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Candidate Help & Advice

Perceived as Overqualified—What Now?

Some job seekers, especially those who’ve been in transition for an extended time, start undervaluing their worth, and as a result, they might begin applying for positions below the levels they had in past. The hiring authorities then ask the obvious: why would an applicant take a lesser job than previously held, and why should the employer risk the employee’s leaving once a better-paying job turns up? Furthermore, they’re asking whether they could meet the candidate’s salary requirements or other job expectations.

There are no fast rules about being labeled overqualified. So-called overqualification is just the perception or interpretation of the hiring manager who questions one’s fit for the position. The remaining question is, how can a labeled candidate overcome a hiring manager’s concerns? If this issue comes up during an interview, here are some tactics.

  • Preempt the issue by addressing it if you’re changing fields or you’ve decided to reduce your workload.
  • Indicate up front that you’re flexible about compensation, and emphasize your unique value to the organization.
  • State that your focus is long-term, emphasizing that you’re stable and not planning on changing jobs soon.

Like many obstacles you’ll face in your job search, being overqualified is a problem only 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 strength.

Here are four simple steps you can take in an interview once it’s been hinted that you’re overqualified.

  1. Don’t take the statement emotionally. Recognize that the other party wants to discuss it. The worst that could happen is that the interviewer simply ignores it and automatically takes you out of the running. So you can say something like: “I can appreciate your concern, and I would like to address it for you.”
  2. Instead of your focusing on the negative, approach the subject from the positive side. Ask yourself what the interviewer’s intention was when saying you’re overqualified. Was it to indicate that you might want more money or perhaps that you’d quit once you find a better-paying job? For the sake of this example, let’s take the latter—namely, that you’d move on for a better-paying position. So in this case you can ask the following: “I suspect you think that money is my main motivator and that I’d move on once a better offer comes along. Is that it?”
  3. Since the answer will likely be yes, you can now make your qualifying statement, such as: “If I could illustrate to you that in fact there are many other motivators that guide me and that money is not the most important one, might that influence your opinion?” When you get a positive response, you can proceed to the last step.
  4. At this stage, you should have a prepared story from your past that proves you’re motivated by other things such as teamwork, camaraderie, appreciation by the boss, or something else and should emphasize that in your world, money isn’t everything.

The fact that you’re able to address such a difficult issue without becoming flustered, but instead, and turn the issue into a friendly exchange and build rapport will certainly be received in a positive way by the decision maker.