Overqualified for a Job? Tips to Overcome This Hurdle

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Discover strategies to navigate the challenge of being overqualified for a job. Turn your experience into an asset and land the right opportunity
Mar 14, 2024 12 min read

It’s easy to think that your career journey is going to be an upward climb to the top. But it may instead be linear, as you figure out exactly what you’re good at and what you want to do. It’s easy to feel overqualified for a position if you have switched career paths, or have entered a new field altogether.

You may also be interested in switching out of your current career into one that offers you a greater work/life balance. Whether you’re in a role you feel overqualified for or would like to switch careers to a different position you’ll be overqualified for, look at this article. In this article, we will discuss:

  • What it means to be overqualified.
  • The reasons an overqualified job applicant may apply for a position.
  • Major challenges faced by those who are overqualified for a position.
  • Tips to address your overqualification with your employer.

What does it mean to be overqualified for a position?

There are many ways where you can be overqualified for a position you’re applying for. But the simple definition is that your experience, qualifications, degrees, or certifications are more than what’s required to apply for the position. For example, if you have a graduate or master’s degree, and the position only requires a bachelor’s degree, then you may be overqualified.

If you’re scanning through job applications, you’ll notice that there are specific requirements that are needed to perform the tasks for the position. Most job applications will mention an education requirement, as well as the ideal experience that a candidate will have. You’ll likely possess all the requirements to fill the position, with additional skills that you possess that may not be listed.

For example, if you’re applying for an entry-level position, but you filled a managerial role at your last company, that would make you overqualified for the position.

Not all experience is weighed the same

It’s important to understand that not all types of experience carry the same weight. For example, you may not be overqualified for a position if you are moving from a small, mom-and-pop company to a large multinational corporation. Even if you possess leadership skills and experience leading teams, you may not have direct experience working with a large corporate structure.

The reasons an overqualified job applicant may apply for a position

There are many reasons you may look into a job that you are overqualified for. Maybe you are switching industries or you’ve recently completed a certificate or diploma. Maybe you want to apply for a position at a specific company because they’ve got a good company culture, benefits package, or even offer a competitive salary.

The top reasons someone may be overqualified for a position and still apply for the job:

  • Desire for Stability: Seeking a stable job environment regardless of whether it fully uses their qualifications.
  • Financial Need: Need for immediate income or benefits that the job offers.
  • Career Transition: Using the position as a stepping stone or transition into a new industry or role.
  • Geographic Constraints: Limited job opportunities in a specific location, leading to applying for positions below qualifications.
  • Personal Interest: Genuine interest in the job or company culture, despite being overqualified.
  • Work/Life Balance: Prioritizing work-life balance over career advancement, especially if the position offers better hours or flexibility.
  • Pursuit of Passion Projects: Allowing time and resources for pursuing personal passions or side projects outside of work.
  • Long-Term Strategy: Strategically applying for a lower-level position within a company with intentions to move up internally.
  • Recent Graduates: Overqualified individuals may apply for entry-level positions if they are recent graduates seeking to gain experience in their field.
  • Career Pivot: Using the position to pivot into a different career path or industry.
  • Flexibility to Focus on Other Priorities: Opting for a less demanding job to focus on other life priorities such as family, health, or personal development.
  • Contract or Temporary Work: Willingness to take on temporary or contract positions to stay active in the workforce while seeking more suitable opportunities.
  • Educational Pursuits: Balancing work with pursuing further education or certifications, where a less demanding job may be preferable.

Once you’ve read through the list above, you come to realize that there are both positive and negative reasons for applying for a position that you’re overqualified for.

For example, if you’re looking for a role where you can earn quick cash, then you’re likely not going to stick around in that role for the long term. Whereas if you are looking for a job that allows you a better work/life balance, this might be a long-term pursuit for you.

The major challenges for overqualified job applicants?

It’s easy to think that being overqualified for a position means that you’ll instantly receive a job offer. Heck, you may not even have to interview for the position, right? Well, that’s not really the case because being overqualified for a position can be a red flag for a future employer.

Those who are overqualified for a position they’re applying for may feel underwhelmed by the tasks and not feel challenged in that role. Human beings crave novelty, new experiences that can boost their knowledge and experience. If you feel you’re stuck in a job that you can easily do in your sleep, then you will not feel genuinely challenged.

Being overqualified for a position may also hurt your chances of being hired. An employer may look at your resume, see that you are overqualified, and realize that you’re going to be looking for a better job within the next year. In that case, an employer may not choose to hire you because they’ll see you as only a temporary employee.

Below, you can find some of the major challenges that an overqualified job applicant will experience when applying for a position:

Employers will assume that you will want more money

When it comes to the dollars and cents, those who have higher levels of work experience and specialized training will expect to receive more money for their role. As a result, some employers may be less than enthusiastic about hiring somebody who is overqualified.

They may even take one look at your resume and realize that you’re not fit for the position. However, if the salary ranges are listed on the job description, an employer may be more likely to take a chance to interview someone overqualified.

Employers may assume that you cannot follow directions

It’s difficult being a follower when you have been the leader for so long. If you have left the corporate management field and are taking on a simple office job, your manager may feel that you’re going to be difficult to manage and will not follow directions. This is especially true if you have more experience than the manager that you’re working for.

A potential hiring manager may feel threatened and may paint a target on your back. If you’re the kind of person who likes to take the initiative and try new things to innovate, then you may be stifled in a role where you're expected to follow directions to the letter.

