What to do if you're ‘Overqualified’ for a Job  image

What to do if you’re ‘Overqualified’ for a Job 

Staff Squared date icon2nd March 2021

Tag iconSmall Business

Rejection is all part and parcel of job hunting, and it’s an unfortunate truth that nearly all of us will experience job search rejection at one time in our working lives

It’s never a nice feeling to be turned down for a job. However, I think it’s safe to say that there is one reason for this rejection that stings much more than anything else. Yep, you guessed it: overqualification.

Is it Possible to be Overqualified? 

You could be forgiven for questioning whether it is even possible to be overqualified for a job.  

Surely, an applicant having an abundance of qualifications and years of experience would be like hitting the recruitment jackpot for an employer?  

And if we’re being frank, it’s technically not actually possible to be overqualified just because you have qualifications that exceed what is required for the job.  

At the end of the day, there’s no such thing as being too knowledgeable, skilled or experienced. If there were, I’m sure many of us would simply set the bar and then stop learning once we achieved a certain level of competence. 

Reasons Employers Might Not Want to Employ You 

As it turns out, there are a fair number of reasons why you might be turned down for being ‘overqualified’.  

Though, this is unlikely to be the real reason that you didn’t get offered the position.  

The overqualified rationale that we’ve all come to accept is usually a proxy for other concerns that the employer had about your fit for the role. 

They Fear you Won’t Stick Around 

Possibly the biggest concern for employers interviewing someone who exceeds their requirements for the position is that you’re only applying to the job to bridge a gap and you’ll end up leaving shortly after being inducted.  

The way they’ll see it is that your qualifications open you up to a lot of opportunities for better jobs, and recruiters don’t want to invest in someone who isn’t going to last longer than a few months or a year.  

The Company Can’t Afford what you’re Worth 

The more qualified you are, the more earning potential you have, so if you rock up to an interview for a job that is beneath your skill set, chances are the employer will fear they can’t meet your salary expectations.  

Some employers may decide to voice these concerns, but many are likely to conclude that you won’t be willing to take a pay cut and rule you out based on the assumption.  

They Worry you Won’t do the Work 

A common belief among employers is that since you’re highly qualified, you won’t be willing to do the work.  

This happens a lot with overly experienced workers who think that their time is better spent doing more ‘important’ tasks.  

Some companies aren’t prepared to take the chance and will reject overqualified applicants off the bat.  

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You Mightn’t be a Cultural Fit 

A big factor for employers to consider when interviewing for new hires is to ensure that the workplace culture isn’t compromised. With that, comes assessing the personality and interests of the candidates and consider whether they will get along and work well with existing employees.  

If you’re applying for a job with a Masters Degree when the role only calls for GCSEs, managers could worry about how you will fit in with the team.  

The Employer Might Worry About your Manager being Younger than you 

Experienced job seekers tend to be a little older, which isn’t a problem in terms of a candidate’s ability to perform. However, in a company where management are younger, employers often think before hiring older workers who would be placed under the management of someone junior to them in years.  

This is partly because older employees may resent being managed by someone with less experience than themselves. Likewise, younger team leaders can feel uncomfortable managing people with more experience than they have.  

You’ll Probably get Bored  

The employer may assume that the work you’ll be doing as part of the role will bore you. And since the level of employee engagement directly impacts productivity, there’s a slim chance you’ll get hired if the employer thinks you’ll be bored.  

Existing Management Might Feel Threatened by you 

If you have qualifications and experience suitable for the role of existing managers at the company, they may see you as a potential threat to their credibility or power.  

Many managers lack self-confidence, so if they can see an opportunity for you to replace them, the chances are that they’ll reject your application in order to protect their own position at the company 

The Employer Can’t be Bothered to Address Concerns 

Most of the issues covered here could, undoubtedly, be easily addressed at interview stage, that isn’t always the case.  

In fact, some interviewers might not be bothered to bring them up at all (be it because they don’t have the time, are overwhelmed by the recruitment process or simply want an easy ride).  

If you don’t match exactly what they are looking for, it’s just easier for them to reject you on grounds of overqualification than the address the issues. 

Other Reasons why you Might be Labelled Overqualified 

This isn’t an exhaustive list. In fact, there are many other reasons why you might be branded as overqualified for a position. Some other issues may include:  

  • Your attitude during the interview – overqualified job seekers can sometimes come across as arrogant, overconfident or even too demanding. Regardless of a person’s suitability for a job, no one wants to hire someone they can’t imagine having to work with day in day out.  
  • The employer is avoiding the real reason for rejection – there could be any number of reasons for your application to be rejected. If the employer doesn’t wish to express the real reason, they could describe you as overqualified as an excuse for rejection.  
  • You’re a victim of discrimination – as much as you’d like to believe this isn’t an issue, discrimination is still a big problem in the modern workplace. This could well be the reason why your impressive CV isn’t being well received.  



How to Respond if you are Overqualified for a Job 

The idea that there are so many reasons why an employer might turn down your application based on what should be an impressive skillset is overwhelming, to say the least. You spend so much time dedicated to honing your skills only to be told ‘sorry, you’re overqualified’.  

But don’t fret – there is some good news! There are ways to overcome these challenges.  

Don’t Give them the Chance to Ask Questions 

Cover letters offer the perfect opportunity to explain exactly why you want the job. Just because the position doesn’t match your qualifications, that’s not to say it won’t suit your lifestyle or priorities.  

Whether you’re looking for a lower-level job because you wish to return to an earlier point in your career, want to experience working with the next generation of talent in your industry, or simply fancy a change; if you let employers know what your intentions are, you may be able to put their minds at ease before they even begin to worry.  

Let them Know that you Still have Things to Learn 

You might be highly qualified, but that doesn’t mean you’ve learned all there is to know. Be sure to address that you are eager to learn something new in the new position even though you are ready and able to competently fulfil its requirements. 

Tailor your CV to the Job you’re Applying for 

As much as you might want to boast about all of the impressive qualifications you have, make sure that you don’t list any that aren’t relevant to the position.  

You can safely (and legally) omit qualifications and experience that might make you come across as overqualified for the post. Instead, try to focus on skills and experiences that make you qualified for the role.  

Do your Research  

Try to avoid applying for jobs at companies that are likely to reject your application based on overqualification.  

Some companies aren’t averse to hiring highly skilled workers, and that can make all the difference in your job search.  

Be Clear about your Salary Expectations 

If you’re strategically downgrading your career, you’ve likely already considered that they’ll be a pay drop.  

It’s important to be open with an employer about what your salary expectations are. Don’t leave them fretting over whether they can afford you.  

You don’t have to come up with a specific number. Just let them know you understand the pay will correspond to the skills required to perform the job.  

Explain How your Skills can Help the Employer 

Once you’ve addressed how the job fits into your career plans, interests and salary expectations, you have a huge opportunity to make being overqualified work in your favour. 

Never assume that the employer will immediately see the value of all your experience and qualifications. Now is the perfect time to talk about the skills you bring to the table and tell them how your diverse background can help the business grow.   

Keep yourself in Check 

If you waltz into an interview with the air of arrogance, all you’re going to do is convey to the employer that you’re too good for the job. Likewise, don’t come across like you think the job will be easy.  

Even if this is the case, you’re more likely to be considered for the position if you express genuine interest and excitement about the opportunity.  

Written by Clarisse Levitan

Marketing and Customer Relations Advisor - Staff Squared 

Clarisse works as the Lead of our Customer Care Team to provide our customers with the very best care and guidance when using their HR software and is responsible for our day-to-day marketing activities and strategies.

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