What To Do When You're Overqualified

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This past week, I was at a summer party and I spent some time talking to people who were looking for jobs. One of the things that many of the people I spoke with have in common is that they feel that they are being passed over for lower level jobs due to the fact that they are overqualified for them. It's a sad truth, but in general, employers don't want to hire people who are overly qualified for the position. It's one of the things that makes me laugh when an otherwise well-meaning person tells their unemployed friend to just get a job waiting tables or flipping burgers. "At least it's something" they say.

Unfortunately, it's not that easy. Let's take an out of work computer programmer, for example. If she has a degree and years of experience and training, unless she also has a history of experience in the food service industry, finding a job as a waiter isn't going to be easy. Most restaurant owners want to hire the best employees they can find and waiting tables is hard work, especially if you've never done it before.

On the other hand, when you're out of work, it is tempting to try to find any job you can. Depending on your situation, it can even be a good move. If you really want a job that you're overqualified for, there are a few things you can do to help raise your chances.

Be sure it's what you want - Taking a job that is several steps down can move your career backwards and it may take years to regain your momentum. If your primary concern is to find any job, look for positions that aren't in your industry and preferably, ones that can become temporary. For example, if you work in manufacturing and as a hobby, you like to snowboard, it might be better to get a job in a sporting goods store while you continue your job search. This way, your love of sports can give you some qualifications and since it relates to your hobby, it won't necessarily sidetrack your career goals. As a bonus, it will be easy to explain if a future interviewer asks about your job. However, if you really want to move back into a lesser position for whatever reason, then use that reason to justify your change.

Put yourself in the interviewer's shoes - Try to understand why employers don't want to hire overqualified people. They know that you won't be happy in the long term, so it seems pointless to hire and train someone who may not stay in the position. Especially in today's job market, there is no shortage of qualified candidates. For most employers, it's just better business to hire someone who genuinely wants the job rather than be a "disposable job" for someone more qualified.

Come up with a good reason - If you really want to move down the ladder, have a good reason. "Because I really just need any kind of job" isn't a good reason. For example, if your last job required you to travel a great deal and your family situation has changed, that could be a good reason. Or, if you were promoted at your previous job but realized that you don't enjoy management, that is also a valid reason. Whatever your situation is, be sure that you have a reason to give the employer so that they won't discount you. If you know that you're overqualified, it's a good idea to include this reason in your cover letter.

Don't look desperate - When you're looking for a job and running out of options, it's easy to feel desperate for a job. The thing is that you need to be sure that you don't look or sound desperate. It's not enough to say that you'll take any job you can get. You have to prove that you want the specific job they are hiring for. You have to convince the hiring manager that you can do the job, and that you really want to as well.

Spend more time looking for a job you're qualified for - The bottom line is that employers want to hire people who are a good fit for the position they have open. Since they have so many applicants, finding someone who is exactly qualified isn't as difficult as it has been in the past. If you're only looking at lower level positions because you don't think you can find a job opening at your level, spend more time looking for the right job for you.

Have you ever been turned down for a job because you were overqualified? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.


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  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    I hear ya' Tara! Taking a break from your career in order to raise kids can really damage your career path. It's a worthwhile thing to do, don't get me wrong, it's just that many employers don't see it that way. What i did, when I was returning to work after having spent several years at home, was to list it as a job on my resume. I included job duties like "Purchasing Officer", managing accounts receivable and payable and so on. Of course, not everyone who looked over my resume got it, but the one that did respected my sacrifice and saw that I had the skills to be a great employee.
  • Tara B
    Tara B
    Joe, it's happening to me too. My biggest obstacle is I stayed home to raise my kids. I've been 'back to school' more times than I can count
  • Melisssa Kennedy
    Melisssa Kennedy
    Being overqualified is so discouraging. It really stinks when the hiring manager wants you, but doesn't have a position open for you. All you can do is address the issue in your cover letter. Let them know that you are looking for a new opportunity and are willing to work in a lower position, so they don't make assumptions about what you would be willing to take.
  • Irma P
    Irma P
    I wholeheartedly agree with Melissa!  I have been looking for work for almost 2 years now.  I am semi-retired, but will work at a job I like for less pay and keep it, than work at a job I don't like or cannot do-like waitressing-for less pay; even if for more pay, I cannot do it.  I was omitted for an interview because she thought I would not work for 9.00/hr, and I would leave for something  better, and I told her "what gives you the right to assume what I would work for?" I would work for 9.00/hr and stay happy with it!
  • Joe W
    Joe W
    This is certainly something I deal with constantly! I have 2 degrees and 15 years of experience to offer, but, it seems that that is a red flag when it comes to hiring managers? I have been told that they would have to create a position for me due to my qualifications? Usually, the jobs I apply for are either out of my field or they have requirements that are written for someone they already have in mind for it. Either way, no job for me! But, what kills me is that they seem so turned on by my qualifications, but, it never materializes into anything...not even an email that "thanked me for my interest in the position" nor a "we regret to inform you, but".

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