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How to Handle Being Labeled ‘Overqualified’ With a Cover Letter

overqualified cover letter

Being told you are ‘overqualified’ can make your skin crawl.

Especially when it is the only response you keep receiving after a never-ending job search.

During an interview, there are ways you can counter being told you are overqualified: agreeing, but showing why you are energized and enthused to work for the company, demonstrating how being very experienced can be to the company’s advantage, or explaining that you don’t plan to step into a new job and try and take over the company on day 1.

But what about before the interview? What can you do when you are applying to the job to express in written form why being overqualified is not an issue (or even a good thing)?

A cover letter could be the perfect opportunity.

Lilly-Marie Lamar, an Ivy Exec Career Advisor, recently presented an online class covering the components and purpose of a cover letter. (Access the recording of the video here).

The cover letter explains the why, the resume explains the what and the how.

The important thing to remember when it comes to the cover letter, is that it tells a story that your resume can’t tell on its own. Your resume can tell what you achieved and how you achieved it: “Saved the company $$ by re-negotiating vendor contracts.” But the cover letter can dial in on the finer points that complete the story, including how your accomplishments fit into the bigger picture, and how they relate to the job you are applying for.

For that reason, your cover letter can be used to address the reader’s concerns of you being ‘overqualified’.

Here are the things you need to consider when it comes to talking about being overqualified in your cover letter:

  • Don’t Let Being ‘Overqualified’ Dominate the Cover Letter

By continuously identifying your age or experience, the reader (who may not have been concerned with hiring a more experienced candidate) becomes anchored to the idea. Suddenly, as you complete a second paragraph about how you are not overqualified, the thought dominates the reader’s mind and everything else blurs out. “It overwhelms everything else…” said Lamar, “…own it without allowing it to be the focal point of the letter.”

So if you plan on discussing being ‘overqualified’ in your resume, limit it to no more than 2 sentences. Move on to how you will provide value for the employer.

  • Flip Being Overqualified Into a Positive

Sometimes, you really are “overqualified.” And sometimes, that can be a good thing. It’s all about positioning.

Instead of stating “I am overqualified, but…” tell the reader “I am a great candidate because (of my) senior level experiences,” recommends Lamar. Show that your skills and experiences are a benefit, not an impediment.

Sometimes if you are being labeled overqualified, it is because you are in fact taking a step back. In which case, Lamar suggests explaining in your cover letter that: “I love being in roles that are more hands on, but the level of experiences I have had help me see a broader picture”  this way, you turn your seniority into something relevant instead of repeating and validating a stereotype.

  • Be Authentic in the Cover Letter

Most importantly, be authentic. The last thing you want to do is pretend to be someone you are not, and it will come back to haunt you when you show up for the interview. Lamar suggests writing your cover letter – but before hitting ‘submit’, send it to a friend or family member. They will be able to read it and tell you whether or not the letter sounds like you.

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