How to Apply for a Job When You're Overqualified

It's best to be honest and have a good, solid reason for not moving on in your career.


It's hard enough to find the perfect job, and many job seekers find that they are overqualified for the positions available so they feel the need to apply for jobs beneath their current experience level. For some, the need to earn money and a lack of suitable positions drives them to take a lower level role. For others, it may be a question of location; they are not willing to move to find a new, more suitable job.

Plenty of other reasons drive job hunter to proactively apply to lower-level positions. For instance, after moving into a management role, some people decide they prefer an individual contributor role because it suits their work/life balance needs. Some people realize they are simply not interested in management or burnt-out on the extra responsibilities and headaches that come along with a more senior post.

[See 15 Ways Good Bosses Keep Their Best Employees.]

Recruiters tend to consider someone overqualified for a position if they have too many years of experience or have already been promoted to a higher position in another company. Being over-educated, too, plays into the over-qualification equation.

Understand How Others See You

If you're applying for a position for which you could be consider "overqualified", it's important to understand what recruiters are thinking when they read your resume. The hiring manager may feel threatened by hiring an employee with a higher level of education or more qualifications than their own. The other common view is the hiring manager may feel that you'd be willing to take something at a lower salary than your qualifications demand as a temporary fix and leave just as soon as something better comes along. Employers may also feel that you will ask for more than they are willing to pay in salary due to your skill level and stick with interview candidates within their "ideal" qualifications range without exploring it further.

How to Land the Job

[See 6 Ways the World of Work is Changing.]

A carefully prepared resume can help you land the position you are overqualified for when you focus on your skills first and experience second. Focus on the specific skills the role requires, and don't highlight others that don't apply.

Recruiters like to see that you've dedicated time to your past employers. Not including your dates of employment looks fishy, so you should always be as transparent as possible. If you have a long career tenure, it's not necessary to list in detail every position. Focus on your most relevant decade of employment. Your previous experience can occupy can be listed as other relevant experience or combined in just a few lines in the ending section.

To tie it all together, write a passionate cover letter that is customized to the company you are applying to, letting them know why you want to work for them, and the impact you could quickly make on the organization. Only apply for one position, as applying for every job opening in the company can appear desperate, especially if you could be viewed as overqualified for all of them.

[See Job Market Sucks? Not for Techies.]

When attempting to get hired for a job you are overqualified for, remember to do your research first. If you have a firm grasp of the current issues the company faces, you are in the perfect position to explain how your experience and skills are uniquely suited to help them solve those problems.

Be willing to accept less money than you might ordinarily be paid based on your level of experience. Though you shouldn't go below the general market value for that position, taking a lower salary could be the deciding factor in getting hired.

In most cases, the recruiter or hiring manager will want to know why you are applying below your skill level. It is best to be honest and have a good, solid reason for not moving on in your career if you want the recruiter to seriously consider you for the position.

Keep in mind that it may be difficult for third-party recruiters to help you land a lower level position with their client. Recruiters build trust with their clients by presenting candidates based on a specific skill-set and cultural fit. Even if you know you'd do a great job, a third-party recruiter typically has to rely on your most recent and relevant experience to present you to the client. If you don't get a positive response from recruiters, you'll need to do your best to appeal to potential employers on your own.

Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs, a niche job board for public relations, communications and social media jobs. She blogs at, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.