It’s ironic isn’t it?
You work hard your whole life, climbing the corporate ladder.
You gather valuable skills and knowledge along the way.
You become a better you every single day you step out of that office.
Then when you unexpectedly find yourself looking for work, the “overqualified” hammer falls on you.
Perhaps you’re moving to a new city or country, or are the victim of company downsizing.
The higher positions that you once had are harder to come by.
Perhaps you lack local experience.
Or your previous job titles don’t align with the local market.
Maybe you’re changing careers.
Or perhaps a gap in your resume just cannot be overlooked by executive recruiters.
So you tell yourself you’re willing to take a step down to get back on your feet, but once again, you’re met with another obstacle – “You’re Overqualified”.
You feel helpless.
You can’t turn back the clock and undo past experience.
You can’t lie on your resume.
Then you start to look for something to blame, something that is beyond your control.
- It’s your age.
- It’s your advanced education.
- It’s your past job title.
Stop victimizing yourself! It won’t get you a job.
There are strategies you can implement both in your resume and your job search strategy, without resorting to dishonesty.
Let’s start with perspective.
Why Are You Overqualified?
It’s not your age. It’s not your education. It’s not your job title.
Think about it.
What kind of dimwitted hiring manager would say they want somebody “less skilled” or “less experienced” on their team?
If you’re shopping for a Kia, wouldn’t you take a Mercedes for the same price?
“Same price” is the key words there, and we are going to be covering several of those in this post.
A fair bit of warning – you may need to take a large dose of humility to follow the advice here.
This isn’t for the one track minded, ego-chasers.
Finding jobs at the price and hierarchical level you were expecting hasn’t worked out for you.
You have the courage and humility to take a step back to see the bigger picture in your new career.
What Does “Overqualified” Really Mean?
OK, so if hiring managers want the best, why do they label you as overqualified?
Here is what they are really saying:
- “You’ll get bored and quit. And I don’t want to go through this painful hiring process again.”
- “You’ll want to advance as soon as you get this job. And I don’t want to go through this painful hiring process again.”
- “You’ll be too expensive. I can’t afford you. (Unless you’re able to convince me you’re worth it)”
- “You’re desperate. You’ll take any job you can get and then leave.”
- “You’re old. You’re set in your ways. You’ll be too hard to train.”
- “You’re old. You won’t get along with the team.”
- “You’re old. You won’t get along with me, a younger hiring manager.”
Some hard hitting truths up there, but that’s the reality. The keywords:
- Too Old
The good news?
All of the above is perception. And perceptions are always in your control, as long as you acknowledge they exist and meet them head-on.
This doesn’t mean you bitterly fight perceptions in your job search strategy.
Job Search perceptions are like quick-sand. The more you fight it, the more you will sink into unemployment.
So let’s figure out how you can work these perceptions every step of the way:
- In your cover letter
- In your resume
- And finally, in your job interview.
Your Cover Letter
This is where the advantages of having a cover letter shine the most.
The cover letter gives you the opportunity to address your specific circumstances, like for example, being overqualified.
If you know you’re suffering from the overqualified label, nip it in the bud. Openly call it out in your cover letter.
If you don’t, perceptions will creep into the recruiter’s mind and they will formulate their own opinions of why you should not be shortlisted.
State why you want to work in this specific company and in this specific position.
Research the company in the news and what is it that excites you about this position (even though junior) and will keep you motivated.
It may sound something like this for an Accounts Receivable position:
“Zero2Hired Logistics is undergoing rapid expansion with a new branch in the NorthWest territory. My experience in working with the Logistics industry in the past is what led me to apply for this position, as I have grown to appreciate what the industry offers the expanding market.
Collecting overdue payments from customers is a discipline I firmly believe keeps an organization on financial track. I thrive on meeting deadlines and financial objectives. The people skills I have developed motivates me to speak well with customers and our sales representatives.”
You will mention that you are flexible in terms of salary, and are aware of the industry average for this specific position.
“I am aware that I have more experience than you require, but I am flexible in terms of negotiating a compensation plan that meets the industry standards for this specific position.”
On Too Old
The recruiter may turn to your resume, and discover your vast experience – “Age Alert!”
