What to Do if You're Overqualified

Green offers some advice on responding to a hiring manager who says you're too experienced.

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To job applicants, being told you're overqualified can feel like being told by a prospective date that you're too attractive. In other words, why is that a bad thing?

To understand what hiring managers mean when they say this, and how you can get around it, put yourself in the manager's head. When a manager says you're overqualified, here's what she's thinking:

  • You'll be bored.
  • You don't have a realistic understanding of what the position is about.
  • The salary will be too low for you.
  • You're just looking for any job right now, and once a better one comes along, you'll leave us.
  • You'll have trouble being managed by someone less experienced than you.
  • So your job is to reassure the hiring manager that none of these things are true, and in order to be convincing, you need to explain why. For instance:

    • "At this stage in my career, having a job I enjoy is more important to me than salary. I have no problem with earning less than I have in the past."
      • "I want to move into this field, and I know that I need to start at a lower level in order to do that."
        • "I'm deliberately looking for something with fewer responsibilities than I've had in the past so that I can spend more time with my family." (Or because you're going to school at night or have simply realized you prefer lower-pressure jobs.)
          • "I wouldn't take a job I'm not excited about, and I'm excited about this one because ______."
          • Ideally, the time to address all of this is in your cover letter. Otherwise, you may never get the chance to say it at all, because the manager may simply assume that you don't understand the nature of the position and screen you from the start. And once you get to the interview stage, be prepared to discuss it again, likely in more detail.

            If you can successfully put these doubts to rest, many hiring managers will be thrilled to hire your overqualified self. After all, you're a bargain.

            Alison Green is chief of staff for a medium-size nonprofit , where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff, as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. She is working with the Management Center to coauthor a book on nonprofit management. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.

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