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“You’re Overqualified!” - Tackling the Perception and Reality

“Well it seems like you have some great experience, but…”
There it is. The dreaded “but.” If you’ve been in the job market for a while and you’re a baby boomer with years' of experience or a young professional with multiple degrees, you likely know what comes next. “…but this position is definitely beneath you and you’ll be bored with it.”

Whether the hiring manager addresses you with the comment directly during an interview, or simply thinks it before discarding your resume, the end result is the same: you don’t get the job. To successfully land the position you want, you must overcome both the perception and reality of this common objection.

The Perception
In order to get an interview, position your career and experience to minimize the appearance of being over qualified.

Your Resume. Since resumes are marketing tools, it’s easy enough to frame your history to create a better impression. However, always be accurate with the facts.  For example, you can easily remove the first 10+ years of experience and eliminate dates of education. Once in the interview, you can explain the holes and pitch why you are a perfect match for the role.

LinkedIn/Social Networking Sites. After making any changes on your resume, be sure your public profiles (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) match up.  In today’s market, expect employers and recruiters to verify everything.

Credentials. If you have more degrees than a thermometer, it may be wise to remove the least relevant ones.  For example, if you’re applying for a Director of Finance role and you’re currently VP Finance with a BS, MBA, MSF, CFA, or JD, you may not need so much horsepower to be considered.  Keeping the BS and MBA likely won’t scare your prospective employer away as much.  After offering you the job, they may perform a background check but you’ll have nothing to worry about since everything on your resume is factual.  They won’t be contacting your JD Alma Mater since it’s not on your resume.

The Reality
Once you get past the screening process, be ready to address the “over qualification” question head on.

Too many skills and you’ll be bored. It’s important to give the impression the position you’re interviewing for is a stretch position and you’re not going to walk in and do this role in your sleep.  Point out which aspects might require a learning curve and provide examples of your ability to come up to speed quickly. 

For example, I often instruct more seasoned candidates to search for roles they can handle but might be in a slightly different industry or a completely different sector.  As companies now are more inclined to look for candidates out of their direct industry, they may consider a more experienced candidate who will need to pick up some of the nuances of their industry and at the same time be qualified enough to drive it. 

Too many years of experience and the role is beneath you. Here you might explain you are in a different stage in your career and have been operating at full throttle for the past 10-15 years. Now you have young children and are looking for better work/life balance. Although you’re willing to put in the hours to get the job done, you no longer need the workload and responsibilities you once had.

You may also discuss how you no longer want the headaches of management and are looking to be more of an individual contributor, meeting goals and achieving deliverables.

You’ve accomplished too much and will be looking to leave the new role quickly. A way to deflect this is to describe what attracted you to this particular company. They may be in growth mode and could take advantage of someone with a broader range of experience. It could be you’d like to be involved with their cutting edge technology and you’re willing to take a half step back to gain the experience.

If the company is a startup you can explain you’ve never had an opportunity to help build a company from the ground up. You can then stress how your experience with strong growth in prior positions can be a valuable asset to them.

In general, being overqualified is a difficult stigma to overcome but it’s not insurmountable. By positioning yourself appropriately and selling yourself effectively while remaining honest and factual, the odds are you can land the right job.