What “Overqualified” Really Means, and How to Get the Job Anyway

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You can still find a job you're overqualified for.
You can still land a job you're overqualified for. Photo by BBH Singapore on Unsplash

Being “overqualified” means your skills and experience overshoot the requirements of the role you’re applying for.

If you’re aged over 50, you’re probably overqualified for many jobs because of your career to date. That can make finding a job more difficult.

That’s because most employers want reliable, long-term employees with a positive attitude. They don’t want someone who’ll feel bored or stagnant, or demand a higher salary than what they’re offering. If they think you might be using the role to pay the bills before a better one comes along, they won’t hire you.

But being overqualified can actually be an advantage if you have the right approach. The key is to address the employer’s concerns and emphasise your value.

Here’s how to land a job even if you’re overqualified for it.

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

1. Address the elephant in the room

Be open about why you’re applying for a lower position. In your interview and cover letter address the employer’s concerns: Are you going to feel bored and stagnant in a less skilled role? Are you just using the job until you find a better one? Are you happy to accept a lower salary?

Be clear about why the job works for you and show enthusiasm for the role and the organisation.

For example:

  • You’ll enjoy the role of sub-editor, even though you’ve been a senior editor for five years.
  • You’re more interested in another aspect of your field that you have less experience in.
  • You’re looking for a role that allows you to focus on what you enjoy about your field without the extra stress and demands of a higher-level position.
  • You’re scaling down your career or returning to work after a few years’ retirement, so you’re happy with a less demanding role.

Be open about your salary expectations and be prepared for a lower salary than in your previous positions.

2. Highlight your experience

Your qualifications mean your employer is getting more skills and experience for a lower cost.

Don’t focus on past titles (like ‘CEO’ or ‘head of’) when discussing your experience. Instead emphasise the skills and industry insight you’ll bring to the role and include examples where relevant.  

Importantly, note that you’ll be a ready-made replacement should a higher position become available. Your expertise means you can take on greater responsibilities, in less time than it takes to hire and train someone else.  

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

3. Show that you’re keen to learn and grow

What does the job offer you? If you can show a correlation between the role and your career interests, the employer knows the job is truly valuable to you.

For example, the role might be an opportunity for you to improve your digital skills.

This positive attitude shows your employer that you value the role as more than a temporary pay-check to see you through to something else.

4. Activate your network

Do you know someone on the inside of the organisation you’re applying to?

If you know someone who works for the organisation, or who knows the interviewer, ask them to give your CV to the Hiring Manager and recommend you for an interview.

Another great thing about being overqualified is that you’ve got lots of contacts from your career. The people you’ve worked with previously know what you’re capable of and, importantly, they know you as a person. Reach out to them to see if there are any roles available and let them know you’re looking.

Finding a job when you’re overqualified

Now that you know what being “overqualified” means, you can do something about it.

If you think you might be overqualified for a job, take the time to identify whether you truly want it. Then communicate that to the employer. Remember, you’ve got a lot to offer – and a positive attitude and readiness to learn can make you stand out regardless of your resume.

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