By Dr Eugene Brink
You are desperately trying to break into a new career or you’re just sick of your current job and want out.
Most of us will be in this position in our lifetime, but a problem arises when the “overqualified” label is hung around your neck. Then landing that lowly job you want or need becomes difficult.
There are many reasons why recruiters and human resource specialists look askance upon your application for a job that is somewhat of a mismatch to your skills. They might think you won’t stick around for long, so there is no sense in appointing you. They will think you are too expensive. Or that you won’t be able to fit in and be a team player. Some might even regard you as a threat.
Whatever the reason, it is up to you to prove that you want the position and that any unfounded assumption is refuted during the interview process. Here’s what to do and not to do:
- Be candid
“Say you know you have certain skills or tenure that are above and beyond what the position calls for, but that you are looking for an additional type of challenge or opportunity,” says Alexandra Levit, a business speaker and author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe.
She believes the biggest mistake you could make is not addressing the elephant in the room.
- Language and attitude
This is very important, seeing that one of a manager’s biggest concerns when receiving the CV of an overqualified person is if he or she will do what is expected of him or her and fit in. Thus, focus on the skills and experience mentioned in the advertisement.
“Take the emphasis off your titles – avoid ‘Head of’, ‘Manager’ or ‘Executive’ early on in your resume or cover letter and focus on telling the employer about your experience and why you are suitable for the role instead,” says Kellie Stanborough, HR and recruitment expert.
Berrin Erdogan, a professor of management at Portland State University and the lead author of a recent study on the subject, says that hubris should be avoided. “No job applicants should call themselves overqualified. If someone else says it about you, it’s flattering. When you say it, it’s off-putting.” If the hiring manager brings it up, be humble.
Erdogan recommends saying, “I know I have more experience than what you’re looking for, but I’m excited about the company and the role, and I’m looking forward to contributing to the best of my capabilities.”
- Think big
Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a senior adviser at Egon Zehnder International and author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Who, says visionary leaders hire for the future, not their present needs. So, use this to your advantage and talk up the position.
He recommends passionately sharing your ideas about how big the job can be. Tailor the job to your interests and skills and emphasise your passion over other comforts such as a shorter commute or flexi-time. “Be proactive in highlighting the possibilities. Prove to the interviewer that he needs to hire a big fish, not a minnow,” he says.
- Be flexible on salary and stress your longevity
“If the company asks about salary requirements, make sure to mention that you are flexible if the requested salary is less than what you made previously,” says Joseph Vijay Ingam, head career coach at Interview SOS in Los Angeles. “Never make it seem that the position is beneath you.”
Another chief concern among recruiters is that you are merely using this as a stepping-stone to something bigger. To dispel this assumption, make sure to highlight your long spells in previous positions and get a former boss or colleague to vouch for your dedication and longevity.
Kate Ashford, 2020, “What to do when you’re told you’re overqualified for a job”, https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/overqualified-for-job-081417.
Rebecca Knight, 26 October 2017, “How to apply for a job you’re overqualified for”, https://hbr.org/2017/10/how-to-apply-for-a-job-youre-overqualified-for.
Seek, 2020, “How to overcome being considered overqualified for a job”, https://www.seek.com.au/career-advice/article/how-to-overcome-being-considered-overqualified-for-a-job.