What to Do When You're Overqualified for a Job

Published: Feb 09, 2021

 Interviewing       Job Search       Networking       
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It is easy to believe that being overqualified for a job is a good thing. After all, is there anything better than feeling self-assured?

Imagine this scenario: your attention is drawn to a job opening, but the experience required is only 5 years. You have been in the industry for 10. Should you apply anyway? And should you acknowledge that you might be overqualified in the interview? 

People who don't get the job because they're overqualified may wonder why they are being penalized for being too good. But it makes sense if you think about it from the employer’s viewpoint. Let’s discuss what being overqualified means and what you can do about it. 

Why you should be worried about being overqualified

Job recruiters are cautious about overqualified candidates. Here are some reasons why employers are shy about recruiting applicants who seem overqualified:

  • They're concerned that you're going to be bored. Employers want to recruit people who will stick around for a long time and enjoy their day-to-day jobs in general. If you are overqualified, hiring managers may be concerned that you will get bored quickly and quit for an opportunity that will use your full potential.
  • They are doubtful if you will be able to take direction. Another explanation for why employers avoid recruiting overqualified candidates for positions that do not fit their level of experience is that they may struggle to take guidance. Think about it - if you’ve got ten years of experience, will you be happy taking instructions from someone who is less qualified on paper or has been in their role for less time?
  • The company is worried about meeting the demands for earnings. The higher your qualifications, the higher your earning potential. Employers understand that and are worried about being able to fulfill demands. This can be troublesome for overqualified job seekers. If they’re asking for a Bachelor's Degree, will they be able to fulfill the salary requirements of a person with a Ph.D., for example?
  • They're worried that you will want to advance too quickly. If you are overqualified, employers may assume that you are applying for a lower-level position to get your foot in the door at the company and will expect to be promoted quickly.

How to overcome being overqualified

If you land an interview for a job for which you're overqualified, what can you do to overcome these understandable hesitations? 

During an interview, there are ways to get around the overqualification problem. Here are a few tips to help you nail your interview and land the job.

1. Check your attitude

You never want to give the impression that you think you’re too good for something. Instead, show sincere enthusiasm about the chance to take on a new and different challenge and contribute to the company's success.

Make sure that you don't show signs of arrogance or self-importance. Job applicants shouldn't call themselves overqualified. Be appropriately humble if the interviewer brings it up.

2. Be candid about your reasons for applying

You may think it's best to avoid the subject of being overqualified. But if it comes up, it’s because the recruiter is concerned. It is best to discuss your reasons for applying candidly during the job interview as long as you are humble and professional.

Perhaps you want a lower pressure role, the opportunity to achieve a better work/life balance, or the chance to move into a new sector? Say so!

3. Emphasize the value you add to the position

Recruiters fear that overqualified employees will quickly jump ship and are searching for applicants who can bring value to their company. Their priority is to recruit top performers who will excel in the position. By proving you're very well suited for the role, you can make it easy for them.

Your resume, cover letter, and interview answers should show how you have added value in your former jobs. You can also build your brand using social media (which employers do check) and use it to highlight your work and performance. Use the interview to highlight your successes and how you will contribute positively to the company. 

Pro tip: avoid using buzzwords in interviews. Instead, say what you mean in clear and precise language.

4. Negotiate your salary the right way

One fear interviewers have about overqualified candidates is that they will want to be paid more than the company can offer. 

You should feel free to negotiate the salary if they offer you the position, but be prepared to hear that they can’t go as high as you might like. You may have to take a pay cut if you want a position for which you’re significantly overqualified, so be prepared for that possibility.

Ask yourself if that's something you're willing to do, and weigh the cons of a pay cut against the reasons you're applying for the job (improving work/life balance, making a career change, etc.).

5. Demonstrate loyalty

Companies value loyal employees who will stick around. One of the most desirable qualities of an employee is commitment.

The following are a few qualities of loyal employees:

  • They perform to the best of their ability
  • They take pride in their work 
  • They are ready and willing to learn 

Be prepared to show that you are not looking for an easy ride or a job that you will quit the moment something better comes along. Explain why you are excited about this company and this role, and why you hope to be in the role for some time. 

Overqualified? Don’t despair!

There are many reasons you might apply for a job you are overqualified for. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance at landing the job. You just need to demonstrate that you’re applying for the right reasons and that you have the right skills and attitude to excel in the role. 

Overqualified job seekers may fail, but it’s far from a given. If you don’t get the job, ask for feedback so you can improve your application and interview next time. Remember that in the job hunting game, patience pays off. 


David Pagotto is the Founder and Managing Director of SIXGUN, a digital marketing agency based in Melbourne, Australia. SIXGUN is data driven, strategically minded, and truly understands the responsibility that comes with being your digital marketing partner.