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  • 08.10.17

What Hiring Managers Really Mean When They Say “You’re Overqualified”

There are genuine reasons behind this annoying excuse.

What Hiring Managers Really Mean When They Say “You’re Overqualified”
[Illustration: Greg Bajor/Getty Images]

Getting turned down for a job because you’re “overqualified” is the career equivalent of getting dumped using the “it’s not you, it’s me” excuse. You’re so enormously experienced, of such tremendous value to any company, that we simply cannot bear to take you on at this time!

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So, is this total hogwash? Isn’t more qualifications always a good thing?

Yes and no.

You see, if a hiring manager suspects you’re overqualified, he will immediately start considering some (or all) of the following:

  • What if you get restless within six months and want to leave?
  • How is the money going to satisfy you? Won’t it seem unusually low?
  • How well will you take direction, especially from someone with less experience?

Your resume can either be the most important weapon you have against the dreaded O-word, or the Achilles heel that defeats you. But before I give you some practical tips to control this perception, you must ask yourself:

Am I setting my sights too low?

If so, then you should absolutely consider targeting “one level up” roles. If you’re currently looking at senior manager roles, go director. They’re already looking at you at this level, why fight it?

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But if you know that you’re seeking roles at the right level, these are some of the most likely culprits that are throwing up an “overqualified” signal on your resume:

1. Wrong Tone

The perspective of a chief technology officer is markedly different from that of an IT manager. One is thinking big picture, figuring out the interplay between business and tech and guiding strategic initiatives, while the other is usually more execution-focused. If your IT manager-directed resume goes so overboard that you’re coming across as an executive, it will instantly raise doubt in the minds of employers. Dial it back by focusing on details instead of generalities, avoiding sweeping verbiage like “spearheaded” in favor of things like, “worked with team,” and specifically addressing common “pain points” listed in IT manager job postings.


Related: Why The Next Person You Hire Should Be Overqualified


2. Unfocused

The more varied and diverse your work experience, the more critical it is to draw the eye to only what is relevant to the job you’re after. If I’m in pharma/biotech business development but my resume spends two-thirds of its length going into details about my years in biotech scientific research, it raises concerns about whether I actually want this role, or whether I’m just indiscriminately firing the resume off for anything and everything. Use the following approach to handle this:

For positions that are directly relevant, begin with a “scope statement” that highlights the bottom-line change you effected. Then back it up with concrete accomplishments. Think about the main Challenge you faced, the Actions you took, and the Resume (CAR) here.

For non-relevant positions, consider creating a bulleted section like, “scientific experience” and having one or two lines per job providing key details (title/company/location/dates). You can also include a few snippets that lend a little context, such as “ADME/PK assays.”

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Bottom line: The bulk of your resume should be taken up with jobs that support your candidacy. Everything else should be shunted off into the background.

3. Too Many Degrees And Certifications

There’s no rule that says you have to list every piece of training you received. Start by highlighting the stuff that’s regularly called out in job postings. Then carefully consider other credits and ask yourself: Will this help or hurt my chances? If it’s too high-level, or on such a strange topic as to be distracting, leave it off.


Related: The Most Common Resume Mistakes And How To Fix Them 


One last tip: Create a Value Proposition Letter, a one-page document that passionately highlights how you see the work you do, where you wish to go next, and why this company is a great fit, and include it every time you send the resume.

Resumes are great at communicating hard-line work details, but that’s only part of what goes into hiring someone. Show a little of your true self, make a genuine connection with a reader, and fixing you with labels like “overqualified” will become much harder to do.


This article originally appeared on Glassdoor and is reprinted with permission.