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11 Strategies To Try When You’re Told You’re Overqualified for a Job

Middle aged stressed woman sitting at the desk in office at meeting. Young multiracial workers team sitting their backs to camera. Passing interview, hiring, recruiting and age discrimination concept

“You’re overqualified.”

The two dreaded words no one wants to hear during a job interview.  

And how to respond?

Do you dumb yourself down?  

Do you scramble to convince them this is a good thing?

I often have senior-level corporate clients who face this conundrum.

You might wonder, wait a second….WHY are they interviewing for roles they are overqualified for?

It could be….

  1. They are career changing to a completely new field, so they are ok with stepping down a notch.
  2. They are looking for a “bridge job” to fill the gap as they transition into their dream role.
  3. There were certain aspects of their leadership role that no longer appeal to them and this role is a better fit.
  4. This is their dream company and they are trying to get their foot in the door.
  5. They were laid off or escaping a toxic company and they need something ASAP.

If you find yourself in a similar predicament… try one of these ideas on for size:

11 STRATEGIES TO TRY WHEN YOU’RE TOLD YOU’RE OVERQUALIFIED:

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1. SOLVE THEIR PAIN

The greatest killer to the “You’re Overqualified” conundrum = solve their pain point.

  1. Identify their pain.  
  2. Explain why YOUR qualifications make you the perfect person to solve them.  
  3. Share examples of how you’ve solved a similar pain point in your past.  
  4. Pitch a framework to solve said pain point.

How do you identify their pain?  

Research your tail off ahead of time.  I’m not talking about looking at their website.  Read press releases. Listen to shareholders quarterly calls or read quarterly reports.  Read interviews with executives. Talk to other people who work there. Prep yourself.

During the interview, come prepared with questions to ask in order to uncover their pain.  Get into an in depth conversation with the hiring manager to find out what’s keeping them awake at night.  That’s your mission.  

Be prepared to address in the moment how your “over-qualifications” will solve this pain.  Share examples of how you’ve solved a similar problem in the past.

After the interview, go home and write a thank you letter and re-address the pain.  Consider sharing some of the framework you will use for approaching this problem. Give them a teaser.

One of the reasons they may say you are overqualified is they think they can’t afford you.  

But if you do this right, my friends…. They will start to realize that the cost of leaving this problem unsolved (or hiring someone less qualified) is MORE expensive than hiring you.

Make it a non-issue.

2. SHARE A POWERFUL “WHY”

Build out your narrative.  Explain your “why” in a way that is so incredibly moving and powerful, that it will override the fact you are overqualified.  

Make them say, “Oh, we get why she’s taking a step down.”

One of the reasons why companies worry about you being overqualified is they think

  1. You might get bored of role
  2. You might leave once something better comes along.

Why THIS title?  What got you to realize you wanted to go after this role?

Perhaps this role will allow you to focus on parts of a previous role that you loved, but had to delegate.  Perhaps this role will let you spend more of your time doing certain job functions that you like the most.

For example:  “As a former VP of Public Relations, I had to get out in front of the camera, which I truly didn’t enjoy.  I’m looking forward to this role, where I can focus on more of the behind the scenes work. I’m passionate about writing speeches, etc and this role will allow me to do more of that.”

Why THIS company?  

For example:  Is this your dream company?  Are your values aligned? HOW does this company’s mission statement already align with your own.  HOW does the future of this company align with where you want to go with your career?

3. NETWORK YOUR TAIL OFF

If you take a “cold” approach to job hunting (apply online and cross your fingers) you could receive a “cold” response like “You’re overqualified.” 

Take a warm approach.  

Build RELATIONSHIPS ahead of time with people in your target companies.   Turn them into SPONSORS who will vouch for you, refer you, sing your praises.  

80% of roles are landed through networking.  If someone on the inside is vouching for you, you are much less likely to get the “overqualified” send-off.

Create a list of target companies.  Reach out to your immediate network.  Ask if they can connect you to ANYONE at these companies so that you might learn more about what it’s like to work there.  

Don’t ask for a job!  Take a soft, “doing research” approach.  

