Nothing is more frustrating than applying for a job you want and being told you’re "overqualified." You figure that, "Hey, if I’m willing to take this work—work that my skills and experience clearly show I am more than capable of doing—then employers should be thrilled to have me."
Not so. Employers are actually suspicious of applicants with too many qualifications. They fear you’re just slumming until something better comes along, or you’re going to want too much money, or you’re really after the boss’s position, or you’ll make other employees feel small, or you’ll resent being supervised by a younger or less-experienced manager, or, finally, that you are incompetent (because if you were any good, they reason, you'd be gunning for a better job). What’s even worse is that employers often won’t say the reason they’re not hiring you is because they think you’re overqualified. They just never call you back.
The thing is, you might have good reason to seek a job some may consider “beneath” you. You may want less responsibility because of issues or events in your personal life. You may have tried a higher level position and realized that you miss your old work. You may be seeking to enter a new industry. You may just really need a job!
Do you fear you’re being turned down for work because of the “O” word? Here’s what to do:
Confront the issue upfront. Explain (in your cover letter, while networking, at the beginning of interviews) why you are pursuing this particular job. Be honest, but stay positive. Emphasize what you can do for this potential employer. Better yet, demonstrate a direct relationship between your qualifications and an improvement in the employer’s bottom line.
Take money off the table. Normally it’s in a job hunter’s best interest to delay talk of salary for as long as possible. But when pay is the elephant in the room, it’s better to deal with it right away. Assure the hiring manager that, as with all positions, you are simply seeking the market rate. Do not sound desperate. Sound flexible. Sound realistic. Your attitude should be that your past earnings are not relevant to your current job search, just as when you’re seeking a career upgrade.
Downplay job titles. Hiring managers get nervous if your last job was as senior vice president and here you are applying for a project manager position. It will help if you emphasize skills and deemphasize titles in your cover letter, on your résumé, and at the interview.
Keep your ego in check. Particularly if your interviewer is younger than you, take care not to come off as a know-it-all. Show that you’re a team player and, without being overwhelming, how you’d be perfect for the job.
Prove loyalty. If you sense the employer suspects you’ll quit the minute you find something better, mention your longevity at previous jobs. Most employers believe that past performance is an indicator of future performance.
Offer to sign a contract. Some job coaches suggest saying, “Your company is exactly what I’m looking for. In fact, I want this job so much I will commit to staying a minimum of a year.” Alternatively, offer to work on a trial basis, no strings attached, for, say, a month. Your superior qualifications mean you’ll need little or no training, and you’ll be so wonderful the employer may not be able to let you go.
Be honest. If the reason you’re seeking a lower-level job is because you need to care for an aging parent or an ill child, then say so. However, don’t let the employer conclude you’ll be too distracted with home concerns to do a good job. Show enthusiasm (see below). Convince the employer this job is exactly what you’re looking for, not a “second choice” or a “stop gap.” (Note: It’s possible to be too honest. Do not say, “I’m willing to take this job because I can’t find anything else.” Everything you say or do should be calibrated to make you look like a great hire that the employer just can’t afford to pass up.)
Be enthusiastic. A genuine eagerness about the job and a true desire to work for this particular company will incline hiring managers in your favor.
Let others speak for you. A third party’s endorsement is often more powerful than anything you can say. Make sure your references and your network are saying the right things in regard to your background.
Finally, from the silver-lining department: The overqualified stigma is less than it once was (so many people are out of work nowadays). Indeed, some companies frankly admit to using the current down economy to snag good help at bargain prices. Good for them. And good for you, if what you need is a job. Now.
Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at www.karenburnsworkinggirl.com.