Overqualified for a Job? Tips for Overcoming This Obstacle

Updated April 24, 2023

If you're applying for a new position, make sure to review the job description and learn more about the employer's expectations. While you may notice that you possess the credentials a hiring manager is looking for in a candidate, it's also possible to be overqualified. Understanding what to do if you exceed a company's requirements can help you pursue the job you want even if you're overqualified. 

In this article, we discuss what it means to be overqualified, why employers hesitate to hire those with experience that exceeds requirements and how you can overcome this obstacle.

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What does it mean to be overqualified for a job?

If you're seen as overqualified for a position, it typically means that you have skills or experience beyond what is required for the job position. Companies try to find the best match for a position based on experience level and qualifications. When they see a resume that shows an excess of qualifications possessed by someone who may be better suited for a higher-level position, they'll likely be hesitant to hire you for various reasons.

Related: What Does Overqualified Mean?

Reasons employers may not want to hire an overqualified candidate

Employers often question the motives of overqualified employees because the hiring process is time-consuming and expensive. When you're overqualified, several factors may affect successful job outcomes, including:

Fear of turnover

While job searching, you may have been unsuccessful in finding the exact job you want. You may have started applying to jobs that were a bit under your level to get a job and the income that goes with it. This is what scares many employers away from hiring overqualified candidates. They worry that you're only taking the job because you couldn't get the one you wanted. This means that you may leave, and they may have to rehire someone else.

Related: What Is Turnover?

Potential boredom

Being exceptional at a job may be fun at first, but it doesn't present a challenge. Overcoming challenges makes a job especially rewarding, and if you're not challenged, you risk being bored. Your new workload may be unfulfilling if you're taking on a job considered a step below instead of a step above.

Not following direction

When pursuing a new role, highlight your ability to follow the team's overall direction to achieve a certain goal. If you're so proficient at your job that you're unwilling to follow the specific directives and prefer to dictate your way of doing things, this could cause contention within the group. A manager may also fear that your experience may threaten fellow coworkers and create tension within their department. 

Unrealistic salary expectations

Your level of experience is likely associated with a higher salary, and employers may worry that you'll reject their salary offer or request an amount higher than what is being offered. Some recruiters may ask about salary up-front to save time later in the hiring process. If they know you're not willing to entertain a lower salary, there is no reason to continue with the application.

Ulterior motives

Sometimes dishonest people seek job positions they're overqualified for to help them accomplish a self-serving goal. Though these scenarios are less likely, candidates may apply to lower-level positions in an attempt to disqualify another candidate they know personally. Or, by taking a specific job, they may gain inside access to specific information about the company for the use of malicious intent. When hiring managers suspect this, companies may research a candidate's background by viewing their social media accounts to better understand their personality and past behaviors.

How to discuss that you're overqualified during an interview

If you're applying for a job that you seem overqualified for, the hiring manager may have some objections to your application. However, there are ways that you can address the issue of having skills that exceed the listed requirements, including:

1. Address your experience

Acknowledge your advanced skills or lengthy work experience from the beginning. Interviewers may feel you're honestly expressing yourself and why you want the job. If you have a passion for the brand or are looking for a more creative position than your current role, explain your interest in leaving your field and looking for a new opportunity, even if you're overqualified. Your willingness to discuss your experience and why you're transitioning to a different position can help you answer an employer's questions and make them feel more at ease about your qualifications.

Related: Listing Professional Experience on Your Resume

2. Consider a lower salary

Be willing to consider all offers regarding salary, especially when applying to a lower-level position. If you're genuinely interested in pursuing the position, no matter the pay, that can help persuade the employer that you're worth being hired. Be prepared to discuss salary early in the process since this may be a potential concern for the hiring team if you're overqualified.

3. Explain your worth

You've likely learned a lot over the years and can provide unique skills to the company in question. Consider how your unique experience and credentials can allow you to bring value to the role. Explain how your expertise can help you be a more efficient employee. When given a chance, ask good questions to better understand the issues most important to the interviewer and then address them. Asking questions and highlighting your curiosity can show that you're eager to learn and want to understand the company and managers' expectations.

Related: 33 Fun Career Ideas To Consider Pursuing (With Salaries)

4. Personalize your application

Once you've decided to apply, consider how to customize your resume and cover letter with the specific company in mind. Hiring managers look for applications that show how well the candidate is paying attention to the job listing. They want to know that you've taken the time to research their company.

Related: 19 Top Interview Questions in 2023 (With Sample Answers)

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Tips for job applications when you're overqualified for the job

Here are some tips to follow when revising your resume and cover letter:

Highlight relevant experience

Consider the job you're seeking and the specific experiences you've had that can highlight why you're a good fit for the role. You may have extensive experience in an area that's not relevant to this job. In that case, omit the information and highlight your strongest skills, academic training or certifications.

Related: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing (With Video)

Remove unnecessary information

Some things are better left unsaid, like specific details on a resume. When you're overqualified, the irrelevant details can distract from your goal of getting an interview. You may want to leave off information like advanced credentials unrelated to the job and dates of education, which can advertise your age.

Related: How To Know When It Is Time to Leave a Job

Review the resume format

There are dozens of ways to format your resume, and some of them can help highlight your greatest strengths. Both functional and combination resumes can present your strengths in an ideal way for the hiring manager. Conduct an online search to find the format best suited for your credentials and the role you're pursuing. Customizing your resume for each role you pursue is especially important when you're overqualified. You may want to rewrite some bullet points to match the job description better and appeal to the hiring manager's expectations.

Related: How To Format a Cover Letter (With Outline and Examples)

Write a strong professional summary

A resume's summary or objective section briefly explains who you are and what you're applying for, usually in two to three sentences. Introduce yourself and briefly summarize your transitional goals into this new position. It's important for your goals to align with the goals of the company and your prospective department. This can encourage an employer to keep reading your application documents and invite you for an interview.

Related: How To Write a Resume Employers Will Notice

Speak simply

Use simple language that's engaging but not too high-level. List the basics of your expertise in a way that is easy to read and gets to the point. Clear and concise information can help guide the hiring manager through your resume quickly and leave a good impression. You can clearly state your transferable skills, and describe how your previous experience has prepared you for your prospective role.

Explain your motivation in your cover letter

The cover letter is a critical part of your application because it provides a place to explain why you want a job you're overqualified for. While you want to avoid using the word "overqualified" in your application, you can address your extensive experience with a statement such as:

Example: While I've successfully managed a marketing team for several years, I'm interested in returning to a more creative role where I can devote most of my time to creating content within the team. I thoroughly enjoy the writing process, and this job position with your company can allow me the freedom to do what I love.

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