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Overqualified for the job

overqualifiedOverqualified for the job

When you are declined for being “overqualified”, one of two things is going on. Either the company is declining you in a way that won’t hurt your feelings, or you REALLY are overqualified. Based on the resumes and cover letters I see, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what is happening. Unemployed candidates that are overqualified for positions (and sincerely want the position) are applying for positions they can do in their sleep or were doing 5-10 years earlier in their career.

Economy dependent (Supply and demand)

Before all the HR folks and PollyAnna managers out there get their panties in a bunch and say you should apply to the position that is commensurate to your experience, let me say that in any other economy, I would completely agree!  This is not THAT economy. With unemployment where it is, and no end in sight, folks need to put food on the table and pay their mortgages. I am trying to help folks find a job first,  get picky later.  Before HR people rant to me about the benefits of hiring overqualified folks, please stop.  This isn’t about HR folks expanding their minds. This is about helping folks get an interview so they CAN sell themselves. There are plenty of reasons to hire someone with more experience than needed and I can personally think about more reasons NOT to hire someone who is overqualified, but this blog is about increasing your odds of “getting hired”.  This blog isn’t about “who to hire”.

Back to our Caped Crusader. Usually, the candidate has 10+ years of experience and is applying for a position that is junior to their skill set.  We have all heard it before. Most companies don’t want to hire folks that are overqualified. Why not you ask??? At the end of the day, companies do not want to underpay anyone. Regardless of the fact that you haven’t had a raise in 3 years and you feel you may be underpaid in your current job, the situation is bigger. If a company underpay’s an employee the company assumes the following based on concrete historical data. 

Emotional HR data

  • The company will only receive an 80% effort out of the employee. The employee will be grateful to have a job the first 2-6 months and put in 100%, but after being underpaid by 10-20-30%, the effort is going to slip. It is easy to see the logic that if the employee is paid 80% of their value, eventually the employee will get resentful and only give 80% effort.
  • Acme Publishing doesn’t want to be a stepping stone position for any employee. They don’t want to train an employee to do a job while that employee is looking for another job that will pay to their full potential.  Acme is looking for a perfect match so they avoid unnecessary turnover.
  • They want to feel that all of their employees are challenged. No one wants to see someone bored at work, or look like they don’t have to try. No manager wants to deal with someone who is getting the job done with little or no effort.  It sounds great in principle but try managing everyone around them who is busting their ass trying to keep their heads afloat while looking at someone who is bobbing around like a fat cork.
  • For the most part, I can honestly say that companies don’t want to be known as bastards, cheapskates, or horrible employers. You may be employed by one now, but that is your perception. Companies can not last long-term if they make a habit of cheating their employees. Especially in this economy.
  • Employees are also customers, recruiters, biz dev people and the marketing department. They can go work for the competition and they can tell all their friends what a great or lousy employer a company is. No company wants bad press from an “insider”.

Market Rates

This is different from being paid in a weak market.  In 2006 and 2007 the economy was booming. The market for position “X” was $50K.  The economy and the job market have taken a dive in the last 5 years and the MARKET is dictating that the position is worth 40K. Taking $40K may be a cut in pay, but that rate of pay IS STILL MARKET.  If you are applying for a position that is paying 35K, then you are “overqualified” or “underpaid” by $5K.  
Taking a cut in pay, and being paid market rate can be two different things.   

EG:  If a Major League Baseball team played a farm team, do you think that the Major League team would put in 110% effort?  No, they won’t. They don’t have to. They will still beat the farm team with only 90% effort. No owner or manager wants to see less than 100% effort from their team.

If you keep hearing that you are overqualified based on your resume, I would recommend you tailor your resume to the job.  

List only the experience needed.  Just present yourself as a little overqualified or perfectly qualified for the position.  Every company wants to find the perfect candidate.  Not under qualified, and most definitely not overqualified.

Easier said than done

If you are applying for a position that is junior to your skill set, the way you are going to get the interview is to present your self in the perfect light. It is a one in a million instance where we advertise a position looking for someone with 3-5 years of experience thinking we will pay “$X” and then find someone with 12 years of experience and say “OMG, this guy is amazing, we need to hire this guy and pay him $2X our budget.”  Not going to happen. If we wanted that person, we would have just posted that particular ad in the first place. We might start interviewing and realize we didn’t spec the job correctly after we started meeting some candidates, and supersize the position, but not “OMG. . . .”. If the job post is seeking 5-7 years of experience, don’t list 10-12. This job pays a fair rate for someone with 5-7 years of experience.  It isn’t looking for a 2 year or a 10-year person.

Your resume is a reflection of your qualifications

Your salary requirements are a reflection of how reasonable you are. I have heard time and time again,  “they didn’t ask me for my salary requirement so I don’t see how they think I was overqualified.” Just because you are not asked for salary requirements doesn’t mean there is a disconnect between the experience level. As a recruiter, I don’t need to ask you what your expectations are financially to figure out what level you are.  A good recruiter can peg your salary within 10% from looking at your resume. I just want to hear YOU say what your requirements are so there is absolutely NO confusion or delusions of grandeur. I don’t want to get to the finish line and have us a world apart on the offer.

Only hired for last 5-7 years of experience

In an effort to make sure candidates are qualified for a position and bring MORE value to a position, most candidates list ALL their experience. I often see candidates list 15 years of experience when we only asked for 10. This is a mistake.  You might be able to do more than one job, but no one is going to be hired to do more than one job. You can only work 40-60 hours a week.  Most people will work 45-55.  You have read in more than one place to tailor your resume to the job.  This also means listing ONLY the experience that is pertinent to the position. You are only going to be hired for your last 5 years of experience. If you find that you are not getting called back just list relevant and recent experience and don’t list the year on your education. It isn’t lying when you omit 5 years of experience. I am not saying this works every time, but hopefully this gives insight into why we don’t want to hire someone that is over qualified.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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