Most job seekers worry about not having enough experience or education to achieve the role of their dreams.
However, some are plagued by the opposite problem: overqualification.
Being overqualified is not the blessing you may think it is. Some employers may even be more likely to reject a candidate due to overqualification than underqualification.
Some common concerns employers have regarding overqualified candidates include not being able to pay them what they expect, thinking that they will leave when a more attractive offer comes around, worrying about their willingness to do low-level tasks or learn new methods, or even that they will become bored with the job.
All of these could be reasons as to why you may be rejected for a role that you are overqualified for. However, there are proactive steps you can take to ease these fears and land that job in spite of overqualfiication.
1. Understand the main reasons you have for seeking a role that you are overqualified for.
It is important that you, as an overqualified job seeker fully understand why you are willing to seek underqualified work. For some, it might be the only option. Many highly qualified workers who have lost their job simply can’t find work, so they are forced to take something below their pay grade. For others, seeking a position under their level of qualifications is completely voluntary and simply a necessary step when looking to start a career in a new field or pursue a new passion.
It is also important that you understand the pros and cons of your decision. Most overqualified workers will take a pay cut, take orders from a manager with fewer qualifications and perform work that they might find low-level or even boring. As with any decision, if the cons are outweighed by the pros, then the right decision has been made.
All of this information must be clearly understood before applying so you are able to clearly explain it to the employer when needed.
2. Tailor your resume to avoid rejection.
Although you may be overqualified, how you craft your resume is the key to combatting any preliminary assumptions an employer may have during the application stage.
Different resume styles highlight different facets of a candidate's qualifications, education, and skillset. For an overqualified job seeker, it is important to draw attention to one’s skillset instead of years of experience. To achieve this goal, a functional resume can be used. A functional resume highlights categories of skills achieved through previous positions, listing the accompanying work history on the side for reference.
Furthermore, if you are seeking a lower-level position because you are switching into a completely new field, then your resume must be tailored toward this new field. This could mean changing the resume style or format and/or omitting unnecessary or irrelevant experience, skills, or education.
Lastly, it's important that the employer knows your reason for taking a job that you are overqualified for as soon as possible. Therefore, regardless of how you have set up your resume, you should always state why you are applying in the Objective section. In this section, make sure to emphasize your passion or excitement for the field, be it your existing field or a new one entirely.
3. Anticipate and answer the employer's assumptions in your cover letter.
While the resume is often what makes up the employer’s first impression of a candidate, a good cover letter acts as an explanation for any remaining concerns they may have after reading the resume.
If you were unable to ease concerns of overqualification in your resume, after reading it the employer might be left thinking that you do not fully understand the level of the job, are simply desperate for work, or are just applying to this job because you assume it will be an easy one.
Therefore, your cover letter should be built around easing these concerns, so much so that you may even state your understanding of being overqualified directly to ensure the employer knows that you are aware. To accomplish this, it is important to be as honest as possible about the real reason for applying for the job in your cover letter. This could include your excitement for transitioning into a new field of passion, that you are looking for a new challenge, or that you think you can bring something unique to the role. That being said, if the reason you are applying for the role is that you can’t find any other work, then you could simply state that you have been looking for the right fit and have finally found it in the current role.
It’s also important to address what you assume will be the employer's fears. To do this, reiterate your interest in the employer’s company in particular and emphasize your goal of being hired for the long haul.
4. Prepare to ease an employer’s remaining concerns in the interview.
Once the employer has read your application and is left wanting more, then an interview will take place.
In the interview, your responsibility is to nail home all of the points you have made in your resume and cover letter and resolve any remaining doubts the employer may have.
To prepare for this interview, you should review your reasons for applying for the role, your pros, and cons list, as well as come up with potential answers for common follow-up questions.
The employer may ask, “I think you may be overqualified for this role; do you think so?” A seemingly general question like this can be tricky. The keys are to be honest and straightforward. Explain the positive reasons that have led you to apply for the role while making it clear that you understand and are accepting of the possible drawbacks that might come with it. If applicable, you may also mention that money is not your driving factor and that you are looking for a long-term investment.
Overall, your mission was successfully accomplished if the employer can leave the interview with no rational reason to deny you the role simply based on overqualification.
Written by: MacKenzie Verhelst, BAPsych, CVRP-TSA
MacKenzie Verhelst is a Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant for Creative Therapy Consultants. MacKenzie is a Certified Vocational Rehabilitation Professional (CVRP) with Transferrable Skill Analysis (TSA) certification and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from McGill University. She demonstrates expertise in vocational assessment, resume/cover letter development, interview preparation, active job search support, and job sustainment services. MacKenzie is passionate about helping others reach their utmost potential and advocates for finding joy in work. To learn more about Vocational Rehabilitation services, please visit click here.