Applying For A Job When You're Overqualified

By Megan Mollmann | October 27, 2010 AAA
Applying For A Job When You're Overqualified

You're convinced your new job is a done deal. It's for a non-manager position that requires half the experience and skills in your portfolio (you have an MBA, management experience, speak fluent Spanish and just rocked the third-round interview). There's one kicker: with the dismal job market, you desperately need the work. Prospects are looking good until that unexpected email reads: "We've determined another candidate that is most qualified for the job." (For related reading, also take a look at 7 Ways Your Resume Dates You)

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Career coach David Couper says this all-too-familiar scenario happens because an employer is worried that an overqualified applicant will become unhappy about money, title or reporting to someone with less experience, and leave the job after a short period of time. Turnover is a major burden for corporations, costing anywhere between 25-250% of annual salary per exiting employees, according to studies by the American Management Association.

But don't give up on applying for jobs beneath your pay grade or title just yet. Here's what career advice gurus say are the dos and don'ts of persuading employers that you are fit for the opening.

Revise Your Resume to Reflect Skills
Before submitting your application, you should revise your resume to emphasize your skills over credentials or job titles. List your skills and accomplishments first followed by your work history.

"A resume that highlight strengths and accomplishments instead of upper-level job titles will force the prospective employer to rethink assumptions about salary and fringe expectations," says Nancy DeCrescenzo, director of career services at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Downplay Your Qualifications
Couper says not to lie about your work experience, but that it's OK to de-emphasize certain qualifications by taking high-level job titles, graduate degrees or other irrelevant work experience off your resume. But don't fudge when it comes to stating numbers, salary or percents, says Richard Deems, co-author of the new book "Make Job Loss Work For You". "It's important the person honestly lists the results of his or her work," he says.

Don't Give References Before the First Interview
Although employers commonly request references in advance of first-round interviews, Couper says to avoid giving this information out right away. You want to be the first one to talk to your prospective employer (preferably face-to-face) about your work history and interest in the job, and you also need time to prepare your former employers or other references about your next career move.

Be Upfront About Being Overqualified
Once you've made it to the interview round, Couper recommends addressing the "big elephant in the room" and acknowledging that you know you have more experience than required. Couper suggests a phrase like, "I know I'm overqualified for this position, but there are some personal reasons why I want this job. I'm interested in doing the work." Another option is when the interviewer asks you the customary last question "Do you have any questions?" you can broach the topic with "Do you have any concerns about me?"

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Be Prepared for the Tough Questions
An experienced pro going for a more amateur job may face questions like "Why do you want this job?" or "Will you be satisfied with a less impressive title or less pay?" Use these as opportunities to express that you've also thought about these issues and to circle back to why you are an ideal match for this position.

"We coach people to respond something like, 'I've thought that through and it's not a concern,'" says Deems. "'What I'm looking for is a place where I can use my skills and experience [in X field] to help the company be successful.'" (Learn about what not to do in an interview, read 7 Interview Don'ts.)

Don't Talk About Money
Unlike most conventional couches, Couper thinks you should withhold previous salary history and salary requirements as long as possible. A big digit salary (or at least one higher than the position pays) may communicate to the employer that you are not willing to work for less. If a salary requirement is a must, research the average national salary for this job and offer a salary range that encompasses it.

The Bottom Line
Despite what hurdles you encounter trying to get a job you're overqualified for, keep in mind the employer's perspective. Couper says they want to three things, including "Can you do the job? Will you fit in with the team? Will your hiring cause any problems for the company?" And the golden ticket is convincing the hiring organization of those answers. (For more resume tips, also check out Top 8 Ways To Get Your Resume Thrown Out.)

For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: Ghosts Of Economies Past.

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