What To Do When You’re Overqualified For The Job

By Kristin Kizer
Dec. 4, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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Applying for a job you’re not qualified for is one thing but applying for a job you’re overqualified for is a whole different situation and it can be a tricky one. Interestingly, both situations can have a great outcome, or there could be a very bad one.

In this article, we will go over why being over qualified might be a problem for you as well as the employer, and provide some tips for what to do when you are overqualified for the job.

Key Takeaways:

  • Some employers may not want to higher overqualified candidates because they are afraid you will get bored quick and there will be a high turnover rate.

  • It’s important to address it right away during the interview and don’t hide anything about being overqualified.

  • You can use your cover letter as a way to explain that you are overqualified before the interview stage.

What To Do When You're Overqualified For The Job

Why Being Overqualified Is a Problem

Why it’s a Problem For You:

When you’re applying for a job and they tell you that you’re overqualified, it can be very frustrating. There’s a good chance that you want the job even if you’re overqualified and you’re willing to accept all that comes with that. But there could be more problems than you realize.

  • Low pay. This is probably the first thing you considered. The job is well within your wheelhouse. It’s going to be easy for you, but the pay equals the responsibilities. This might not be a sticking point for you, but it is a downfall for some.

  • You aren’t challenged. Sometimes you just want to slide a little and not try so hard. That can make a job you’re overqualified for seem like a good idea. But eventually, you’re going to get bored and not be happy.

  • Frustration. Not only will doing mundane tasks seem frustrating, but eventually, you’ll be unhappy that people who are less qualified than you are your superiors and telling you what to do.

  • Stagnant or regressing. If you’re not moving forward in your job, then you’re moving backward or staying stagnant. This affects more than your career it directly affects your earning potential.

Why it’s a Problem for the Employer:

It’s not just you that might suffer when you’re overqualified for a job. While you think your employer could benefit from your vast expertise, they might find it to be a problem.

  • No effort. You lack motivation and don’t feel challenged, so you don’t try. This is pretty common when people are doing work that they feel is beneath them.

  • Don’t take direction. It’s hard to take direction from someone who you feel is less qualified than you are. This can lead to all sorts of problems with morale across the entire company.

  • Turnover concerns. The employer may worry that if you’re overqualified, you’re going to leave as soon as a better offer comes along.

  • Team feelings. Your entire work crew can be affected when someone overqualified comes in. The emotions can go from jealousy to fear that they’re being replaced and everything in between.

Tips for Your Resume

The first thing you want to look at is your resume. Your resume is going to come under scrutiny (even if it is by a computer) to see that it lines up with the position. It’s a crucial element to getting a job so these tips are ones you can’t ignore.

  • Customize. All resumes should be customized to the job, however, it’s especially important when you’re overqualified. Make sure you include the keywords that relate to the position. List the skills you’ve done that the job requires.

  • Omit. You’re not required to post all of your education, certificates, and even all of the jobs you’ve held on a resume. You’re also not required to list the dates. Sometimes being overqualified is associated with years working so omitting things like dates and some advanced degrees might help you get the job.

  • Use an objective. Yes, most people no longer use an objective in a resume but in this situation, it might help. It lets you begin the dialogue about why you’re looking for a job that you’re overqualified for. The more you can explain that this is what you want, the better.

  • Drop the titles. Dropping your higher ranking and higher-paying job titles might not be entirely possible, but you certainly can deemphasize them. Focus on job duties and not accomplishments (the opposite of our normal advice).

  • Remove some jobs. While it’s important to add the most relevant jobs to your resume, you are not required to list every position you’ve had. You can remove any jobs that make you seem overqualified. Just remember that some companies might question the gaps that this might create in your resume, so be prepared to answer those questions.

Use Your Cover Letter to Explain

The cover letter and the resume are the key documents when you’re applying for a job. The cover letter is your chance to explain yourself, so you’d better make the most of it.

  • Customize. A generic cover letter isn’t going to do it. You need to explain that you’d be a great hire because you have the qualifications, and this is the position you want. Sell it and sell it hard if you want to be hired.

  • Details. If you can add details of how you can help them, it might work to your benefit. They might not have even considered what a benefit having a more experienced person in the position could be. Explain why they’d want to hire you.

  • Be honest. Don’t try to hide or ignore your credentials. It can come off as disingenuous or fishy if you’re trying to hide something.

  • Modesty. Interestingly, you’re encouraged to brag in most resumes and cover letters. This is the one time you want to use restraint. You don’t want to say you didn’t have career successes, but you don’t want to hit them so hard.

Discuss Being Overqualified During an Interview

If you get to the interview stage – congratulations! You’ve done a great job and somewhere along the way you’ve impressed the hiring manager or a recruiter or two. Now, you get to shine. This is where your experience as a professional in your field and as someone who has a long work history can work to your advantage. Remember these tips at the job interview.

  • Address it right away. Don’t hide behind anything. Address the issue at the outset and let them know that you understand what the position entails and that you know you are overqualified. Then, sell them on why you want that position.

  • Hit the objections. Use the information we previously discussed to counter their objections. Make sure they understand that you do want this job, it’s not a stepping stone, you are completely comfortable taking direction and fitting into the role they have. Whatever their objections are, be ready to respond.

  • Think about compensation. You have probably already considered that you’re not going to be making what you used to. You’re going to see people who know less than you come in and climb the ladder and make more than you. You need to be okay with this and then you need to let them know that compensation is not your priority.

  • Your goals. This might be strange for the interviewer because they’re used to talking with people who want a job so they can advance their career and you don’t fit that mold. But that’s okay. Let them know what your goals are.

    If you want to do the work because you’re passionate about it, then let them know that. If you no longer want to put in overtime and weekends to prove yourself, it’s okay to let them know. If they can personally understand your motivations, they’re more likely to see how you’d be a fit for the job.

Use Your Professional Connections

One of the biggest tips and probably the best ones for someone like you in your situation is to use your connections. At this point in your career, you either fully embrace the idea that it’s not what you know but who you know, or you’ve at least seen that cliche in action.

You have no doubt met people along the way in your career. You know that it’s a small world, especially within one field or business. As long as you’ve made a good impression with the people you worked with, then they can be an excellent resource.

Reach out to those people and explain what your professional goals are. Not only will these people most likely know of job openings, but they can be incredible references for you. A hiring manager is more likely to feel good about hiring someone overqualified when they’re being referred for the position by someone else.

Final Thoughts

Let’s be honest, there are a few different reasons to apply for a job when you’re overqualified. If you’re just looking to get a job and a paycheck, you’re probably going to be unhappy in the position in the long run.

But if that’s okay with you, then great! You’re just trying to do what you have to to survive. You can still use the above tips to help you get hired. It just might not be a place you’re happy at in the long run.

But maybe you’ve considered all of the options and have decided that you want the job. That it’s your dream job and you’re willing to get less pay and have less responsibility, then good for you. This isn’t a bad thing. Many people decide halfway through their careers that they want to slow down or take a step back.

That said, it’s still not easy to convince hiring managers that that’s the case. They’re used to seeing people who want to achieve and who are pushing forward on their careers. It’ll take some selling and thoughtful use of the tips above, but you can do it and get a job that you love.

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Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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