One of the many biases related to age discrimination is that you aren’t up to date with the latest trends and are unwilling to learn.
Another bias assumption is that you will believe you are superior to your younger management and won’t work well with the younger team.
Does the term “set in your ways” rings a bell?
You can address this negative perception with a reference to any new learning that you’ve undergone or seminars/conferences that you’ve attended, together with a positive shout out to the team.
“Recent XYZ training I have completed will also give me the opportunity to bring new innovative insights to complement the expertise of my team and my management.
The goal of your cover letter, if you’re certain you will face an overqualified persona, is to address the elephant in the room.
Yes, it’s stressful to make yourself so vulnerable.
But this is the part where you muster the courage and humility to break the barriers that are holding you back.
One of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen job seekers make on their resumes is to pour out every responsibility they’ve ever had into it.
They miss out on the most important factor that creates an effective resume.
If you’re applying for an entry-level role, the fact that you had 15 people reporting to you to delegate and lead may not be relevant.
You might be thinking, “If the hiring executive sees that I’m capable of doing so much, surely they will be happy to give me a job with lesser requirements.”
No, they won’t.
Because it’s not relevant to the job.
So, it’s time to customize the resume by removing those high-level skills and responsibilities that you are proud of and limit it to what’s being asked for in the job description.
Does the word “Downplaying” come to mind?
Yes, in a way, I am asking you to downplay your resume.
And this is where that big dose of humility is needed to break the barrier.
I understand it’s hard, but if you’re being tormented with overqualification, isn’t getting that new job worth it?
Here are a couple of tweaks you can make to your resume:
#1 Remove or tone down the hard skills (certifications and technical abilities) that are not being asked for in the job description.
I get it, you’re proud of the advanced certifications you’ve worked so hard to attain.
You’ve outperformed your peers in your advance knowledge of specialized tools and software in your industry.
But if it’s not being asked for in the job you’re applying for, it needs to go.
Else you run the risk of the hiring manager thinking “This person knows more than me. Threat!”
#2 Remove the responsibilities that are not being asked for in the resume.
It’s commendable that you created the strategies for the marketing plans from the ground up as, say, a Sales and Marketing Director, and delegated the document creation to your team.
But now, as a marketing coordinator, tweak that responsibility to tasks where you were more hands-on with your the marketing team that you led.
As a general rule, tasks and responsibilities where you were more hands-on, as opposed to strategic, may be more applicable for a junior role.
#3 Finally, the big one – your job title.
After all, when a Sales and Marketing Director is applying for a Marketing Coordinator role, that screams “overqualified”.
As always, honesty above all.
You may be tempted to change your job title, but if your cover is blown, most likely through a reference call, you’ve lost all credibility to the hiring executives.
Instead, to continue with our example, you can change it to “Sales and Marketing Department” or “Sales and Marketing Team Member”.
It’s not a lie.
And you will get the opportunity to provide clarity during the (phone) interview and then address your overqualification in person (coming up).
At least you won’t be disregarded as overqualified at the resume review stage and you moved one step closer in the hiring process.
One final point before we move on.
Any updates to your resume must mirror your LinkedIn Profile.
87% of recruiters are now looking at your LinkedIn profile before hiring you.
Any misalignment will result in a loss of integrity of your profile.
You’ve managed to dodge the bullet with your cover letter and resume but now comes the biggest challenge.
Convincing the person with the authority to hire you, your future manager, that you will not get too bored, are not too expensive or not too old for this job.
As with every job interview, you have to get in there with the right mindset.
And the right mindset starts with understanding your audience’s needs.
In this case, your audience is your hiring manager.
A reminder of what your future hiring manager wants from you:
- Can you solve the problem I have
- Can I easily see the return on investment (ROI) from hiring you
- Can you get along with me and my team
- Are you going to stick around?
On “Solving My Problem”
Of all the needs on this list, solving the hiring manager’s problem stands out the most.
If you can prove that you can solve the hiring manager’s problems, and beyond, the job is yours.
You have experience.
Use it to your advantage for God’s sake!
You were perhaps in the hiring manager’s shoes in your past.
You know what problems they are likely to face.
Position yourself in such a way, that your experience can help solve the problems quicker than other candidates.
