There are many reasons to apply for jobs that may be perceived as “steps down” from your past roles.
Maybe you’re looking for a less-demanding role so you can spend more time with family.
Perhaps you want to start your own business and want a less all-consuming role while you plan.
Or what if you want to switch fields and know you can’t land a senior-level role in your first foray into a new sector?
Despite these many valid reasons, candidates who are deemed overqualified for a position can sometimes raise red flags with employers.
What does “over-qualified” mean? Employers give candidates this designation if they possess all of the required and desired skills for a role – plus more. While this could, and often should, be a boon to employers, they could fear overqualified candidates may:
- Ask for higher salaries than other candidates.
- Get bored quickly since the job won’t challenge them.
- Be ready to retire (if nearing retirement age), so hiring managers use the “overqualified” moniker to hide ageism.
- Outperform both the hiring manager and other employees in the role.
If you’re invited to interview for a role that you worry you’re overqualified for, it’s a good idea to prove to the interviewer that you would commit to this role if offered.
Here are four authentic ways to convince the interviewer you’re not overqualified.
1️⃣ Don’t wait for the question to be asked; you can address the interviewer’s fears about your overqualification yourself.
You may think that if interviewers don’t ask you about your overqualification, they don’t think you’re overqualified. This isn’t necessarily the case, however.
So, make sure you work in your response to this issue, even if you’re not asked directly about your overqualification. Also, mention what you would bring to the role, focusing on what excites you about the position.
“It’s up to you to put an employer’s mind at ease… turn the employer’s doubts into positives by sharing how you can add value to the team. From being a great mentor to knowing how to handle conflicts and be professional in challenging situations, an experienced worker can provide an employer with plenty of benefits,” said Ronda Suder for AARP.
2️⃣ Talk about how applying for this role was an intentional next step, not an indication of “settling.”
Some interviewers assume that overqualified candidates don’t want the job they’re applying for.
They may make conjectures that you’re not able to find a position that lets you use your many skills.
So, be transparent about why you’re applying for the role. Be honest. If the interviewer understands why you’re stepping back in your career, they’ll be less likely to associate you with negative presumptions about overqualified candidates.
“If you don’t explain that you are truly looking for more of a work-life balance to the hiring manager, you could be passed over…The first step to overcoming the problem of being overqualified is to be truthful about your situation and let them know that the job you are currently interviewing for is the job you want and are passionate about,” said career coach Tammy Homegardner.
3️⃣ Talk about your vision for your tenure at the company.
Perhaps your situation is that you want to work at the company where you’re interviewing, but there are no roles at your level open.
In this case, answer questions about your overqualification by discussing your long-term commitment to the organization.
There are two ways to handle this. The first is to discuss ways that you would like to expand and broaden the role you’re interviewing for, letting you use your skills and abilities they may never have considered.
Additionally, mention how you envision your career trajectory at the organization. One of the red flags associated with overqualified candidates is that you’re still looking for roles at other companies. Detailing your commitment to the organization helps alleviate this concern for interviewers.
“[One strategy is to talk about it as a tour of duty: you’ll offer specific expertise for a certain period of time to help the company achieve its goal with the understanding that eventually you’ll move on to a bigger and better role,” said Rebecca Knight for Harvard Business Review.
4️⃣ Mention your willingness to fit into the pay parameters set for the role or add additional benefits.
The last major concern interviewers have with overqualified candidates is that you’ll expect too much money.
You have two options here.
The first is to mention that you’re familiar with the work-life balance benefits the organization offers, meaning that you’re willing to work within the pay expectations of the role. This implies that you were overworked in your last job and didn’t want to repeat this pattern.
You can also highlight that you’ll solve the company’s problems in ways that candidates who are less experienced than you couldn’t.
“The other point to be made is that a hiring manager might feel that you are going to be an expensive hire due to your experience. While you need to be prepared to take a potential pay cut from the higher-level job, if you can hit on how you can solve the company’s pain points, you will be worth much more to them. This will give you leverage to negotiate when given a job offer,” said Homegardner.
Using the Interview to Prove You’re Not Overqualified for a Job
Employers make a lot of assumptions about candidates who they make think are overqualified for a job opening.
They may think that you’re settling for the role or will be dissatisfied with the pay parameters for the position.
Outline your interest in the position and describe what you’re excited about in the role. Rather than hoping that your interviewer will ask you a question about being overqualified for a job, address the elephant in the room by explaining your “overqualification” as soon as you have the opportunity.
Many professionals are overwhelmed with their current positions but may worry that they would be overqualified for roles that are perceived as “stepbacks.” If this sounds like you, read our guide “How to Take a Step Back in Your Career” for insights.