Project U. Blog

Job Hunters - Don’t Get Rejected for Being “OVERQUALIFIED”

Posted by Catherine Saar on Wed, Nov 02, 2011 @ 12:41 PM

Experience says that you have a good chance of being dismissed for being "overqualified", when you apply for a position that offers less money or a lesser title than what you previously enjoyed.    Shouldn’t companies want to hire more experience for less pay and less title?  Not if you consider the risk from their point of view.  They want to hire the person who fits in, who sticks around for a while and who won’t be a problem.   After all, employee turnover and dissatisfaction cost a company money and heartburn.

In other words, HR doesn’t want you in their office a year from now telling them how inept your supervisor is, or how unhappy you are with your pay.  The CEO doesn’t want you quitting after six months when something better comes along.  Some studies estimate that the cost of replacing a new employee who leaves after a short time ranges anywhere from 85% to 145% of that employee’s salary.

So if you think you want that job, how do you overcome potential company bias? If you’re lucky, the employer will be direct and ask you if you are overqualified for the position - then you can be ready with a good answer. On the other hand, they might toss your resume into the rejection pile before you even get a call.

To prepare for either case, you can address the challenge up front – first with yourself and then with the potential employer.  If you are clear with yourself about your motivation for applying,   you will be better able to communicate why you aren’t a high-risk hire - thereby increasing the odds of getting the job.  

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Can you honestly say that you are willing to stick around in the job for at least a year? 

  • Are you willing to take direction (perhaps from someone younger or with less experience than you have) when you are used to being in charge?

  • Is there a benefit that the position offers you (for example, personal development, or quality of life) that makes up for the lower pay or lower status?

If the answer is no to all of these questions, you are probably better off waiting for something else that is more appropriate for you. 

On the other hand, if you can honestly embrace the opportunity with a good attitude, and you can communicate your point of view effectively, you stand a better chance of staying in the game.

First, brainstorm all the benefits of taking this lesser paying/lesser-titled position. That might include learning something new, enjoying a short commute from home, or being part of a team again.  Then either prepare for your interview, or consider crafting a cover letter that includes your thinking.

Whatever it is, you want to clearly, honestly and convincingly communicate your intentions - in addition to selling the strengths and experience you bring to the table. 

Here are some examples:

  • In a cover letter, or an interview, you can give specific examples of how and why you are willing and even excited about taking this particular position.  Share what you hope to learn; talk about the benefit of a short commute, or the work hours being perfect.  Make it clear why you are not only a great fit for the position, but also why this position is a great fit for you.  For example:

    • “While I’ve enjoyed management over the last several years, I miss the excitement of sales and look forward to working directly with customers again.”

    • “Now that all of my children are grown, I am less focused on salary and title, and very excited about the contribution that I can make working as a product developer for your company.”

  • In an interview situation, you can reduce the company’s perceived risk  by suggesting creative solutions, like a trial period or a contract:

    • “I'm willing to commit for at least a year, and would be happy to sign a contract to that effect.”

    • "If you have concerns, why don’t we try a 30-day trial period so you can get a firsthand look at how my work style fits with your company?”

Get the idea? Your goal is not only to highlight your abilities, (like being able to hit the ground running) but also to alleviate concerns that might otherwise keep you from landing the job.  If you can convince yourself and prepare well, you are likely better able to convince them as well.

Tags: lesser title, potential employer, trial period, contract, overcome bias, job hunters, resume, motivation, apply for a position, overqualified, company bias, convince, creative solutions, salary, getting the job, cost of replacing a new employee, less money, challenge, communicate, HR, cover letter, highlight abilities, interivew, rejected