What to Do When You Are Told: “You’re Over-Qualified”

For people over a certain age, you have worked hard and amassed years of high quality experience.  You know that experience has value to your future employer, because there is so much depth to it.  Yet, the worst words in the world these days are “You’re over-qualified”. Translated to the listener this comes off as “You’re too old for this job” and the deflated job seeker shrinks then leaves with the realization there will be no job offer.

I recently spoke to a woman who said “I just tell them I can’t make my experience go away!” She looked at me and asked “Why would they even interview me in the first place? My experience was already obvious before they requested the interview.”  She was fairly fatalistic and felt that this comment was the kiss of death to a job seeker.  I can understand, but I’d like to offer a different perspective and response to this issue.

One of the things a hiring manager is attempting to do when making a hiring decision is to identify a candidate with low risk.  Low risk in a candidate is someone who will be an easy transition into the position and will stay on board for a long time.  A common concern for hiring someone who is either over-qualified or has a history of work much more advanced than the position is that the candidate will do one or all of the following:

Get bored and leave.

May be using this position as a place holder until they can find something better.

Intimidate their peers or even the hiring manager by their background.

Be difficult because of their depth of knowledge.

While the job seeker may feel this is not the case for them, they are faced with those concerns whether or not they are said.

I’d like to offer this up as a problem to solve and address rather than react like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car.  Use those problem solving skills you’ve amassed.  While the hiring manager may not have come right out to voice those exact concerns, it is at the heart of the ‘over-qualified’ remark.  If those are the concerns, then your best approach is to hit them head on while you can.  If you don’t address the concerns when they are raised, then the hiring manager is left to conclude they are right.

You can take two possible approaches:

  1. Come right out and ask them what their concern is.  If they give voice to it, you can address it.
  2. Assume the issues I outlined above are behind the comment and treat it like a behavioral question.  Respond directly to your thoughts on why this isn’t true.

Possible response:

“I know you may feel that I might get bored and leave or find something else more in line with my background.  You’ll notice that I have a history of working for a business for years at a time.  The thing that captures my interest is learning new things and adding value.  I like to commit myself to my company and my position because I think we get the best out of the situation over a longer relationship.  I like really digging into a job; and based on what I’ve heard, I could really enjoy this one.”

In other words, address their concerns and prepare yourself ahead of time to speak to this issue.  Like everything else with the interviewing process, you must think of this potential problem ahead of time and be ready to address it rather than be defensive or defeated.

Dorothy Tannahill-Moran is a certified life and career coach. She works with aspiring professionals who are looking for career growth, advancement and entry into the “C” suite. As well, she works with people to overcome the sometimes daunting task of changing careers. With over 21 years in management, Dorothy has coached, trained and guided other professionals who have gone on to impressive and fulfilling careers. Her personal philosophy about careers is: “It’s not JUST a job; it’s half your life – so love your career”. You can check out her resources, blog and services at Next Chapter New Life and MBA Highway.

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  1. My “Overqualified” gift – A senior executive with piercing blue eyes looked sadly at me and said, ” I would love to work with you, but I can’t hire you. You’re overqualified for our needs.” Perceiving little to lose at this point, I leaned forward and asked, “Since I can actually feel the wonderful things you and I could do by putting together our experience and resources for this organization, please help me understand how hiring me would not be good for this team. He paused for a moment. Then having decided to generously share with me a great life lesson – UNDERSTAND THE FIT – he explained, “You have already accomplished things that are the career goal for most of my team members. Your vision of business opportunity is world wide. Our organization’s regional vision is automatically overshadowed by a vision that exceeds our stated goals. My team is focused on taking daily action to achieve our view of us. Because of your business experiences, you see what we might become if we had the knowledge of all you have seen and done. Your stories of the big pond would be a distraction to our frogs. To this day, I consider his explanation of why I didn’t get the job a treasured gift.


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