Overqualified? Here's What to Do

Robin Ryan,
Career Coach and Author

Too often, older job candidates continually state this complaint: "They aren't hiring me because I'm overqualified." People in their 40s, 50s and older cringe when they hear that word. A professional summed up his experience saying:

"I have a lot of incredible professional experience, project management and leadership with an MBA and a CPA. All of this information is on my resume because it sets me apart. Or so I thought, but now I am concerned that people are viewing me as overqualified for lower level jobs and are eliminating me. Yet, the jobs I am truly qualified for are fairly high up because of all of the varied experience, but I'm not being considered due to lack of specific industry experience. Help!"

So what should you do if you are credentialed, have good experience, are looking to get re-employed, and are even willing to take a lower-level position? Here are a few recommendations:

Don't be tempted to "dumb down!"
This strategy moves your career backwards, and usually backfires. You typically end up frustrated, not hired, or worse, find a new job you can't wait to leave. Most employers today want you working at your ability level since productivity is key. Do some soul searching and savvy preparation.

Acknowledge that employers are reluctant to hire a person who is overqualified because they think the person is unlikely to be happy, won't stay long, might want the interviewer's job, or expect fast promotion and aren't seriously interested just in doing the job for which they are being hired. Nor do employers want someone who is burnt-out and sees their job as an easy paycheck. Sometimes you can be threatening to the interviewer, especially if you are truly suited for the interviewer's job. State your qualifications but be realistic about how low it's reasonable to demote yourself.

Have a solid reason why you want the position.
"I need a job" is not a response that will endear you to them. You must use your communication skills to convince the employer why a demotion is a good option for you. Create a reasonable explanation.

Try: "My current position as controller requires 10 nights of travel per month. This has become an increasingly difficult sacrifice for my family. I have decided to seek an accounting position that allows me to focus on my strengths -- taxes, audits and computer integration -- but that also allows me to go home each evening. This is not an option with the subsidiary I work for. It requires a lot of out-of-town travel to do the job, which I no longer want to do. I believe the extensive financial skills I would bring will benefit your organization in a positive way. I see this as a win/win situation for both of us."

Don't show desperation.
You may feel it, but it will work against your getting hired if you show it. Too often a job seeker says, "I'll start at any job just to get my foot in the door." That won't work – it's an outdated strategy. Being willing to take any job often makes the interviewer disqualify you. They need a person to perform and get done the specific job they are hiring for. You must show you can do it, but also that you want to do it. You can offer some advantages, gained from your experience, such as: "My ability to solve problems and train others would be a major plus in the position, and it's what I most enjoy doing".

Look harder for positions for which you are qualified.
A job search is a long and challenging process. Be absolutely sure you have a top notch résumé and cover letters, and are well-polished for any interview. Networking and checking company Web sites, are key to hearing about and landing a new job. Ask friends and contacts for referrals to new people who can help you uncover unadvertised positions or provide you with insider information. By securing a position that's a good fit, you'll more likely remain happily employed and get paid the salary you are worth.

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