Any hiring manager knows that new problems will continuously come up, and they will need capable people within their team to solve these problems.
Your experience allows you to solve their current problems so efficiently, that you will be available as a resource to solve other problems in the future.
That positions you well for the next need they have:
On “What’s the ROI from you?”
What are these problems costing the hiring manager today?
If you could solve those problems in one year with more skill, isn’t that more profitable than hiring someone cheaper who can solve those problems in three?
The hiring manager may not see it this way at first, so craft responses to your compensation carefully, without coming off as obnoxious and superior.
Mention that you are flexible on salary, and are aware of the industry standards for this position.
At the same time, you hope that they will consider your experience will have a higher ROI for the company because you will be in a position to take on more responsibilities as new challenges arise in the future rather than hiring additional staff on the team.
Hiring managers can certainly relate to that assessment.
Another interesting perspective is that your experience means you’ve already learned from your past mistakes, on someone else’s payroll.
On “Can you get along with me and my team?”
This is where your age or the fact that reporting to someone with less experience than you will be questioned.
You can set the manager’s mind at ease by asking several questions about teamwork and team culture.
This will show that you are eager to get along with everyone else.
Will you come off as a threat to the manager?
Not if you position yourself as an aid to your boss in your answers.
Steer clear of sounding like you know what the right answer should be – that will be tempting.
For example, if it comes into a conversation that managing budgets are challenging, don’t jump in and say “Oh well, let me tell you how I did it in my previous company. I strategically positioned my team to…….”
Instead, ask more questions to keep the conversation going.
- “What is the specific challenge with the budgets?”
- “What have you tried so far?”
- “How do you hope this role can help meet that challenge?”
Once you get the answer to that last question, you know what the hiring manager expects of you.
Then tailor your response to meet their expectation.
It’s all about listening and having conversations, and when you’re faced with the overqualified barrier, you need this skill now more than ever.
Are you going to stick around?
Finally, the hiring manager may feel you are desperate for your next job, and this is just placeholder for you until you find what you really want.
Here’s what you can do during the interview to control this perception:
- Focus on why you want to work for this specific organization, using the same company research you did for your cover letter
- Explain why this job is important and challenging for you.
- Highlight what keeps you motivated, and the reason you stuck around for the many years in your previous organization
- Ask about upcoming projects and how this role can fit into that.
- Mention that your experience means you will discover newer and more exciting ways of doing your current job, keeping you on your toes.
Another way to demonstrate your interest in the industry is mentioning current associations you belong to or training that you’ve recently completed.
New learning is always perceived positively.
Especially if you’re a more seasoned professional, this targets the “You’re set in your ways” perception.
“Overqualified means Qualified with Benefits”
Take the quote above to heart, by Jacob Share of JobMob.
Your experience counts for a lot provided you sincerely believe that there is honor in every job you do.
If you’re a newcomer to a city or country, you may find yourself needing to take a step back to advance your career.
Or if you’re planning on changing careers, the same applies.
Think of it as part of the learning curve that needs to dip before it accelerates back to the top.
Even after successfully using the strategies above, you may still be faced with the hiring manager feeling insecure about hiring you and slapping you with the overqualified label.
You have to ask yourself if you really want to work for a boss as insecure as that.
Smart hiring managers, after all, hire people smarter than them.
Don’t take the rejection personally, because bitterness tends to linger on and will impact your future job interviews.
Be proud of your qualifications, and focus on the benefit it will bring to any organization at any position you take.
Michale Wekerle from Dragon’s Den once said “Do you know how you get 30 years of experience? 30 years!”
Overcome this barrier by using the smarts you gained through your years of experience by using the strategic approach above.
You should know by now that the business world may seem rigid and fixed with their grading systems and salary structures.
But in reality, everything is flexible, provided the hiring managers see your worth and value.
Nothing stops them from speaking to their boss’s boss to bend the rules to make you a fit for the role.
But don’t cross the line.
When someone else says your overqualified, it’s flattering.
When you say it, it’s arrogance.
Focus on the skills that are required for the job at hand, and strategically (and humbly) position your experience in a non-threatening, add-value manner.
Start by tweaking your cover letter today for the job that you are targeting.
The world needs to benefit from your experience.