Tips for Applying for a Job When You're Overqualified
How to Make Sure Employers Don't Penalize You
Is there anything more unfair feeling than being overqualified for a job? Why should you be punished for being too good?! But if you think about it from an employer's perspective, it makes sense: An overqualified candidate may not want to linger long at a position, and employers like to avoid turnover.
Employers look for candidates who are a good match for the job, and if your credentials show you're overqualified - or underqualified - you may not be considered for the role.
Find out more about why employers avoid hiring overqualified candidates, how to adjust your resume to make it clear that you are interested in the position over the long haul, what to mention in a cover letter, and how to respond to interview questions.
Why Is Being Overqualified a Problem?
Here are some of the main reasons why employees shy away from hiring candidates that appear overqualified:
- They're worried you'll be bored: Companies want to hire people who will stick around and enjoy their day-to-day work. If you are overqualified, hiring managers may be concerned that you'll get bored, and leave for an opportunity that uses your full talents. They may also be concerned that you won't want to do the level of work the position entails.
- Or that you're after the job as a temporary measure: If you've been unemployed for a while, employers may think that you just want to get a job — any job — on your resume, and that the position is intended to parlay yourself into a full-time job that you're better suited for. As with the concern about boredom, here employers' main worry is that you only want the job as a stepping-stone to something better.
- They're unsure you'll be able to take direction: One other reason employers may avoid hiring very qualified candidates for positions that don't match their experience level is that these candidates may struggle to take direction from people who are less qualified on paper.
- And nervous the pay won't match your needs: Some part of employer concerns about your being overqualified may be a worry that you will want a salary that matches your experience level — and is well above the range in place for the job.
Tips for Your Resume
Your resume tells the story of your career. And while you should never, ever lie on your resume, it is permissible to leave off jobs and generally paint yourself as a candidate who is at the right level for the job at hand is acceptable. Here are some suggestions for resume strategies that will make you look appropriately qualified for the position.
Make it tailored: As with any job application, if you're overqualified you should make sure your resume focuses on how your experience matches the job you want. Don't delve into experience and qualifications that go beyond the company's needs for the position.
Leave off advanced degrees: You do not need to list every degree you hold. Leave off the post-college degrees if you think they are not necessary to get the position you want. You don't need to advertise the fact that you have more credentials than the employer is looking for.
Leave dates off your education: There's no need to include graduation dates for when you attended university on your resume. Dates advertise how old you are, and your age can indicate that your overqualified for an entry-level position.
And, remove some jobs: You are not required to list every position you've held.
You can remove jobs from your resume that make you look over-qualified; just be aware that doing so may make companies wonder what you did during those blocks of time.
Go functional: Resumes can be formatted in all sorts of ways, from functional (which is an achievement- and skill-based format) to chronological (which lists jobs by when they were held). A functional resume can help reduce the impact of your most recently held title and responsibilities; assemble your functional or combination resume around the position you desire.
Put the summary or objective sections to use: This is your best spot — aside from the cover letter — to tell your story. Some ways to take advantage of this section when you are overqualified are:
- Put the title of the position you want in your objective section.
- Explain in your summary that you're looking to transition to a new career (this can show why you'd take a position below your experience level).
- Avoid lofty language — skip details about how long you've worked and your strong expertise. Keep it simple!
- Explain your career arc in a way that makes it clear why you'd take a lower level position; perhaps you're in a field where promotions have led you to management-level positions, and away from doing the work you actually enjoy.
Deemphasize titles: Typically, job descriptions on your resume put the title in a place of prominence. But that doesn't have to be the case; you could put the company name on the top line, and list titles below.
Use less powerful words: In general, the advice on the site is to punch up language, and use powerful words to convey how much responsibility and leadership you have. But if you're concerned about looking overqualified, dial down your language. Instead of "Spearheading a transition to a new accounting system" you can say that you "Helped manage a transition to a new accounting system."
Managing Being Overqualified Beyond Your Resume
Your resume is just one part of your application package. Use your cover letter to show why the job is right for you even if you could be doing something more high level. Maybe you're retired, but want to still maintain a connection to the industry.
