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When an Interviewer Thinks You’re Overqualified

An expert explains what to do to neutralize these concerns


(This article previously appeared on Job-hunt.org.)

Are you getting passed over for jobs and told it’s because you’re overqualified? If so, are you wondering if that’s polite wording for "too old?"

Or, are you a boomer looking for a job with less stress and responsibility but concerned because you’ve heard you won’t be considered because you’re overqualified?

To a job seeker, the idea that you wouldn’t be chosen for a job because you have more education or experience than the job requires just doesn’t make sense. Why not hire the most experienced person?

(MORE: Convincing Firms You’re Not Too Experienced)

But hiring managers or recruiters often look at candidates loaded with education and experience differently. When they see higher-level qualifications than the job demands what they’re concerned about is:

  • You won’t be challenged and will quickly become bored by the job.
  • You’re going to expect a higher salary than is budgeted.
  • You're only considering the job because the job market is tight. When things improve, you will leave for a job that is a better fit.
  • Your manager, who may be younger or less experienced than you, will have a difficult time supervising you.
  • You’ve been a manager or executive, and you won’t adapt well to taking orders.

Concerns About Older Candidates

Some employers looking at your job application as an older candidate wonder if:

  • Your skills may not be up to date, particularly your technical skills.
  • You may not have the physical and mental fitness to keep up with the stresses and hours needed to do the job successfully.
  • You may not have the flexibility to adapt to working with others who may be as young as your children.

Neutralize the Concerns

If you are, in reality, overqualified, here’s how to neutralize employer concerns:

Research the opening and company thoroughly, and then tailor your resumé to the position. Elaborate on roles that are relevant to the job you are applying for, and deemphasize the rest. This is particularly important if the experience was linked to greater authority and responsibility than the position you are now applying for.

(MORE: The 5 Resume Rules to Ignore)

In your cover letter, present the reasons why you are interested in a job that requires a lower level of education or experience than you possess.  If you don’t, the employer may make the assumption that you just didn’t read the job description carefully and don’t understand what it’s looking for. Then, you may not get the opportunity to interview.

Possible explanations to include in your cover letter: I’m interested in moving back into providing direct service to clients because that is the position I found most gratifying. Or, I’m comfortable with accepting a lower salary if it means doing work that is meaningful to me.  Or, while I’ll still give 100 percent when I’m on the job, I’ve decided that at this stage of life I want the flexibility to be able to spend more time with my family. Therefore I’m interested in a part-time role.

In the interview, take the initiative to expand on the reasons why you are interested in a job where you have more skills and experience than are required.  Don’t wait for the employer to raise the question. Even if the interviewer doesn’t say "you appear to be overqualified," he or she may be thinking it.

It’s your job to reassure the hiring manager that you will not be bored, that you have the curiosity and drive to keep learning new skills, that you are comfortable being supervised by someone younger and that you will not become dissatisfied with a lower salary.

Once you’ve allayed employers’ doubts, stress the advantages you bring. Will your experience allow you to "hit the ground running?" Do you have the good judgment and superior interpersonal skills of a seasoned professional? Have you amassed a rich network of connections in your field? Do your qualifications enable you to perform additional functions that someone without your background could not? Have you informally mentored younger workers?
Tell the interviewer, and illustrate your answers with personal anecdotes.

Follow these steps and you may be pleasantly surprised by the positive reception you receive from employers.

Phyllis Mufson is a career/business consultant and certified life coach who has helped hundreds of clients successfully navigate career transitions. You can learn more about Phyllis and her practice at Phyllismufson.com and follow Phyllis on Twitter @PhyllisMufson and Google+.

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