What to Do When You’re Overqualified for a Job (Our Complete Guide)

By Mike Simpson

As a candidate, being overqualified for a job doesn’t usually look like a problem. After all, wouldn’t the hiring manager be thrilled to find someone who brings more than they need to the table? That seems like a dream come true.

The thing is, when most hiring managers come across an overqualified candidate, they see it as a red flag. Usually, it’s because they’re afraid you won’t be satisfied in the role or may leave for something that’s a “better” fit sooner rather than later.

Does that mean you shouldn’t apply? Of course not! You just need to approach it the right way. If you’re overqualified for a job and wondering what you should do, here’s what you need to know.

What Is the Meaning of “Overqualified”

So, what does it mean to be overqualified? Well, the good folks at Merriam-Webster define overqualified as “having more education, training, or experience than a job calls for.” That really does sum it up nicely.

From a hiring manager’s perspective, a candidate is usually overqualified if they could reasonably do – or qualify for – a higher-level position with their existing skills. In some cases, this means that being overqualified for a job is subjective. It’s based on perception, as how one person views your capabilities may differ from how someone else sees them.

However, sometimes, it’s also pretty blatant. For example, if you have a decade of experience as a project manager and you apply to an entry-level office assistant job, you can’t blame the hiring manager for viewing you as overqualified. You bring far more to the table than they are after.

The Challenges of Being Overqualified in Your Career

Why would a hiring manager care if your overqualified? Well, mostly, they are worried about three things. One, that you’ll jump ship the moment a position opens up that is a better fit for your capabilities. They assume that this role isn’t part of your larger plan, especially if your work history has otherwise followed an upward trajectory. It’s also possible that they’ll think that you don’t understand what this position is actually about and that you’d be disappointed once you do.

Two, that you’ll get bored, also leading you to leave relatively quickly after being hired. After all, 26.7 % of professionals cite boredom as the worst part of their work experience. Plus, they say that feeling bored leaves them tempted to quit.

Three, they may worry that, even if they offered you the job, you’d say “no.” They may figure that you won’t be happy with the pay, duties, or another aspect of the position once you learn more about it. If that’s possible, then they may wonder if pursuing you is worth their time.

In the end, hiring managers want to bring someone on board for the long term. If they are worried that being overqualified means you won’t stick around or won’t say “yes” to an offer if you got one, they are going to remove you from contention.

As a job seeker, being discarded is usually the biggest issue you’ll face. It can be incredibly frustrating, especially because it may happen well before you have a chance to plead your case about why you want the role.

Luckily, you can do something about it. With the right approach, you can alleviate most (if not all) of these concerns. So, let’s dig into that.

Top Tips for Dealing with Being Overqualified

If you’re overqualified for a job but legitimately want the position, you need to approach your entire hiring process a bit differently. That way, you can put the hiring manager’s mind at ease early and reinforce the idea as you progress.

Here are some tips for dealing with being overqualified during every stage of the recruitment process.

On Your Job Application

If applying for the job means filling out a preset application, there’s a good chance that you’ll have to reveal specific details that show you’re potentially overqualified.

Job applications are notorious for checkboxes and toggle buttons that ask you to outline your experience with various skills. You might face a question like, “How much experience do you have with [task]?” Then, you’ll see a set of year ranges, and you have to pick one.

If the job description is looking for one to two years of experience and you have more than five, ten, or more, that can be a big clue to the hiring manager that you’re possibly overqualified. There’s little you can do to avoid that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work with it.

MIKE'S TIP: If you are trying to avoid looking overqualified for a job, you might be tempted to lie about how much experience you have. Don’t. While it may help you get past an automated screener, the truth is going to come out at some point. The hiring manager may work it out while reviewing your application, or it may come up during the interview. And when they notice the lie, there’s a chance they’ll remove you from contention right there. Honesty is always the best policy. After all, it’s better to look overqualified than to seem dishonest.

When it’s time to fill in your work history, use the section to your advantage. Use the Tailoring Method, and focus on sharing achievements that highlight you have the right skills that relate directly to the role.

As you pick accomplishments, don’t choose ones that are far above what the position calls for. That way, you’re showcasing more of what the hiring manager wants to find and less of what may make you seem overqualified.