Maybe you have a personal passion for the position or company. Or maybe you want to return to more hands-on work in the field, and leave management behind. Use your cover story to give details on your motivations, and show how you'd be a good candidate.
During interviews, if the topic of being overqualified comes up, ask for specifics about why the interviewer has that concern — this will allow you to give the best possible response. After all, your interviewer may think you're overqualified because you have a graduate level degree, not realizing it's for an unrelated field.
Above all, don’t get discouraged if you keep getting turned down for jobs because of being overqualified. With changes to your resume and cover letter, you can get past this obstacle.
Read More: 7 Things to Cut From Your Mid-Career Resume | Best Answers to "Are You Overqualified for This Job?" | Interview Tips for Older Job Seekers
How To Write a Cover Letter When You're Overqualified for a Position
What can you do if you're overqualified for a job, but still want to apply? When the job market is difficult, there may be a shortage of jobs that you are qualified for and it can make sense to expand your job search. Or, personal reasons — such as starting a family, wanting a shorter commute, etc. — may make jobs a few rungs lower on the career ladder appealing.
If you do appear overqualified for a job, you'll need to carefully craft a cover letter to your application will be considered.
Employers are notorious for discarding overqualified candidates. That's because they're afraid that the person will be bored or unmotivated and might move on to another job in short order. Employers are most eager to hire people who will stay with the company for awhile, since hiring, training, and onboarding new employees are costly.
If your work experience or education could make you appear overqualified, it's important to construct your cover letter and resume to counteract the perception that you'll be unhappy in the position and only in it for a short period.
Explain How You Enjoyed Similar Jobs
A key factor in getting your cover letter noticed is to highlight any similar jobs you have held even if the position was not your most recent. You will need to point out why those comparable jobs were satisfying and successful experiences for you. This will show potential employers that despite being overqualified, you don't necessarily plan to move on to a more challenging role in the near future.
For example, take the case of someone who is applying for sales assistant job, but has worked most recently as an account manager or salesperson. If they have had enjoyable jobs as an assistant in the past and excelled in that role, it will be critical to highlight those experiences.
You can also consider acknowledging that you are overqualified for the position at hand, and explaining why you're still interested.
Being honest, and not letting your qualifications become the elephant in the interview room, can be helpful.
In the example above, for instance, where a salesperson is applying for a sales assistant position, the candidate might point out that she prefers organization and detail to persuasion, and then focus on her successes as a sales assistant.
As much as possible in your letter, seek to assuage potential employer concerns about how long you'd be with the company. If you've always been at jobs for several years, for instance, you can mention your loyalty and that you are eager for a long-term relationship with your next employer.
Write a Targeted Letter
A one-size-fits-all cover letter will not do in this instance. If you appear overqualified in your resume, use your cover letter to make it clear why you are actually a good match for the position. For example, maybe your experience at some high-level positions will still help and inform your day-to-day work in the current position (or can be an add-on that you provide).
It will be critical to analyze the skills, interests, and assets that an individual would need to possess in order to excel in the target job. Then, in your cover letter, use concrete examples to show how you possess these assets, and have achieved success in past jobs, volunteer work, or course projects.
Finding the right job will require you to know how to write a targeted cover letter and how to match your qualifications to a job.
If you're unsure of where to start writing a cover letter, using an example cover letter from your industry or based on your level of experience is a great place to start.
During your interview, be prepared to answer questions about being overqualified — as in your cover letter, use this as an opportunity to tell a story that shows you're a candidate who plans to stick around in the position long term.
Follow up communications after the interview should show enthusiasm for the actual content of the job. If possible ask a former colleague who supervised you in a similar role to make an unsolicited recommendation call (or send an email) to decision makers.
Having a clear strategy about how to follow up after your interviews is important, so plan one out before you walk in the interview door. When possible, adjust your follow up to include details from your interview itself.
Showing your enthusiasm for the role will help convince the interviewer that this isn't a desperate measure and that you really do want the job. The unsolicited recommendation call or email will also demonstrate your interest in the role.
It's easy to be overlooked when you're overqualified for a position but by putting a little extra effort into your application, you can show the interviewer that your interest is sincere and not fleeting or desperate.