Remember back when you were a new grad and applying for every job mentioning your degree, only to be told you didn’t have enough experience? Now, you’ve got years of experience under your belt and the skill set and experience to get any of those jobs you applied for years ago, but you’re faced with one critical problem. You’re now overqualified.
Hiring managers tend to overlook candidates with too much experience. Often they’re worried that the applicant will jump ship as soon as something comes along that they’re better suited for, or that they’ll expect a salary that’s greater than their budget.
“We tend to think of lower-level jobs as a way to pay our dues in order to advance,” says Kim Stiens, hiring consultant and founder and CEO of career advice site Ranavain. When reviewing resumes of individuals who seem to have already put in those dues, employers may be skeptical of why they want to take a step back. They worry the candidate won’t be engaged enough in the position. “Employers want to hire the best candidate, and often, that actually means hiring someone for whom the position is a stretch; they’re perhaps a bit underqualified, but hungry and eager to do the work.” says Stiens. It might be hard to see an overqualified candidate as ambitious.
While there are many good arguments around not hiring someone too qualified for the position, that doesn’t mean you can’t still land that job.
Clarify why you want the job
Are you looking for greater work-life balance or a less stressful and less time-consuming job than your existing role? Are you entering a new industry and feel the need to start in an entry-level position? Or are you simply looking to move away from your current company, regardless of whether it’s an upward, lateral, or downward move? Understanding your own motives is the first step to landing the gig.
Focus on what the job brings to you
Hiring managers want to know that the job is a good fit for you. The last thing you want them thinking is that it doesn’t make sense why you are applying. Tell the hiring manager what aspects of the job are appealing to you and show how the position fits into your career goals. Perhaps you’ve been performing a similar role in nonprofits for a few years, and you want to apply to a big company doing something similar or at a lower level.
Discuss your interest in the company
Sometimes individuals are willing to accept a lower-level job because it’s at their dream company. Employers are more likely to want to take a chance on you if they believe that you are truly passionate about the company and are willing to do any position, even if it’s a lower level, because you truly want to work there in whatever capacity, even if it’s a lower position than you’re used to.
Focus on the employer’s needs
Show the employer that you understand their pain points and outline what you can bring to the organization to help solve their problem. Do your research on the company before applying. Employers know getting someone with more experience means the learning curve will be shorter, and that someone with more experience at a lower price can be good for them, but that doesn’t mean you still don’t have to convince them based on what you can do for them. “You have to be able to build a constructive case for your hire,” says Stiens. “The hiring manager has to believe that you’re applying for their job because you think you’ll thrive in it, or else they won’t hire you, no matter how great a bargain you might be.”
Are you really overqualified or just differently qualified?
If you’re trying to change careers, you may feel that you’re overqualified for an entry-level position because you have 10 years of unrelated experience. “A company might prefer to hire someone with 1.5 years of exactly applicable experience over someone with 10 years of vaguely applicable experience,” says Stiens. In this case, be explicit in how your skills are transferrable to the new field. “The hiring manager isn’t going to hunt down those details and make the case for you,” says Stiens.
Whether applying for a position you’re overqualified or underqualified for, demonstrating to the prospective employer that you are the best choice will help you land the gig.