How to Overcome Being Overqualified

“I have a good educational background and strong work experience on my résumé, but higher-level jobs are too hard to come by in my field. I’m applying to positions that are a step down from my previous role as a last resort. I really just need a job. How do I handle the fact that I’m overqualified during the application and interview process?” Brendon from Denver, CO

In today’s competitive job market, it can be tempting to apply for jobs beneath your pay grade. Before doing this, truly consider if the step down is something you want to do or something you feel like you have to do. If you are simply looking for a job, any job, employers will smell your desperation a mile away and fear that you will jump ship at the next best offer. Perhaps you can better tailor your résumé and cover letter to the jobs you really want. You can also leverage your network to find opportunities that may not even be advertised.

But maybe you are seeking better work–life balance, less stress or fewer travel obligations. Maybe you need a break from being a leader and simply want to be a contributor. If this is the case, the following techniques may help employers see the benefit of hiring someone with a bit more experience.

Tell Your Story

In both your cover letter and during the interview, be honest about why you are taking a step down. Employee engagement is increasingly important, and a key component of that is having happy employees. Being happy outside of work leads to being happy at work, and vice versa.

Sell Your Strengths

Rather than defending your qualifications, sell them as a positive. Perhaps you will require less training or get results quicker. Perhaps you can fill in for higher ups or take on stretch roles earlier. While you don’t want the interviewer to think you view this job merely as a stepping stone for something better, you want to emphasize the benefits of hiring someone with more professional experience.

Highlight Relevant and Recent Work Experience

Your résumé is a marketing tool to grab the employer’s attention so he or she will call you for an interview. It does not necessarily have to be all inclusive. While you may have advanced degrees and management experience, consider how those relate to the job you’re applying for. If they do not directly correlate, perhaps they should be left out. Consider highlighting your key accomplishments at the top of your résumé and then listing your job history. You can also reframe your job titles to better fit the keyword searches recruiters perform. Rather than calling yourself the “owner” of the company, you might call yourself a “sales manager” or “consultant.” If you are an older job seeker, list only your most recent positions, from the past 10 to 15 years. Including every job you’ve ever had will only stress the fact that you are overqualified.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

As soon as you have scheduled an interview, begin practicing what you will say and how you will say it. It may help to list what you want to highlight and then find ways to communicate them so the employer knows that you are interested in and excited about this job and dedicated for the long term.