Overqualified? Three Tips on How to Respond

Some obvious warning signs can tell you if you’re overqualified for a job. It’s a huge disappointment – not to mention a nasty surprise – to be turned down for a job you feel more than perfect for, especially if you’ve put a lot of time and energy into the application and interview process.

Do you meet or beat every requirement and preference in the job description? Do you make significantly more money (or do you have a ton more responsibility) in your current job? Do you think that you could do a better job than the hiring manager? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you might be overqualified. But does this automatically make you a bad fit for the job? No! Here are three tips to diagnosing your qualification problem and responding to managers who express concerns that you might be overqualified.

1. Recognize That It Might Be Their Problem, Not Yours

Recruiters have information that you don’t – they know more about past successful or unsuccessful candidates, the workplace, and probably the position. They’re considering many factors and candidates and are likely making an assumption. If they call you overqualified, they might be assuming ...

  • You’re too familiar with the job duties already, so you’ll get bored.

  • You’ve been accustomed to a higher salary, so you might want more money than they can pay.

  • You come from a different background or company than most of the existing employees, so you won’t fit into the workplace culture.

While you can’t control what the manager thinks of you, it’s good to be aware of how you might be coming across. “Overqualified” may be a polite replacement for “arrogant” if you seem more confident than you should be. If the hiring manager finds your legitimate competence intimidating or threatening, they might also use this as a cop-out.

Managers are people, and people have biases, and their ego will come into play sometimes. Depending on the company’s culture and demographics, age may be a factor in why you are called overqualified. Perhaps you’re young and inexperienced and the manager doesn’t want to take a chance on someone who seems “unproven” in the job market, despite your years of education. Perhaps you’re older with many years of experience under your belt, and the recruiter thinks you may not fit in well with a younger manager. You can’t control age discrimination, but you can control your attitude. If the hiring managers are determined to push you out the door, consider it their loss.

2. Focus On What You Can Control

Recruiters and managers are doing the best with the information they have … but they can only know so much. If you are passionate and determined, you might get a chance to prove them wrong! If these assumptions come up in an interview, prepare an answer that will hopefully help them feel more confident about you. In responding, focus on three crucial things you can control:

  • Your Attitude: Since the hiring manager’s decision might not be solely based on you, keep a positive attitude. Strive to approach the overqualified claim objectively. Treat the hiring manager as if they are wanting to do what’s best for you and the company. Thoughtful, kind answers to their concerns will help you look more favorable than stumbling or frustrated objections.

  • Your Gratitude: Express your desire to work happily for the offered pay (even if it’s lower than you’re used to). Thank the hiring manager for their time without argument, even if they ultimately decide to pass. Establishing rapport now may help you later if another opportunity opens up.

  • Your Self-Improvement: Show your commitment to the job and the company by doing thorough research before submitting your application and accepting an interview, using concrete examples of the value you can add in the position you’re applying for, and preparing questions for the interview.

3. Show Respect and Gratitude When You Respond

If you get the chance, here’s an example of how to politely respond to the claim that you’re overqualified for a job:

“I appreciate your concerns, and thank you for the opportunity to address my qualifications. Although I’m very proud of my accomplishment in [becoming a manager and leading the marketing department], I’d like to be able to focus once again on my favorite aspect of this field, which is [creative design]. I am passionate about [creative design] and am truly interested in making a long-term commitment to this job. Since this role has less responsibility than my previous position, I’m not expecting to earn the same salary as I currently make. Based on what I’ve learned about your [company/department], I believe I’d be a great fit for [these reasons].” If you suspect being overqualified is hindering your own job search, feel free to use and tweak this template by rewriting the material in brackets. If you need help with your resume or any other job materials, contact the NextUp team below!

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