June 13, 2019

That’s Too Much: What Really Makes You “Overqualified”?

by Scot Dickerson

What does “You’re overqualified” truly mean?  I used to be comfortable when a hiring manager said someone was overqualified; never really thought too deeply about it. Then I started questioning what seems like an auto-generated response. Each of us are shaped by our past experiences, perspectives and perceptions.

Perhaps as a job seeker you’ve received this interview feedback. I’m going to guess it was very frustrating and hard to accept.  Are we too quick to pre-judge based on faulty information or lack of information regarding the specific individual?

The Correct Application of 'You're Overqualified'

  • The individual’s salary expectations exceed the position’s salary range by a significant amount. This tells us that the individual’s scope expectations for the role do not match up with the reality of the scope of the role.
  • The individual expects a greater span of control than the position allows.
  • The individual expects to manage a team, but the position has no team.

The common denominator for each of the above examples, and there are more naturally, is the candidate’s expectations versus the reality of the role.

The Hidden Meaning Behind the Veil Of 'Overqualified'

When companies decline to move forward with an interview, citing overqualified, what they really mean to say is:

  • We can’t pay you enough. Employers assume that if you have more experience or education than the job requires, your salary expectations are probably higher than the role pays too.
  • You don’t really understand what the job is. 
  • If you take this job, you’ll be bored. Hiring managers think someone who is used to higher level or more interesting work can’t possibly be happy with less challenging responsibilities.
  • You won’t be happy working for a manager with less experience than you. 
  • You’ll leave as soon as something better comes around. 

The 'Overqualified' Response is Avoidable'

For Companies This Means: Proper pre-screening of a candidate’s expectations versus what the role offers avoids issues on compensation, management and span of control.

For Applicants This Means: Understand what worries managers about overqualified candidates and address their concerns head-on, proactively and genuinely.

  • In your cover letter address your experience mismatch.
  • There could be a false assumption that you will only take this job while you continue to search for the right job. You’ll put everyone’s mind at ease if you stress that you’re in it for the long haul. Again, use your cover letter or email introduction to explain why you want this exact job and be upfront with the hiring manager during the interview that you understand this may be a concern.
  • Be flexible on salary. If the company asks about salary requirements mention that you are flexible if the requested salary is less than what you made previously.
  • Think about what your years of experience bring to the position. Instead of “overqualified,” view yourself as highly qualified with something extra to offer the company.



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