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How to Successfully Fight the “Overqualified” Label

You know you’re perfect for the job—but the hiring team thinks you might be too perfect.

If you have substantially more work experience than is required for a position, some employers may count you out, assuming you’re “overqualified” or have too much experience for a particular role. 

Who’s Considered “Overqualified”?

More senior-level employees may be the ones who most commonly find themselves in this conundrum, particularly when applying for a role that’s more junior than their current title.

For example, if someone who has management experience or an executive title on their resume applies for a position that’s staff or line level, they may find themselves being labeled as overqualified and taken out of the running for the job.

In some cases, “overqualified” label can be related to age bias, since older workers are more likely to have the depth of experience that worries hiring managers who are concerned about bringing in someone who has done far more than the job requires. Younger candidates usually won’t have enough time in the career trenches to be considered overqualified, which can put more seasoned candidates at a disadvantage when applying.

Why Do Employers Worry About Overqualified Candidates?

It may seem counterintuitive that some managers would shy away from hiring the person with the most experience in their industry. But one reason that hiring teams can sometimes be wary of what they perceive to be overqualification is that they may assume a highly qualified candidate will demand a higher salary.

Again, this assumption can carry overtones of age bias since younger, more junior workers with fewer qualifications may be willing to take a job at a lower salary, leaving people who are industry veterans at a disadvantage. 

Another reason why some employers may turn down very experienced applicants is that they may fear such candidates would be bored in the job. While it’s not necessarily true, the hiring manager may assume that if you’ve already ascended above and beyond what the position requires, it wouldn’t interest you for long, and you could end up a short-term hire that leads them to have to fill the role again in short order.

How to Overcome the “Overqualified” Label

What can you do to demonstrate that being overqualified doesn’t mean you aren’t a great fit? Try these strategies to successfully override the “overqualified” label.

Explain Your Career Goals

Not everyone who has made it to management level wants to stay a manager forever. If an employer is concerned that your past experience in more senior roles means you’ll be bored in a line-level job, then communicating about what your goals are at this stage of your career can help.

For example, maybe after spending a phase of your career as a manager, you’ve discovered that you actually prefer being an individual contributor, which can allow you to hone in on more creative or technical projects in your industry, instead of coaching others to do this.

By explaining why you want the job that you’ve applied to, and how it matches your current career goals, you may be able to provide the reassurance that the hiring manager needs about your passion for the position. 

Emphasize How Your Deep Experience Can Help

The “overqualified” label assumes that someone with “too much experience” in a certain area won’t be a good fit for the job. Your goal as an experienced candidate is to prove to the manager how your depth of knowledge and insight in a specific role can be a huge asset to the team and company.

Draw parallels between what you’ve done in the past and what the employer described in the job listing. Share examples and specifics on how your longer range of experience makes you the best person for the position.

Reassure the Hiring Team

Knowing that the employer may be concerned that your price tag to hire you may be too high for them, it’s smart to reassure the hiring team that you understand the salary range for the position and are comfortable with it, if you really want the job.

While you may be able to command more money in a different role, it’s important to be competitive with the other candidates and not price yourself out of the market if you think your experience label may brand you as overqualified. A candid conversation about salary can clear the air.

Also, be sure to emphasize your keen interest in the duties that the job entails to assuage the hiring team’s trepidation that you might get quickly bored with the role.

Being labeled as overqualified isn’t always fair, and may be based in age bias. But if you take the initiative to address the employer’s trepidations upfront, you can give yourself the best chance to convince the hiring team that your qualifications are actually just right.

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