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Over-qualified? Don't be a Dummy!

Ever been rejected for a job on the basis that you are over-qualified? What a slap in the face that can be! You’d think these companies would be eager to employ the services of someone so experienced and knowledgeable at a lower rate. So why aren’t they picking up all these over-qualified potential employees?

And should you under-play your work experience and qualifications in order to win a lesser position? We’ve heard of people who have done this, and then at the last minute when the company has decided they want just that little bit more, they have refused to look at an applicant because they had hidden their talents.

Well, first, let’s look at why potential employers are so afraid of the over-qualified worker. The fears are quite real, because what they fear does often happen.

  1. You are likely to move on sooner, rather than later, to a better paying position. You are in the headlights of headhunters looking for talent. Why waste money and time on you then?

  2. If things go wrong and they want to sack you, being so much wiser, you’ll cause a lot more trouble if they try to push you out the door, whereas a junior would probably leave with their tail between their legs.

  3. You’ll become bored with this job, or get hoity-toity about your place in the organization. You might be hard to motivate and challenging to manage. You might have a negative influence on other workers with your attitude.

  4. You’ll cost more. You’ll expect to be worth more and eventually you may ask for more, or you’ll milk the system because you know the ropes.

  5. The employer is suspicious of your motives and your true commitment to the job. Is this just a fill in role? Will they be risking too much by taking you on?

Don’t despair. There are some things you can do that are not dishonest and may help you land the job. Never say that you are interested in the position because you want a job with no responsibilities or because less is required of you. This will not even get you in the door for an interview. You need to do as you would for any position you seek… address yourself to the position statement. You need to convince them that you are enthusiastic about the position and are qualified to meet the requirements of the position, nothing more, nothing less. Tell the employer why they should hire you over somebody else.

Starting with your cover letter, you might like to get in first and raise the issue of being overqualified and explain why that is not a problem. Explain how your experience and qualifications would benefit them. Convince them that you would be an asset, not a risk.

You can explain how your previous experience would help you to solve problems that would be beyond a younger, less experienced worker, and that you will be able to work more quickly and be more productive. You will need to offer an explanation as to why you are seeking to drop to a lower entry level position. Honesty is the best policy – just be careful how you present it. Honesty like, “I want to have time to attend college to further my education and get a better position”, may go against you, compared to something like, “I want more time to spend with my family.” The reasons you give for wanting the lesser position should be meaningful, to justify your willingness to earn less.

Provided you have explained your willingness to assume responsibilities and utilize your more experienced skills when called for, but that generally, you are after a lesser position because of so and so, then most employers would be prepared to consider you. If they are worried about how much to pay you, tell them that work/life balance and satisfaction are more important to you than the money. Be quick to point out how much money you will save them by having such a valuable employee work for them at such a reasonable rate. Reassure them that you are not going to jump ship at the first opportunity (of course, if that is your intention, then you may just have to get used to being considered “over qualified” and over-looked.)

Emphasize the money you will save them by using your experienced skills, and give examples. In advance, think of all the ways you can utilize your skills in the position you are going after, and they’re getting all this for half the price.

Of course, there is the possibility that the Manager may be afraid of you because you may show him/her up, or worse, take his job! Again, you have to emphasize your reasons for wanting the lesser position – reassuring the manager that his job is safe. You can point out, however, that with your experience you’d be a great asset to the manager and to the company, being able to grow to meet the company’s needs if necessary, perhaps emphasizing again that you are not after the top job! Have them consider the usefulness of your skills with younger staff who do not have your experience.

You need to sell your strengths and your reasons for wanting a less challenging and less paying position. Be the first to raise the subject of being over-qualified and ensure you meet all their possible objections rationally.

Now, regarding your Resume, this will require a rewrite. You don’t want a resume that shouts you are ready for the President’s position or that you were CEO in your last job. You need to adjust your resume to address the criteria of the position you are going after. It’s not a matter of being dishonest, rather you need to be more selective with how much detail you give. Many positions ask for applicants to address the job criteria only, so you will be complying with their requirements by doing this and omitting the fact that you were once CEO of General Motors!

If the position you are going after is for a Sales person, don’t focus on the fact that you were the Senior Manager of the entire Sales Division in your last role. Focus, instead, on your experience in sales and the techniques and knowledge you bring to the role.

If you are genuine, offer to sign a contract signing on for 12 months. This will show them you are serious. Point out that younger people are just as likely, if not more likely, to want to job hop their way to bigger positions, but you’ve been there, done that, and are more settled and know what you want.

In short, whilst you are not exactly offering them something for nothing, you are offering them more for less. This is very attractive to employers. The only other major hurdle will be convincing them that you are a stayer. Having said that, you’d best be prepared to honor your word and stay the distance. Don’t forget that this work experience may very well crop up in any future interview – how trustworthy will it make you look if a future employer finds out you lied and betrayed a previous employer?

Before going after a lesser position, think carefully about what it will really entail. If you have a fragile ego, you may not be able to handle being relegated to the lower ranks again. How are you at taking orders? Know exactly what tasks will be expected of you. Can an ex CEO go back to running errands or doing their own filing? Can you work for a younger Boss?

If none of these things are of concern, then go ahead and have a go. You have much to offer!

-Terri Levine, MCC, PCC, MS, CCC-SLP
Written by Terri Levine, MCC, PCC, MS, CCC-SLP, the President of Comprehensive Coaching U, The Professional's Coach Training Program, a popular Master Certified personal and business Coach, sought after Public Speaker, and Author of bestseller, "Work Yourself Happy", "Coaching for an Extraordinary Life" and recent release, "Create Your Ideal Body". She can be contacted via the web site or by telephone: 215-699-4949.