Feeling undervalued

When you apply for a position that you feel overqualified for, you can instantly feel undervalued. Maybe you have friends or family members who work in the same career field but are making substantially more and are working on projects that excite them and interest them. If you choose to take on a role that you are overqualified for, you may resent your boss and coworkers, while also feeling disgruntled with the work that you have to do.

Facing resentment from coworkers

Every workplace is different, and you may experience a team of coworkers who are excited to have someone in who has a wealth of experience. But you also might walk into a toxic work environment, where your coworkers resent the fact that you are overqualified for the job that you’re in.

You can easily fix this by limiting the time that you speak about your former job or specialized training you received. Try not to brag, act humbly with other employees, and let your work speak for itself.

Experiencing limited growth opportunities

You may feel you have limited growth opportunities, especially if you move from a large, multinational corporation to a smaller local organization. When you were at that large company, there was a well-established corporate hierarchy in which you could work your way from the bottom to the top.

However, if you’re at a new company where there is a less defined and informal corporate ladder, you may feel stifled by the limited amount of growth opportunities.

In addition, if in your previous role, you had managers to help mentor you, you may experience less care and attention if you moved to a smaller company that lacks the personnel and resources to build into every employee.

Tips to address your overqualification with an employer

If you’re sitting at an interview and you know you are overqualified for the position, the best thing you can do is to be honest and open with an employer.

The elephant in the room will not go away by small talk. Instead, address your qualifications and share the reasons you would still like to apply for the position. If you’re honest, an employer will respect what you have to say and may even take a chance on hiring you.

Transparency is key

If you’re heading from a senior management level, like a CIO or CEO, down to a director or branch manager position, the hiring manager is going to want to know why you’ve downgraded your career. They may also want you to share some details about why you left your former position, and what you want to achieve in the company.

You should be able to tell your story well and provide details on why you're choosing to move in a different direction in your career path. You don’t have to go into all the details, but you should be able to highlight some of the main points on why you’re applying for the position.

Come prepared with a strategy

Instead of trying to sidestep questions, come ready with a few answers to questions that they may have.

Here’s a list of some questions that they may ask you which you can use to create answers:

  • Why are you interested in the position?
  • How are you able to stay motivated to complete the tasks that you have to complete?
  • What do you hope to gain or achieve by accepting the position?
  • How do you envision contributing to the team, and how will you promote A positive work environment with other coworkers?
  • What are your long-term career goals, and how does this position fit into those overall goals?
  • Are you open to receiving feedback?

Have your questions ready

One of the best ways to show that you’re interested in the position is to come prepared with a list of questions about the role. For example, you may be interested in learning more about the growth opportunities offered by that company. Ask them if there are any opportunities for advancement within the company, and express that you might be interested in promotions.

You possess unique experiences from another career field, so ask if there are ways to use some of those skills and abilities in the current role. Most companies would tailor the role to fit your experience level.

Stay humble, but be confident

If all you talk about in the interview is your former position, or act pushy and make it seem like you are better than the role that you’re applying for, there's a good chance that you will not be asked for a second interview or given the position. But if you’re humble, and showcase that you’re willing to learn and grow, then you might receive another interview or the position itself.

It’s an easy trap for you to fall into, thinking that you are too good for the position and that any hiring manager would be an idiot not to hire you. Being overconfident and arrogant can be one of the biggest reasons that an employer might not hire a potential candidate.

Remember, no matter how many hard skills (technical skills like coding) you have, employers are also looking for soft skills, also referred to as people skills. If you lack people skills, it doesn’t matter how qualified you are or how many degrees or certifications you possess. If you don’t work well in a team environment, you won’t be hired for a role.

Highlight a career transition in your resume summary

All the tips above are great if you’ve already got an interview. However, if you send out your resume to a couple of places and can’t get an interview, then you may choose to tailor your resume to fit the job that you’re applying for. One way you can do this is by updating your resume summary to reflect the career transition that you’re on.

Think of your resume as an elevator pitch, a brief paragraph that showcases why you are the best candidate to fill the position. A resume summary is not only a great place to showcase your experience and skills, but it can also show your career goals and aspirations. By highlighting your career change, you can destigmatize it, making an employer feel more comfortable addressing it during an interview. This might help you land an interview.

Use your cover letter to introduce your story

As mentioned above, a hiring manager may be interested in your story, specifically why you left a role which you were more qualified for. You can use your cover letter as a soft introduction to you and your story. In your cover letter, you may choose to address the role that you held, the responsibilities you possess, as well as the desire for change.

It’s possible to use your cover letter to fill in the blanks of why you’re changing your career path, and it can also offer you the opportunity to get your foot in the door. If you are honest and transparent, can tell your story well, and show that you are genuinely interested in the position, then you’ll interview for the position.

Making career moves is difficult, and you may feel you are overqualified for several of the positions that you’d like to apply for. If that’s the case, speak to a career coach from Enhancv. Not only will they walk you through what it looks like applying for a position that you’re overqualified for, but they may also provide you with the information that you need to be confident and apply for positions that fit you better.

Key takeaways

  • Being overqualified for a position means that your experience, skills, and education go beyond the expectations of the role that you’re applying for.
  • Employers may see red flags if the candidate is overqualified, as they may ask for more money, be less motivated, and contribute negatively to the company culture.
  • An employee may also feel undervalued if they are overqualified for a position
  • If you’re overqualified for a position that you’re applying for, be transparent and open with an employer during the interview.
  • Stay humble, and express your desire to grow in the role.

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Dave Van Kooten
Is a human resource expert that helps passionate jobseekers to put their best foot forward to prepare for an interview. He believes that success can be achieved through going out of your comfort zone.
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