How To Cope When An Employer Says You’re Overqualified

The past three years have been an interesting time filled with learning, growing, job searching, interviewing, and networking. The amount of realities I’ve faced have been very eyeopening. I can safely say this world doesn’t really work the way I thought it did. This is especially true to the job search quest. However, there is one thing I that I not only didn’t anticipate, it has proven to be one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since I started putting myself out there. Apparently, being in your late thirties can place you in the “overqualified” category. I would be the first to admit that I’m not a hotshot twenty-something anymore. However, being given the label “overqualified” by some employers I interviewed with really took me aback. In this piece, I’ll talk about why I feel this might have happened to me and what to look out for when you enter the crazy world that is job searching.

The Affect One Word Can Have

As a long tenured employee of one company, I didn’t know what to expect when I entered the job market during the summer of 2016. I came from a very prestigious company so I had the impression that I wouldn’t struggle too much to find a job. Even back then I realized I might not be a good fit everywhere, but I “knew” I had the resume and track record to get a job anywhere in the television production field. However, although my resume was good enough to land many managerial and entry level interviews, it didn’t necessarily guarantee that I had any particular edge over other candidates.

As the lack of callbacks and rejections mounted, I started to wonder what the problem was. Most of my interviews felt great. I didn’t feel like I had said or done anything that might have messed up my chances. In most cases, I felt like my experience lined up well in relation to the position I applied for. When asking for feedback, one word always seemed to pop up after every other interview: “You are overqualified for this position”. It wasn’t that my resume was missing important keywords or I lacked a particular skill or piece of experience. It came down to the fact that I was considered “too good” for the position. There are a few reasons why this happened to me that I will get into next. Even when you do make sense of it all, it still hurts and it’s still an incredibly frustrating cycle to go through.

What Does It Mean To Be Overqualified?

To me, the word “overqualified” is very ambiguous. What exactly does this mean? Did I put too much information on my resume? Am I too old for the company/position I applied to? Should I change some information on my resume in order to look younger? Do I need to buy rogaine and color the gray hairs in my beard? The fact that I was hearing this feedback in my mid to late thirties was alarming. I still have about 25-30 years left in my career. If I’m having this issue now, then what can I expect if I am in this situation again in another 10-15 years. Will I foreclose on my mortgage? Will I have to move to a cardboard box? Will I have to live on ramen noodles for the rest of my life? Will I EVER be able to get a decent job again? Some of these points may sound a bit humorous and extreme, but they are all questions I’ve asked myself.

How Can This Happen To Me?

Many questions may run through your mind when you are given this type of feedback. I often wondered if I needed to “dumb down” my resume, change dates, or do some other type of change in order to get employers to hire me. I paid a lot of money to get my resume created so that anybody who did turn me down would be out of their minds if they did. A sleek looking resume plus my experience was supposed to be a winning combination. However, the reality is once you hit a certain point in your career it may become difficult to start over and move on to a new company.

Factors such as pay, employee happiness, and assumptions about the candidate’s intentions can all play a huge role in being labeled overqualified. This can happen even if your intentions are pure. We all end up at a crossroads at one point in our lives. Although there are certainly those who are looking for a stopgap job until they find something better, there are many who are just happy to land a decent job and build themselves up with a new company. I was/am that type of candidate. The truth is there might not be much you can do about the preconceived beliefs an interviewer has about experienced candidates.

There was one particular job interviewer who told me at the end of the interview that I was overqualified. At the time, I didn’t know how to respond to it. Although I had been given this type of feedback after an interview, I’d never received it in the moment. To me, especially in hindsight, the interview was pretty much over right there and then. It seemed like they had already made their decision. This is despite the fact that I felt like this was one of the better interviews I had between my previous full time job and the job I currently have. This is despite the fact that this job was such a great match. I came through the door highly recommended by a very well respected mutual connection. You can’t find yourself in a much better situation than that.

What Can You Do About It?

So you’ve gone through your checklist and have yourself feeling beyond prepared for the interview. You researched the company, practiced potential interview questions, studied your own history, took your go to interview suit to the cleaners, brushed your teeth, arrived at the site on time, performed flawlessly during the interview, etc. but still left with no job. In some cases, frankly, there isn’t much you can do about the overqualified stigma. From my perspective, it’s better to keep plugging away and be yourself rather than doing something drastic like change your resume or lie about yourself. Those types tactics may come back to you later so it’s not advisable to do that.

