How To Get A Job You’re Overqualified For In 6 Easy Steps

By Maddie Lloyd - Mar. 2, 2021
Articles In Job Application Guide

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Articles In Job Application Guide

When you’re applying for jobs, it’s important to have all of the right qualifications. You’ve been working hard to build up your skill set and experience by going to school, working internships, and taking entry-level jobs to get your foot in the door.

But now that the time has come to find a new job, your lofty qualifications are only getting in the way of you getting hired.

As if job searching wasn’t hard enough on its own, now you’re being punished for having too much experience.

Here’s the deal:

When you’re applying to a job that you’re overqualified for, hiring managers might think that you’re using this job as a temporary pit-stop until something bigger and better comes along. Even if that’s true, you don’t want to let them know that.

We’ll cover exactly what overqualified means, why employers worry about hiring overqualified candidates, and provide six strategies for landing a job you’re overqualified for.

What Does Overqualified Mean?

Being overqualified for a job means that your skills and qualifications exceed the requirements of the job. Not only do you possess all of the job requirements listed in the job description, but also additional talents that could make the job’s responsibilities very easy for you.

You might think hiring managers and recruiters would jump at the chance to land a candidate who has the perfect background and then some. But there are a few good reasons that employers worry about hiring an overqualified candidate.

Why Employers Don’t Want to Hire an Overqualified Candidate

Employers spend a lot of time and resources recruiting and hiring new employees. Because of this, they want to make sure that the person they hire is well-suited for the position and likely to stick around for the long haul.

When they’re considering an overqualified candidate, they have a few causes for concern:

  1. Fast turnover. When hiring managers see an especially impressive resume and cover letter, they might be concerned that you’re simply looking for a basic job while you continue applying to more senior-level positions elsewhere.

    Basically, they think you’re only interested in this job due to necessity, not passion or interest. That means you’re likely to leave as soon as something better comes along.

  2. Unchallenging. Overqualified candidates, by definition, would be able to perform all the job’s functions with ease. That might be great at first, but employers fear you’ll become bored with your duties, which could actually hurt productivity.

  3. Salary. Because you’re overqualified, you’re probably used to a certain salary range. Employers worry that whatever they can offer you won’t be enough because it won’t compare to the pay from your former jobs.

    For this reason, expect salary talk to come up earlier in the interview process than most candidates, as recruiters and hiring managers want to save time if it’s certain they can’t offer you enough money.

  4. Trouble following instructions. If you’re as qualified (or more qualified) than the person who ends up being your supervisor, employers may worry that you won’t enjoy taking orders from a relative newbie.

    Collaboration is important, but so is toeing the line based on a direction decided on by management. You may come up with your own way of doing things (and it may even be better than what’s currently in place), but this might create friction within your team.

Now that we know what overqualified means and why employers may worry about it, use these 6 strategies to overcome your overqualification and land the job.

1Tailor Your Resume to Fit the Job

If you’re going for a position that doesn’t quite match up with your experience, an employer might think that you’ll find the duties of the job to be beneath you, unworthy of your attention, or just plain boring.

It’s essential to customize your resume so that it doesn’t seem like you’d be doing them a favor by taking the job.

Instead of listing your loftiest, most impressive tasks and accomplishments, consider listing a few of the more mundane, daily tasks you performed at your former job that most closely relate to the position you’re applying for.

By adjusting your resume to reflect the job requirements instead of listing your highest career achievements, hiring managers will be able to see that you aren’t so above doing those lower-level tasks as they may have assumed.

2Acknowledge That You’re Overqualified

It’s time to address the elephant in the room. Instead of tiptoeing around it, go ahead and acknowledge in your cover letter that your skills and experience are beyond what’s needed for the position.

Make sure to focus your interest on the job or company itself. Talk about why you’re passionate about the work, or that you’re looking to build upon your skill set. Employers will be more willing to invite you in for an interview if you show them that you’re genuinely interested in the job.

Once you’re in the interview, don’t shy away from your impressive background. But instead of focusing on your former job titles, consider how your skills and interests match up with the job you’re applying for.

Discuss why you’re interested in a job that, on paper, you’re overqualified for. Maybe it’s a genuine love of the company, a passion for the field, or a preference for the responsibilities of a more junior role.

3Tell Interviewers You’ll Stick Around

No employer will hire you if they think you’re going to use their company as a temporary paycheck until the right job comes around. Even if that’s the case, you’re going to need to ensure them that you plan to stick around for a while.

