Interviewing

How Do I Get Out of the Overqualified Trap?

Not to get too mystical on you, but…there IS no such thing as being overqualified. Not really.

It’s a just a label which hiring managers use to describe a HOST of deal-breakers resulting in the one, and ONLY label that matters: “Will not fit the current position.”

So if you’ve been getting described as, “Overqualified,” while seeking out a new role, if it’s made you gun shy about your ability to pull it off, know this: it can be solved — if you know what they’re really concerned about, and come prepared to handle it face-on.

Here’s what they REALLY mean, and what you can do about it:

Trap #1: Isn’t this job beneath you?

Is your Resume and LinkedIn profile precisely geared towards the role you’re after (ex. VP of Brand and Digital Marketing)….or is it a lengthy mish-mash of your entire work history? The less focused your platform, the harder it will be to break out of the overqualified trap.

Here’s a tip:

-Use the openings sections of your resume and LinkedIn profile to highlight the “marquee skills” you can use to deliver IMMEDIATE results. For example, if you’re seeking a VP of Brand and Digital Marketing role, you could highlight a talent for generating double-digit YOY revenue growth through bold brand partnerships, high-impact digital marketing campaigns, and activating new sales channels and loyalty programs. HOLD OFF on highlighting any skills which may be considered too “high level”- at least at this stage.

-Be ruthless about consolidating and/or eliminating non-relevant work history from the resume. Spend the bulk of your time on the last 5-10 years, and treat everything else as a “Cliff’s Notes” version. Sprawling work histories are a big reason candidates get dinged for being overqualified.

Also read: How to Make Your Long Career History Work for You

Trap #2: Won’t Your Salary Requirements be Sky High?

Stands to reason, doesn’t it? After all, the professional who’s succeeded at his/her role for 10 years should be getting paid more than someone with only 2 years of experience. The best way to broach this topic is right at the start- openly call out the fact that your experience level may raise some concerns regarding pay, and that you’re completely open and flexible on this point. Also make it clear that your past earning history bears little resemblance to what you’re looking for now. As long as you make it clear that you’re willing to play ball, this perception can be controlled.

Trap #3: Won’t You Be Bored?

The big fear is that once the honeymoon period wears off, you’re going to get restless and light out for greener pastures. A great way to combat this is via a Value Project. Prior to your first face-to-face, create a 1-2 page presentation which highlights the major PAIN POINTS you’ve identified through research, 2-3 Core Stories and Successes from your career which supports your ability to address these pain points, and a few hard-hitting questions you need answers to in order to feel comfortable with moving forward. This demonstrates engagement and naturally encourages a discussion based on specifics, not generalities- and that’s a wonderful hedge against the “bored” perception.

Also read: Over 45? Here’s Your Job Search Action Plan

Trap #4: How will you handle being managed by someone younger?

Again, open and proactive communication is the key to addressing this objection. Come in with a carefully prepared story about a difficult situation you faced where you needed to get buy-in from widely different stakeholders. Perhaps age played a role here, perhaps not. The goal is to show how you entered a situation fraught with conflict and different priorities, found COMMON GROUND, and achieved success. End the story with broaching the fact that they may be concerned about your ability to take direction from someone younger, and hopefully this story goes a ways towards showing why that won’t be an issue.

One last tip: remember that HOW you answer “Overqualified” questions usually matters way more than WHAT you say. Make sure you’re at peace with your prior work decisions, and that negative feelings don’t cause conversations to take a wrong turn.  Lay out your vision for why what you’re after makes sense for YOU, take special pains to state how excited you are by this opportunity and how much you want it, and let employers see you for the uniquely valuable person you are.

About the Author

Anish Majumdar is a nationally recognized Career Coach, Personal Branding Expert, and a fierce advocate for transitioning leaders. His posts and videos on disrupting the "normal rules" of job searching and getting ahead reach a combined audience of 30M professionals every month. Go down the rabbit hole of Anish’s career videos at HelloAnish.com, and connect with him on LinkedIn to receive daily career tips and advice.