As I mentioned earlier, the three points that seem to keep candidates from landing a job are assumptions about pay, the candidate’s happiness, and their intentions. My advice is to make some of this information known to the employer upfront in the cover letter. It also may help to use the time your given to ask questions to make these points clear. I’ve had three interviews since the fateful “overqualified” interview I had mentioned earlier in this piece. I landed 2 out of those 3 jobs. I’d like to think luck was on my side with these interview opportunities, but I also think I played the situation better. I don’t think I performed terribly in previous interviews, but I do believe that I may not have done a good enough job of ensuring the hiring manager that my intentions were good, I’d be happy in a non-managerial role, and I could accept the pay they were offering.

How Does Youth Factor In?

I couldn’t write this piece without addressing the “real” issue which is that time isn’t on my side as much as it used to be. There are many companies out there who would rather hire employees who are just coming out of college. Since our world is becoming more and more cutting edge everyday, the assumption is that the younger generation will adapt to a company’s cutting edge technology better and will have fresher ideas than somebody who has been out of college for a few years. I’ll admit, this might have been a good assumption to make when it came to the generations before mine, but I think employers tend to overlook that people like me grew up with computer based technology. In more ways than one it is a new world today.

The fact that an employer would choose to hire somebody fresh out of college over somebody like me is something I have struggled with since I’ve been put in that situation. I can see both sides of the coin. Sometimes it is better to hire younger depending on the candidate’s attitude. However, it is up to the hiring manager to make the best decision and see past some of the assumptions they have in order to hire the best candidate. I don’t believe older candidates should be dismissed because of their experience just as much as I don’t think younger candidates should be dismissed because of their lack of experience. Experience and skills are helpful, but at the end of the day a person’s character, values, and other important traits need to be considered during the process. Labeling a candidate as overqualified or too young isn’t a good reason to dismiss them altogether.

Take Control Of Your Own Destiny

If the idea of simply making note of the pitfalls of being overqualified and using them to cover yourself during the job search process doesn’t excite you, then there may be more you can do. Start by using social media tools like Twitter and LinkedIn (Especially LinkedIn) and start networking. Create video content, start a blog, volunteer, etc. Do something about it and start meeting people who will see past the overqualified label and help you to go where you want to go in your career. Personally, I have taken these steps in order to help myself gain exposure and broaden my professional network. Thanks to my effort, I have met a number of great people who have been a huge help as I pursue my own career goals.

As I’ve stated in other career related pieces I’ve written, it’s not enough to just apply for a job, go through the interview process, and hope you’ll get the job. This process may work when you’re trying to make ends meet through minimum wage jobs, but it’s not going to work anymore once you’ve been out of college for a few years. If anything, the sooner you start working on your network, the better off you’ll probably be when the day comes that you really, truly have to put yourself out in the job market. It might save you all of the headaches I endured over the past few years.

Considering the tools we have today, there is no reason why we all can’t build up a strong professional network around us. I may not have said that a year or two ago, but thanks to events like LinkedIn Local, I’ve more than discovered that it is possible to build up a strong professional network. It is possible to take control of your own destiny and have the type of career you want. You don’t have to settle for a hiring manager’s assumptions about you. Especially when you’re probably way too young to be dealing with a label like that to begin with. Just remember, you didn’t make it to where you are in your career without putting a little bit of work into it. Think about the care you put into networking the same way. The extra work doesn’t end when you graduate college. It’s something you have to work on for the rest of your career. If you don’t you could wind up in the same rut I did.

If you enjoyed this piece, then take a minute to check out some other career related blogs I’ve written:

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1 Response

  1. Vox says:

    Well, in my profession, that get SUPEREXCITED about someone like me who is considered “overemployed,” since there is a severe shortage in my field, the pay sucks—So sucks even more when you know you could be making 20-30 thousand more than they are going to pay you—and they assume that they can get waaaay more value of out you than they would some newbie, who doesn’t understand how life—nor this profession—runs. I am at the point where I am looking FORWARD to my next job, since I can do it with my hands tied behind my back (so that I can put any and all extra effort into our side businesses). So, finally I am hopeful that they do consider me overemployed, so that I can do whatever the hell I want, basically, and not be reprimanded for anything! 🤷🏽‍♀️✅

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