This is another great opportunity to put your cover letter to good use. Use your introduction to explain exactly why you want this job, and why you plan to stick around.

If you get invited for an interview, bring up this concern with the hiring manager or recruiter and tell them that you understand why they would be hesitant, but that it shouldn’t be a cause for alarm.

To that end, discuss your career goals and how this position fits into them.

However, don’t make it seem like this job is only a jumping-off point for your career. Instead, focus on how this first job is a great start to a professional relationship where you can leverage your skills to help the employer.

4Be Open to Negotiating Your Salary

There’s no way around it, taking a cut in your job title may also mean taking a cut in your pay. If you’re going for a lower-level job, you may want to get ready to negotiate your salary requirements.

If the company asks for your salary requirements, mention that you’re flexible if they’re unable to meet your requested salary. Again, you never want them to think that you feel that the job is beneath you.

You can still aim for the high end of the salary range they’re considering, but don’t price yourself out of the job. Otherwise, you’re wasting your everyone’s time by going along with the hiring process.

5Be Honest, but not too Honest

If you’re looking to build up your skill sets, re-familiarize yourself with a specific line of work, or if you just really want to work for this particular company — go ahead and let the employers know, this honesty could work to your advantage.

On the other hand, if you’re completely desperate for a job and your rent is due soon, or if you just want to take a cut in the level of responsibility and chill out, you might want to keep those things to yourself.

The last thing you want to do when applying for a job is come off as desperate or lazy — no matter what your qualifications look like. If there are gaps in your employment history, hiring managers may think there’s an underlying reason why you can’t keep a job.

A sob story might be able to evoke an emotional response from an employer, but it’s pretty unlikely to yield a job offer. Keep the focus on your relevant qualifications and your commitment to the company.

6Make Your Experience an Advantage

When in doubt, show employers how your qualifications can only benefit them. Instead of discussing your experience level as being “overqualified,” start thinking of yourself as being “highly qualified.” Let them know what you can bring to the table with your years of experience, even if it might not match up with what they’re looking for.

Make sure to emphasize that you have what it takes for the job in question and that your experience will allow you to take on greater responsibilities than someone with fewer qualifications. Talk about how you want to grow professionally and how this job will help you achieve those goals.

Come with a lot of stories prepared about times when you’ve used your relevant qualifications to succeed and help the interviewer see how you’ll bring the same skill level and commitment to the new job.

More Tips for Overqualified Candidates

  • Counter negative assumptions. We covered the reasons why employers worry about hiring an overqualified candidate above.

    Think of ways to counter their worries (turnover, boredom, trouble taking orders, and salary) before you write your cover letter or come in for an interview.

  • Be humble. Don’t consider the application process a mere formality for someone with your talent and experience. Hiring managers will pick up on it and not hire you because arrogance is a bad attitude for a subordinate to have.

  • Offer insight into the role. Don’t go crazy trying to shift the purpose of the role they’re hiring for, but if you can suggest ways that your background may enhance the job’s value, that could help you in an interview.

    Just as you tailor your resume and cover letter for the job, try to tailor the job to your experience.

  • Don’t get discouraged. You may panic if you don’t get an offer for a job you’re super overqualified for. Recognize that hiring managers have legitimate concerns about hiring an overqualified candidate and that more goes into hiring decisions than qualifications alone.

    Don’t take it personally and don’t doubt your worth because of a few rejections.

  • Focus on the employer’s need. This goes for every job application and interview process. Always tie your resume, cover letter, and interview answers to how you can serve the employer’s needs better than anyone else.

    Skip impressive (but irrelevant) skills you have, and instead focus on those that you’ll leverage most in the new job.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes our qualifications don’t exactly line up with a job we’re interested in. But there’s no reason why we should let all of our hard work interfere with getting the jobs we want.

Don’t let all of your hard-earned experience be a death sentence during your job hunt. Make sure to let employers know that you’re not going to bail on them when a better opportunity comes around, and emphasize that you don’t see the work as unworthy of your time.

If you can convince hiring managers that you’re committed to their company and that your high level of experience can only benefit them, you’re sure to get the job.

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Maddie Lloyd


Maddie Lloyd

Maddie Lloyd was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog focused on researching tips for interview, resume, and cover letter preparation. She's currently a graduate student at North Carolina State University's department of English concentrating in Film and Media Studies.

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