There are many reasons why you may not get a job, but being told you’re “too qualified” can rank up there as one of the most confusing.
Why would an employer reject you because they essentially think you’re “too good”?
While it might seem a bit baffling, there are genuine reasons that employers may decide not to hire you based on the fact that your skill set, qualifications or experience are beyond what they require for the role.
An employer may be concerned that you’ll expect a higher salary than they can afford – if not now, then soon into starting your role;
If you’re coming from the corporate sector, or simply changing your career path, they may be concerned that your skills and experience aren’t the right fit for a lower-level position;
They might be concerned that if you’re too highly skilled for the role, you’ll become bored and move on quickly; or
They may worry about team dynamics, especially if you’re more experienced than the managers you’ll be reporting to.
However, being “overqualified” for a role doesn’t need to be a barrier.
Here are four ways to present yourself and your experience more effectively, and improve your chances of getting the job:
1. Change how you present your education qualifications
If you’re concerned that your PhD, MBA or other higher qualification might have prospective employers putting you on the “too expensive” pile, consider where you list your education on your CV.
For example, if you put your education at the end of your CV then you can let your experience or personal statement shine.
Also, don’t go into too much detail about academic achievements if you’re worried it might “oversell” something that isn’t particularly relevant to this role or organisation. Sticking to the facts – title of your qualification, years studied and institution – rather than going into academic achievements, may be all that’s required.
2. Highlight relevant experience
If you’ve had a long and varied career then you need to be choosy about which jobs you list on your CV, and how much detail you go into when describing your employment history.
First, consider which roles you could leave off your resume – those least relevant to the job you’re applying for, or those that oldest and least reflective of your current experience. Obviously you don’t want gaping holes in your resume, so if roles need to be included for continuity, put emphasis on more relevant roles by giving them more page space.
Second, tailor the experience on your resume to make your work history as relevant to the position description as possible. If you’re switching from the corporate to the not-for-profit sector, this might mean mirroring the language used by NFPs and avoiding using corporate jargon.
If you don’t have any formal experience in the field you’re applying for then focus on other relevant experience you may have, like volunteering or being on a not-for-profit board.
3. Use your cover letter as a chance to connect with your potential employer
Your cover letter is your best opportunity to explain why it is that you want the role, as well as to allay any fears a potential employer may have about your being “over-qualified”.
For those moving from a corporate to a more ethical career, it’s the ideal opportunity to highlight your passion for the organisation and the work it does, and to show that you understand and are prepared for the challenges of changing sectors.
If you’re moving within the NFP sector and concerned that you lack experience in a new area – but at the same time may appear to be over-qualified in other ways – explain how your previous work might still be relevant to the new role, or at least help you to pick up new skills quickly.
Given that potential employers might also be concerned that you’ll find your change in career unfulfilling, it’s also a good idea to highlight what you hope to get out of the job. For example:
“Whilst my most recent job was in management, what I really enjoy (and miss!) is the opportunity to connect with people on a daily basis and talk to them about their needs. The chance to get out from behind a desk and work face-to-face with some of our community’s most disadvantaged people would bring me immense satisfaction.”
4. Be prepared for the interview questions you know are coming
You’ve landed an interview – well done! Now, be prepared for interviewers to ask a few curly questions if they have reservations about your career change.
Potential questions that you should be prepared for, include:
What will stop you from moving on once you’ve found a better opportunity?
How will you stay motivated?
What are you expecting in terms of advancement?
Are you comfortable taking orders from supervisors with less professional experience?; and
How long do you see yourself staying in this role?
You can find a full list of questions like these here.
The key to answering these questions lies not in downplaying your qualifications or experience, but on emphasising how your decision to apply for the role fits with your career aspirations and is similar or at least comparable to your career so far.
For example, you might say:
“Whilst it might not appear so at first glance, I applied for this position because it aligns directly with the career path I’m hoping to pursue. My goal has always been to work with an organisation working to . . . .. My experience . . . . in the corporate world has given me a wide range of skills that I think are really transferable and could also help to improve your operations. Even though the pay is less, I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to make a real impact on people’s lives, which I know will keep me motivated and wanting to stay for many years to come.”
Have you ever been told you’re “over-qualified” for a role? We’d love to hear about your experience and any tips you might have in the comments below! Gardian