How to Break Through the Overqualification Ceiling

  • April 1, 2019

You have a solid professional profile. You have spent long and laborious years studying and have had several jobs in well-known companies. So you assume that recruiters will be fighting to represent you. What a surprise, then, when they tell you that you’re “overqualified.” What does that mean, and how should you respond?

Welcome to the Jungle takes a look at the phenomenon of overqualification and advises how to not let this hamper your search for the perfect position.

More and more job seekers are overqualified

What is overqualification?

Overqualification can be connected to:

  • The job: When the applicants have more skills and experience than required for the job they are applying for.
  • The expected salary in relation to qualifications: Applicants accept a salary lower than they could expect to earn in view of their qualifications.

Many applicants have studied and trained in fields that do not correspond to growing job markets and find themselves overqualified for the positions available. Others attempt atypical evolutions, such as a career change, trying a different sector, leaving a large corporation to go to a start-up (or vice versa). This trend does not look like it will slow down, according to a study by Dell and the Institute for the Future, in which it is estimated that 85% of the jobs in 2030 do not exist today.

If we add in the poor economic conditions over the past few years and the increasing mobility of people who do not want to spend their lives in just one company, there are many reasons certain applicants are lowering their expectations.

Why is overqualification a problem for employers?

Job recruiters are often wary of overqualified profiles. *For example, they might wonder if the applicant:

  • Is in dire straits and just needs any old job.
  • Failed in their last position.
  • Will be able to integrate in a team that does not have the same qualifications across the board. Will their presence stir up jealousy in their co-workers? Will they quickly begin to eye up their supervisor’s job?
  • Will be bored with their new tasks, be unsatisfied, and quickly leave the position.
  • Will be too expensive for the company. This can be difficult to admit for a company that cannot pay for this talent.*

Three bits of advice on how to reassure the employer ahead of time

Here are a few ideas to make your numerous qualifications seem like assets, so that your application is not rejected at the written stage.

Put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes

After understanding the fears the recruiter could have about overqualification, put yourself in their shoes and try to anticipate any possible fears your profile could provoke. Overall, adapt your job application by anticipating the recruiter’s concerns and reassuring them.

Craft your application by remaining truthful

An attractive résumé will get you through the door for interviews. You do not need to put everything on yours, especially if you have a considerable number of years of experience already. Nevertheless, you need to choose wisely what you include. Do not remove parts of your résumé to appear less qualified. A good way to work with this would be to create a functional, not chronological, résumé—it is more dynamic and will highlight your skills and experiences directly related to the job you are applying for.

To counteract the impression of an over-obvious backward step, talk about specializations in your cover letter. Focus on the proposed position and the skills needed to carry it out. For example, if you have had jobs where you managed teams, highlight the operational aspect of this position and only briefly mention your managerial skills.

Emphasize your added value

Make sure you identify your additional assets that other applicants probably will not have. Do not sound desperate in case you lead the recruiter to form the impression you are applying for the job because your back is against the wall. Examples of what your past experience has given you could be:

  • The ability to manage critical situations and communicate effectively.
  • Resilience when under pressure.
  • Confidence in decision-making.
  • A sense of responsibility.
  • The ability to learn quickly.
  • Specialization in a particular field.

Concentrate on the benefits that hiring you will bring the company: you’ll need less time to get up and running, you know how to motivate your co-workers, and you are able to develop a new business quickly, to name just a few.

Four tips for a successful interview

There are ways of getting around the issue of overqualification during an interview, whether it arises due to a real fear on the part of the recruiter or as a way to throw off applicants and challenge their motivations. Here are our tips.

Demonstrate your motivation and reliability

Recruiters are looking for a person who will remain in the job for a long time, and they need to be reassured about the applicant’s motivation and reliability. Premature departure of an overqualified applicant who might soon feel frustrated and demotivated by being in an underdeveloped position is a waste of a long and costly recruiting process.

To address that, emphasize your loyalty! If you’ve worked for the same company for a long time, let it be known.

State clear objectives

You need to demonstrate that taking a less-qualified position is part of a well-thought-out and coherent plan, and that it is in no way a temporary solution while you wait for a better offer. To put forward convincing arguments that this “downgrading” is actually a desired change, you can explain that:

  • You accepted certain positions to advance your career, but have now decided to refocus on what you really love.
  • You are happy to accept less pay in order to do what you really love.
  • This new job may have fewer responsibilities, but it is in a large company with excellent long-term prospects and/or a good salary.
  • The company, its values, and the way it operates particularly appeal to you.
  • You are no longer interested in a professional lifestyle that includes multiple challenges, such as stress or long hours, and this has resulted in you actively looking for a role with a less-pressurised pace.
  • Your health is a priority.
  • You have made your family or personal priorities more important.
  • You are looking to change your field or career.
  • You hope to acquire new skills in order to progress later in your career.

Pay attention to questions about promotions or pay

Keeping the recruiter assured is a question of tact. Avoid posing too many questions about promotions and spending too much time negotiating your salary—wait until they bring up the subjects first. Concerning pay, propose a range adapted to the job and not your qualifications.

Be convincing when you speak

This is surely the simplest and most-important aspect—if you falter or your professional path is not clear in your head, the recruiter will see that. Overqualification is a great excuse to give yourself an edge.

If, despite all this, the recruiter tells you that you are overqualified for the job, ask him or her for oral or written feedback. Is it a lack of confidence? Did you push your ambitions or qualifications too much? And remember that, most of the time, the use of “overqualified” is not an easy excuse thrown around by recruiters. It would be worth inquiring further in order to avoid the same pitfalls in your next applications.

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Translated by Mary Waggoner-Moritz

Ingrid Dupichot

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