As a job seeker, you may sometimes think you're a contortionist, trying to fit and shape yourself into the perfect candidate for the job. Oftentimes you need to tweak your experience and skills to match the job posting's phrasing. But what if you find yourself easily meeting or even surpassing the job requirements? While you may think you're a sure pick for the role, hiring managers may deem you overqualified.
Where's the line between being a perfect fit and being overqualified? Here's how to understand whether your qualifications will work for or against you and why hiring managers care.
The problem for both job seekers and employers
As time goes on, a person's career tends to ascend to higher titles and more responsibility. "An overqualified job seeker is someone who, because of salary, experience or education, is considering taking a step down in job or pay out of short-term convenience or personal necessity," says Jeff Zinser, principal of executive recruitment and search company Right Recruiting LLC.
Although this may sound like a plus for employers, who can benefit from the extra skills and experience, overqualified applicants may be viewed as a flight risk. "This situation is a problem for employers, because there is a high probability that the person will leave the job as soon as a position at their historical level appears," Zinser says. "In many situations, once the person becomes productive, they leave. Then the employer needs to refill the position. Job specifications and requirements are designed to fill professional positions with people who will be happy and challenged for the long term."
Send the right message
The hiring manager has valid reason to be concerned about overqualified applicants. But what if you truly want the lower-level job -- whether out of interest or necessity? How can you rephrase your experience so it's more hire-friendly without lying? "We never recommend editing or omitting vital information like experience or education from a résumé to prevent from being labeled overqualified," says Peter Zukow, general manager at Lock Search Group, a recruitment and staffing firm. "Instead, it is important to tailor a résumé to the specifications of the role. Highlight the qualifications and experiences that are most applicable to the role. If an individual misrepresents themselves on their résumé, it can be extremely embarrassing or even lead to immediate disqualification if uncovered during interview or background checks."
Address the issue
No matter how experienced a job seeker is, the key to convincing an employer that you're the right person for the job is making a clear business case for it. After you've tailored your résumé to fit the job description, address the issue of being overqualified in your cover letter and interview. Acknowledge your extensive credentials, but explain how this position fits into your career path, as well as how the business can benefit from your experience. Also come prepared with ideas for how you're a fit with the company culture and you align with its business values. An ideal job has responsibilities that play to your strengths and challenge you, so communicate that you're approaching this position as a learning opportunity.
Being an overqualified job seeker doesn't have to result in instant rejection. Research the roles you're applying to and how your experience can benefit the team as well as yourself. Employers look for workers who are a good company fit and will be around for a while. By making it clear you're interested in the job and have room to grow in the role, you'll prove that you're the best person for the job.