Your goal is to build a relationship with people on the inside who will eventually refer you to the hiring manager, which will increase your probability of getting hired.

When they “know you / like you / trust you” they are more likely to welcome you with open arms versus finding reasons to disqualify you.

4. SELL YOUR STRENGTHS

They don’t know what they don’t know.

Perhaps they don’t realize how your particular set of strengths will get you up and running quickly.

Your job is to connect the dots for them.

Do they understand how long it might take to train another candidate on “XYZ” skill that you already have?

You can assume greater responsibilities in less time, which saves the company money (and makes your leader’s job easier.)

5. GET AHEAD OF IT IN THE COVER LETTER

Mention the “elephant in the room” in the cover letter.

“I know I have tenure that may be above and beyond what the position calls for, but…. {insert reason here: what’s your “why”, why this role, why this company, etc”

Convince them.  

Move them.

Next, address the pain points you are able to solve with your particular expertise.

6.  BE FLEXIBLE WITH SALARY

Here’s the deal – normally I would NOT tell a client to do anything other than negotiate for a higher salary.  

HOWEVER, if this particular job will get you closer to your ultimate dream job, then a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

And for the most part, salary is based on the skills you will actually use in the role versus all the skills you could provide in theory.

Consider letting the recruiter know up front you are flexible with this.  (They aren’t mind readers and you don’t want this to be a reason you get disqualified.)

7. PITCH A SHORT TERM CONTRACT

But what if they dig in their heels with salary, stating that they simply cannot afford you?

Switch to Plan B. 

Offer a 1-2 month contract to focus on solving one major pain point.  At the conclusion, reconvene to discuss whether a permanent role makes sense at that juncture.

Why would you offer this?

Because IF this role would truly get you closer to the dream job, you want to go ALL IN and show how valuable you are.

Get them to fall in love with you.

You want them to wince at the idea of continuing to try to solve XYZ pain point without you.

They need to realize that it’s cheaper to have you solve their problem quickly and efficiently than to hire someone with less experience at a lower salary (and live with the problem for twice as long.)

8. REBRAND YOUR RESUME

Rebrand your resume to reflect the role you are going after, not the one you have.

  • The resume headline needs to reflect the job title you are targeting.
  • The summary should share your “why” & explain the transition.
  • The job description section should: 1) Omit leadership accomplishments that are totally irrelevant to the role you are applying for. 2) Add back tasks that in a past life you might automate or delegate (If you are still working, obviously start to DO some of these tasks so you can speak to this.)
  • Don’t market your “years of experience.”
  • Drop graduation dates, advanced certifications not relevant to role,  and job titles held longer than 15 years ago.

9. ASK DURING THE INTERVIEW

If they tell you that you are overqualified DURING the interview… come from a place of curiosity.  Ask them to tell you more about why this might be a concern for them.

Why?  So you can provide an immediate rebuttal.

“We can’t afford you.”  >>> “My salary is flexible.”

“You’ll get bored in this role.”  >>> “The main job functions of this role are the parts of previous roles I loved doing most.”

10.  BECOME A CONSULTANT

OK, I’m not telling you that because someone said you are overqualified, to go become a consultant.

But I also know that age discrimination is real.

Many of my clients who have a ton of experience & knowledge, will put that experience & knowledge to good use as a consultant.

Ironically, the same hiring manager who feels threatened by your expertise as their direct report, would be glad to hire you as a consultant.

11.  MOVE ON

Like a bad break-up, when your partner doesn’t appreciate your brilliance, sometimes it’s simply time to move on.

If they are worried you’re too expensive, or difficult to manage, or intimidating, then you most likely deserve someone who appreciates the expertise you bring to the table.

Would you really want to be with someone who didn’t see your value anyways?

HAVE I LIT A FIRE UNDERNEATH YOU YET?

Start the discovery process to uncover what your dream career truly is.

CLICK HERE to download your Free Surefire Guide to Finding Your Passion.

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Let’s do this.

Betty Kempa, CPC, ELI-MP, is an executive career coach helping mid to senior-level corporate women transition out of unfulfilling jobs and into their dream careers. 

Visit:   bettykempa.com

Contact:  coachbetty@bettykempa.com

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