

Find out how to answer some of the other tough questions you’ll get during the interview.

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