Most candidates preparing for a job interview worry about whether they'll be able to come off as experienced or educated enough to make a positive impression on the hiring manager. But job seekers with substantial schooling or a lengthy work history often face the opposite problem.
For better or for worse, highly qualified candidates are sometimes forced to grapple with the stigma of being labeled “overqualified.” Often, hiring managers who encounter an applicant with a bounty of education or experience fear that they will be unable to meet the candidate’s salary requirements or other job expectations.
In truth, there’s no hard and fast rule that determines the perfect level of qualification for each position. As anyone who has spent time in the job market knows, there is usually a wide range of experience and education among the employees at every level of an organization -- including PhDs who toil happily in entry-level roles and GEDs who have made it all the way to the corporate boardroom.
According to human resources and staffing consultant Ken Gaffey, the phrase “overqualified” is often a code word that hiring managers use to express concern about a candidate’s fitness for the position. In order to get past the “overqualified” stigma and land your dream job, you have to be able to discern the true source of the hiring manager’s hesitation -- and then move in to neutralize it. These tips can help you move past the overqualified label and sail to success in your next interview:
If there’s a special reason why you’re in the market for a lower-level position, it might help to discuss it upfront. For example, if you’re looking to establish yourself in a new field, or if you want to reduce your work schedule, let the hiring manager know.
A great way to dodge the overqualified label is to take the focus off of your career path as a whole, and instead emphasize the skills and abilities you’ve picked up along the way. The functional resume format – which job search gurus often recommend to recent grads and inexperienced jobseekers – may be the best option for highly qualified candidates, as well.
One of the major reasons hiring managers shy away from highly experienced candidates is the perception that their salary expectations will be out of line with the position. If you’re willing to come down on salary in order to get your foot in the door, let the hiring manager know from the get-go. Emphasize your unique value to the organization.
The hiring manager may be worried that you won’t be able to work effectively alongside less-experienced peers. To allay these concerns, choose answers that will help you cast yourself as a humble team player who can get along well with people from all walks of life.
It’s often assumed that highly qualified candidates are just looking for a temporary job to tide them over until something better comes along. Leave no doubt that you intend to dedicate yourself to long-term success in your new role.
Like many obstacles you’ll face in your job search, being “overqualified” is only a problem if you don’t take the opportunity to turn it around to your advantage! By carefully highlighting your skills and thinking strategically about ways to minimize the potential for problems, you’ll be able to turn this perceived liability into a strength.
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