If you see a field asking for your salary expectations, you can also use this to make you look like a strong fit. By including a number or range that genuinely makes sense for the job, the hiring manager will know that you understand what’s likely available and are cool with it.

On Your Resume / Cover Letter

If you need to submit a resume and cover letter to apply for the job, then you also need to break out the Tailoring Method. A targeted resume is always your best bet, as it allows you to show why you’re a great match for this specific role.

Focus on your skills and experience that would help you shine in the role, and don’t get into detail about capabilities beyond what they need. It’s all about positioning yourself as a match, so being choosy about what you include is a great idea.

Also, rework your professional summary to align it with the position and even address why you’re interested in a lower-level role. Talk about the merits of what you bring to the table and how the job fits into your plan.

When it comes time for the cover letter, you also want to tailor the content. However, this also gives you a critical opportunity. You can speak directly to the hiring manager’s possible concerns, using the letter to put their mind at ease.

For example, you can mention why you’re enthusiastic about the position, giving you a chance to indirectly show that you understand what the role involves. You can discuss why this role is what you genuinely want, explicitly addressing your reasoning for shifting your career in this fashion and mentioning your long-term commitment to the opportunity if selected.

After all, there are a lot of reasons why a person may want a job that looks like a step back on the surface. Maybe it’ll give you more work-life balance or let you do more of the kind of work you enjoy. Possibly, it supports a career change, helping you head in a new direction. Those are all valid reasons, so don’t shy away from talking about the “why” behind your application.

If you’re feeling bold, you can even outline your salary expectations. While talking about salary isn’t a normal part of a cover letter, in this case, it isn’t a horrible idea. So, do some research, and show that you understand what kind of pay comes with this sort of work.

During Your Job Interview

If you reach the interview stage, there’s a really good chance that the hiring manager is going to ask you a question that lets you talk about being overqualified directly. It could be a classic like, “Can you tell me why you’re interested in this position?” or even something that blatantly references your higher-level qualifications.

At this point, you want to be able to explain exactly why this job makes sense for you long-term. Say that you understand you seem overqualified, then pivot, cluing the hiring manager into your reasoning for wanting the position.

You can also ask them what about the situation worries them. This gives you a chance to learn more about their specific concerns. Then, address their worries head-on.

Aside from being directly asked about being overqualified or why you’re interested in the job, you also want to make sure any other interview answers show that you understand the position and are excited about it. Relevancy really is the key to success, and it gives you an approach that doesn’t focus too heavily on skills that are beyond what you need for the role.

Whenever you can avoid it, don’t discuss accomplishments that are far above what the job needs. Instead, use examples that make sense of the position you want to land, allowing you to showcase yourself as a solid fit.

When Starting a New Job

Once you get a job offer, you might assume that being overqualified isn’t a problem anymore. However, it actually can be, depending on what people know about your capabilities.

For example, your new manager may worry that you’ll grow dissatisfied with the job fast. Additionally, your coworkers may assume you think you’re better than them.

Usually, your best bet here is to do your job, do it well, and do it with a smile. If you’re handling your duties and seem pleased being a part of the team, that will help put many of the fears to bed.

Also, make sure you never lord your capabilities over anyone else. While it’s fine to provide input when asked, be cautious about unsolicited advice or any story that starts with, “Well, back in my old job, we…” In the end, no one likes a know-it-all, so be strategic when it comes to offering opinions.

Finally, make it clear that you’re interested in learning from the people around you. When you welcome their input and acknowledge their expertise, it can help you forge stronger bonds.

In time, people won’t focus on your qualifications. Instead, they’ll appreciate what you’re doing for the company and team now, and that makes a world of difference.

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, being overqualified for a job doesn’t mean it isn’t the right career move for you, or that you can’t land the position. All of the tips above help you show why you’re a great match and address any concerns a hiring manager might have along the way.

In the end, there are a lot of reasons why a person may want to head in a new professional direction, so don’t be afraid to discuss yours. After that, tailor everything you share to the job, allowing you to showcase why you’re the best candidate for the position.

Good luck!

About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.