,   |  October 13, 2014

What to do when you’re overqualified for a job, but want it anyway

This Monday, I’m excited to answer a question from Elana about being overqualified for a job, and getting passed over for that reason. Here’s her question:

Q: I’m often being told that I’m overqualified, and this is the reason why I don’t get invited to interviews. As a matter of fact, it may be, but if this could give me the possibility to get my foot in the door and land something in my dream company, I would definitely accept to start lower. How can I convey this in my application without sounding desperate?

Before we dive into the answer, let’s pull back the curtain and understand why this tends to happen. Many people are really baffled by the fact that companies do sometimes pass on overqualified candidates… because why wouldn’t you want someone as experienced as possible to do the job?

There are a few reasons recruiters and hiring managers may not call in an overqualified candidate. These 3 are the most common:

  1. Salary expectations are out of whack – People with more experience tend to make more money. Simple as that. Generally the budgets set aside for a certain role corresponds to the amount of experience/expertise being required. Recruiters and hiring managers want to spend time chatting with candidates that are likely to accept a job offer if it comes their way, not someone who ends up requiring 15k over budget.
  2. Retention concerns – Another reason a company may not want to hire an overqualified candidate is because they fear that the candidate won’t be satisfied with the level of work/responsibility (and therefore move on quickly). It takes a lot of money and effort to hire and train a new employee. Companies want to make sure that they are investing those resources in people who are likely to stay at the company for a solid period of time.  While it’s very understandable that an overqualified candidate would accept a job “below their level” for now, what happens when a better offer comes along 3 months from now (with more money and a better title)?  Will they stay or will they leave?
  3. Hunger and excitement about the role – This reason is similar to #2. There is a concern (whether it’s justified or not) that even if the new hire stays on board for a long period of time, they may not be as enthusiastic about their work. Think of it like a “been there, done that” kind of attitude versus someone who is still trying to prove themselves and work as hard as possible.

Now of course if you’re like Elana, you’re thinking to yourself “that’s not me! I am willing to take a lower salary to land my dream job and I’m not only planning to stay, but I’m also going to work my butt off!”

Here’s how you can overcome these concerns and prove that though overqualified, you’re the best person for the job. It’s all about having the opportunity to explain your rationale for making an “untraditional” move.

  1. Have someone vouch for you (get referred) – If this is a possibility, a personal referral goes a long way here. If you have a friend or connection at the company you’re applying to have them send your information along to the recruiting team (or hiring manager) after you apply. If someone is endorsing you, you’re more likely to get the benefit of the doubt about the above. Proactively addressing the issue is a bonus. If your contact knows you well and is really willing to get into the details, they can say something like “[candidate]’s main priority is to move over to a company they are passionate about and admire [or insert other reason]. Though he/she may have more experience than some of the other candidates, he/she is extremely excited about this role and the opportunity to [go back to reason for wanting the job].”
  2. Say it yourself – While it’s probably not the type of thing that is easy to explain in a resume and since it’s tough to know if someone is even going to read your cover letter, this is the perfect type of thing to address in a networking or cold email. You don’t need to go into your whole life story by any means, but you can reassure your reader that although you have extensive experience in an area, you’re ready to apply it to a [new industry/company/job/team/etc] and have no concerns about taking a step back to move forward.
  3. If you get to the interview process, look out for specific questions – There are plenty of questions asked during job interviews that are intended to gauge loyalty, excitement about the job, and rationale for leaving your current situation. Make sure when you answer these, you’re reassuring the interviewer that your extra experience is a perk, not a liability. Some of these questions are “Why are you leaving your current (or last) job?”, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”, “What are your salary expectations?” etc.

Even if the true answer is “this job market is impossible, so I’m just finding a short term solution” this is not the vibe you want to give off.

I hope this post answered your question Elana! Before we wrap up, I must say that I’ve hired plenty of overqualified applicants into various roles and they’ve done amazing. I think it’s very reasonable for people to take a role they’re overqualified for if it means they’ll be happier because it’s a better fit or opportunity in other ways.

Good luck!

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