How to Overcome “Overqualified”

A reader writes…

I am a 62 year old accountant former controller. I think it is time I dumb down my resume because I feel hiring managers think I am overqualified and/or will not stay when the economy improves.  What do you recommend?

Dear “Overqualified,”

Don’t you just cringe every time you’re told:

  1. You have too much experience
  2. Your previous position was much more senior-level
  3. You’re too highly paid
  4. Or (another “classic”) you have too much education?

Being coined as “overqualified” (which, by the way, is code for “not a good fit”) is a problem that many people encounter. In fact, sometimes you won’t even know this is what a potential employer is thinking… you’re just simply never called back!

Now, should you “dumb down” your résumé?
Heavens NO!

However, you should ensure that your résumé is tailored for the specific position you are going for.  I’ve written several posts that include résumé tips (take a look at this post I wrote earlier this month — “How to Tailor Your Résumé” 

There are ways to get around this issue without discounting your previous experience or qualifications.  Consider the following:

  1. Draw attention to your skills and accomplishments – NOT job titles
  2. Do not discuss salary. Make it clear from the beginning that your previous salary is not relevant to your current job search.
  3. Demonstrate loyalty. Let them know that you’re looking for a long-term career.  Point out your longevity with previous employers, if it’s relevant.  This may help overcome the fear that you’re going to jump ship the minute the economy changes or a “better offer” comes along.

Let’s do a little role playing, shall we?

The Interviewer: Thanks for your interest, but you seem overqualified for this position.
You: Can you please elaborate?  What are you specifically concerned about? (Find out why they’re making this assumption and nip it in the bud right away.)

The Interviewer: We think you’ll be bored on the job.
You: Before applying for this position, I seriously considered the job duties and responsibilities.  I actually think I would be a perfect fit.  Here’s why….

The Interviewer: You have held much higher positions, including management. Here you would be reporting to a direct supervisor and would have to handle a variety of projects and tasks.
You: That is EXACTLY what I’m looking for. You need a team player, someone who is ready to roll up his sleeves, take direction, and contribute to a common goal…  (Don’t get too carried away and overwhelm the hiring manager with your experience and qualifications – this can be particularly intimidating to younger hiring managers – remain confident and keep things in moderation.)

The key is to come to each interview prepared to address this concern. Be honest and upfront about what you’re looking for and why the particular position is of interest to you.  Remember, you may need to adjust your résumé (emphasizing skills, qualifications, ways you generated revenue, saved money, etc.) more than job titles.  You should be proud of your role as a Controller (for example), but seeing such a prestigious title in a résumé may prohibit you from being considered before you even have a chance to explain your situation in an interview.

Hey readers, have you been told you’re overqualified for a position?  How did YOU overcome that?
Look forward to hearing from you!


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Robin
    Feb 02, 2011 @ 12:36:10

    My story starts in 09/2007…displaced and replaced by employer of 16 years, I am told; you need a degree to support all your experience, back to school for 2 years graduating with honors, AAS- business management degree with accounting and economics. I have held 3 temporary positions since 01/2010. I come highly recommended by my previous employer and my professors. I am told consistently that it is appreciated I have an interest in their company but at this time they are pursuing candidates who have qualifications “better suited” to the position.
    Seriously! Now I wouldn’t mind if I was able to speak to a real person from the company, but that very rarely occurs. Even recruiters will not discuss in detail the reasons for the application dismissal.
    Having the degree, the work experience, and the accumulated knowledge of years in the workforce seem to have gone the way of the dinosaurs in this current job market. Employers know they can choose the applicant who fulfills the minimum requirements for less pay.
    I have been told that I could not be payed what I had been accustomed to in the past. I said, “Please, don’t let past salary deter you from offering me a position, in the past two years I have grown accustomed to unemployment insurance and then no income. Salary is not my first reason for accepting or refusing a position.”
    I was not awarded the position. But I did learn that I no longer advised the employer of my past income. I tell them it was competitive and go on to highlight my passion for my work.
    One thing that I do concern myself (not dwelling on) is the age factor…they do not say it…but…is it there?


  2. pindsha21
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 08:12:22

    Thank you this was exactly what I was looking for. I have an Architecture degree with some intern experience, but the few people hiring in my field want individuals with even more experience. When I go in for other types jobs I’ve been told I’m overqualified. In my head I go (I know that, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do a great job or leave at a drop of a hat). I now know how to politely refute these statements.


  3. Kevin Gray
    Jan 31, 2011 @ 07:45:37

    I understand how “overqualified feels” I have 30 plus yrs. In construction mangment and skills. when I go for job interviews , they want my skills but only want to pay for a novice. I have thought about duming down my resume but I would still be over there heads. So keep trying It well happen. And I am just a kid at 53.


  4. Shannon
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 09:42:24

    I definitely know where you’re coming from but for different reasons. I’m just 23 years old and graduated a year ago. I have not been able to find any job and have repeatedly been told, or simply not called, because I am “overqualified”. The reasons include previous experience as well as education. All I want to do is keep up with my student loan payments!


  5. christella phillips
    Jan 27, 2011 @ 12:58:21

    I know what you mean I hate sometimes putting down that i was once a case manager without the degree so professionals won’t hire me they think BA Or BS is needed to perform counseling Not true ::: And to try to get a reg office position well I’m over qualified for those positions::: and lets not look at the general labor positions you see wow Case Manager Specialist II no way she is overqualified… Well good luck to you I do understand i’m 48 yrs young.


    • maria chavez
      Feb 01, 2011 @ 14:17:47



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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.

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