For whatever reason, be it a career change or the need to pay the bills after a layoff, many people apply for jobs that require much less experience than they have. And far too often, it’s considered a negative: “Sorry, you’re too overqualified.”
The employer sees a litany of reasons why you would be a bad fit. They think you’ll be unhappy, or take a better job the second one comes along. You may even be gunning for the boss’s position.
To combat these perceptions, you need to find ways to convince the employer that you are right for the job, regardless of your experience. Here’s how to approach it.
Edit your resume to fit the job you want
If your resume is three pages long, and filled with impressive titles and experience, it’s a good time to start editing it. You are not lying; you are simply not putting down every single thing you have accomplished.
You don’t even have to list job titles if you don’t want to. Just list the companies you worked for, and then the appropriate experience for each one. Sure, you may well have overseen the international distribution for a major multinational. But did that job also entail getting on the phone and delivering great customer service (regardless of who those customers were)?
Find ways to temper some of your achievements. It will seem counterintuitive to everything you’ve done in your career, but if you want this job, you need to find ways to bring your resume down a peg or two.
Use your industry connections for introductions
A resume and a cover letter, even if they are exceptional and targeted, don’t always do the job. You will want to tap into the many connections you have made over the years, and find people who can vouch for you.
Ideally, you’ll know someone at the company you want to work for. Or, you know someone who knows someone at the company. LinkedIn is an excellent place to find these kinds of connections. When you find the right person, ask them to make the first move for you. A recommendation from someone trusted and reliable is worth far more than any polished resume.
They can also talk about what you bring to the table, and why you’re a good fit. By the time your over-qualifications come up, you will already be seen as someone who could easily fit the role. And if the salary is right, why not you? They’re getting more bang for their buck.
Talk about what you can do for them
Employers are selfish, and rightly so. They are ready to pay you a salary and benefits, so they want someone who will be a good return on that investment. And if you show them that your experience will benefit them, but won’t cost them any more, then they’ll be all in.
One great example comes from the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. After Jordan Belfort loses his job on Wall Street, he can’t find a new gig anywhere. Then, he sees an ad for a little brokerage selling penny stocks. When they first see Belfort, they think it’s a joke. He’s way too qualified. Why would he even set foot in this place? Then, he brings his experience (albeit morally bankrupt experience) to the firm, and before they know it, they’re making more money than they ever dreamed of.
So, highlight what you can do, not what titles you have earned. Explain how the experience you have is perfect for the job. And remember, only talk about the experience that is relevant to this employer. All your other accolades and achievements are best left out of the conversation.
Explain why you’re excited for the position being offered
Money isn’t everything. Titles aren’t for everyone. Sometimes, people genuinely want to change the course of their careers, and if that’s you, you have to find a way to make your potential new employer understand this. You may well have been part of the top brass at your last company, but you could also have become tired of the rat race. You want to take a job with less money and less responsibility, but one that gives you exciting new challenges.
Many people in advertising, for instance, find that after they get to the top of the ladder, they are not doing the fun and creative work that they did early on in their careers. For this reason, a lot of creative directors will actually step back from the role, and apply for lower-paying jobs as copywriters and art directors. As long as you can make the case for why you are ready to work for less money and less power, the employer should have no reason not to take your application seriously.
Acknowledge that you know you’re taking a step down
If you’re the victim of corporate downsizing, you will usually have to find a job quickly to replace the lost income. And that usually means taking whatever is available, even if it’s a considerable step down. Hiring managers are wary of candidates in this situation. They believe the overqualified candidate is simply taking the job as a stopgap, and will be looking for something better immediately. The last thing any hiring manager wants to do is be interviewing for that same role a few months down the line. But, this can be addressed early on.
Acknowledge that this is a step down for you, in salary and experience. But let the employer know that you also see it as providing a wealth of benefits, including new experiences, new challenges, and perhaps better work-life balance. Assure the employer that this is not a temporary position, but one you are going to dig into and be successful at.
Do not let salary come into play until the last minute
One of the biggest problems that comes with being overqualified is your salary history. As you climbed the ladder of success, your income was right there rising with you. And in your last position, you may have had a most impressive salary. However, now that you’re looking for a job that requires less (or different) skills, the money that goes with it will also be less.
The easiest way for a human resources manager to sort through candidates is salary expectations, or previous salary. If the current role offers $60,000 a year, and your most recent salary was $100,000, you’re going to be rejected in a heartbeat. Why would you even consider this role, they wonder. They don’t know your current situation, your wants and needs, and why you’re switching to a role that requires less experience.
So, don’t bring salary into it. If there’s a space on the form that must be completed, put $1. If it comes up initially, tell HR that salary is not something you’re concerned with right now. You want to focus on being the right person for the job, regardless of money.