The Curse of the Overqualified

Can you be too good for the job?

That is the question facing many job seekers in a market saturated with applicants at all levels of experience, education and skill. Inundated with resumes, hiring managers have to make quick decisions based on arbitrary criteria. They turn to broad categories for help. Among those categories is the notion that some applicants are overqualified for the job and, once that particular label is applied, it is a short path to the discard pile.

For an experienced applicant, this can be a bitter pill to swallow. While the obstacle is all too real, there are strategies than can improve an experienced applicant’s prospects. First, though, it helps to understand employers’ reasons, valid or not, for such a draconian approach.

• The job is just a stopgap. Hire this person, goes the refrain, and he will be gone as soon as something better turns up. Hiring managers cite this rationale most often.

• The applicant wants too much money, whether she knows it or not.

• The applicant will not fit the existing culture and is bound to be a malcontent.

• Although the applicant has the skills, he cannot adapt to the way we do things here and will cling to his old ways, however inappropriate for us.

Those concerns can sometimes be defused if you meet them head-on.

First, consider revising your resume if it is organized chronologically
. A functional resume is a better approach, especially if you are careful to match your own background with the skills explicitly required for the job. Use your cover letter to elaborate on the reasons behind your interest, making it clear that you understand the role you are seeking and its relationship to your past experience.

Being told that someone doesn’t want to date you because you’re such a good friend, is like being told that you didn’t get the job because you’re overqualified.

Emphasize your success as a team player rather than a manager. Dispel concerns that you are “past it” by describing the steps you have taken to stay current in your field.

Salary is a thorny issue that can be approached in two ways. One option is to be convincing about your value, using concrete examples of your ability to generate revenue or savings in the past. If you are indeed seeking something more than the company expects to pay, this has to be a powerfully compelling case. The other option is to raise the subject yourself and make it clear that salary is not an issue, that your past pay is irrelevant and that you are motivated by your passion for the job and not the salary.

These tactics may help, but remember that the real issue is a system that automatically rejects certain applicants. As a result, the best advice for the overqualified is to avoid that system altogether if you can. Whenever possible, make use of your network to get a personal introduction. You stand a much better chance as a real person than as a piece of paper.

Not getting the job because you are overqualified, Edward A. Murphy’s saying goes, is like getting turned down for a date “because you’re such a good friend.” Follow some of these tips and you may develop the ability to avoid that fate.

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