Sometime yet this year, you or someone you know is likely to be told they are overqualified for a job.
The speaker may be a recruiter or a friend, a decision-maker or a drainer of hopefulness. And when they say or hint at the overqualified label, they may mean something about your talents, or about their budget for the job, or about the age of the applicant, or how secure the hiring manager is in his job.
When I wrote about the “overqualified epidemic” recently for the Washington Post Capital Business, it became clear to me that someone who’s 23 and been tending bar for a year and someone who’s 53 and been out of work for a year both could be called overqualified.
With an unemployment rate at 8.3 percent in July and 12.8 million people jobless, many people will apply for jobs they could have handled five years ago – or would have ignored early in their search. So how do they turn the tide so “overqualified” does not mean out of the running? Here are five suggestions:
1. Review the job description. Some jobs have assignments that “reach up” and demand more skills or experience. Others are so full of small, menial tasks. Try to understand what is most important and valuable to the employer – what moves the needle – and then tailor your presentation and written pitches toward that. In some cases, it may make sense to pass on some jobs where there’s nothing to interest and engage you.
2. Reframe the label. Restate overqualified to show it’s a good thing – like buying a very nice dinner and having the server or manager give you an appetizer and dessert for free. Say something like “I’m more than qualified for the job, which I think is a positive, reassuring thing to say,” suggests Five O’Clock coach Ruth Robbins in a newsletter article. Or suggest by hiring someone who’s overqualified means less time training or coaching, and more results sooner.
3. Refocus on results. Candidates need to craft an appropriate “two-minute pitch” and give details on why you’re the best answer to the employer’s needs, Five O’Clock Club coach Chip Conlin writes in the organization’s newsletter. Show the extra value you will deliver because you have such great qualifications. Offer to take on an extra assignment or two, or suggest you could serve as a fill-in relief for a higher level job.
4. Restate your intentions. Sometimes the employer is concerned that you’ll stay only six months until you find a better job. Or that you’ll be gunning for their job soon. Tell them you’re happier in a lesser job. Robbins suggests saying “I”m more comfortable as a team member than a team leader” right now. Be clear that the pay range given is perfectly fine with you and that you would feel fairly compensated for the job if you land it. Reveal your personal situation, such as an aging relative who needs care or a push to finish your bachelor’s degree, if you think it will help you explain why the job is a good fit.
5. Focus on the employer. Build the case on how much you want to work for REI, or how long you’ve admired Whole Foods Market. Be clear that if you join the company, you will have reached a key goal for yourself – and are unlikely to leave. Or talk about your hope to grow and develop a career within the company – again with an idea that you will contribute for many years.
Knowing you may be considered overqualified requires careful planning on how to demonstrate your value, your enthusiasm, your commitment. Do that and you may seem like a free chocolate mousse that shows up on the hiring manager’s plate.