Posted: by HRNasty in Job Interview Tips, Over 40, Resume Writing, What HR Really Thinks, What Recruiters Really Think


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.

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 over qualified 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 that 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 over qualified. 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 underpays an employee the company assumes the following based on concrete historical data and more importantly emotional HR data:

  • 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 un necessary 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”.
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.  f 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 over qualified or perfectly qualified for the position.  Every company wants to find the perfect candidate.  Not under qualified, and most definitely not over qualified.

I realize this is easier said than done, but 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 over qualified.” Just because you are not asked for salary requirements doesn’t mean there is a disconnect on 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.

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 that is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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  • Cwgeek85

    HRNasty- I am hoping you can help me.  I am 26 and graduating with my Masters of Arts in History and have very little job experience (mainly from working at a movie theater for five years and as a graduate assistant for a year and a half).  I plan on looking for jobs in the academic field, or as an academic, career, or financial aid advisor.  I do not want to teach for multiple personal reasons.  I have some backup plans that I have also been looking at, but these are what one would consider to be entry-level jobs.  These include management training, a district executive job with the Boy Scouts of America, liability claims trainee, as well as warehouse supervisor, and a few others.  The point is that each of the jobs I have just listed have bachelor’s degree requirements, but no experience necessary.  Would these be jobs I would be passed over for due to being overqualified?  I am extremely fearful that I am not going to find a job anytime soon with a Master’s degree in History, regardless of the economy. I mean these are jobs that are not even close to my field and these reason why I am looking at them in the first place, aside from the fact that they are available, is that not only are they positions that are near places in which I could live near my family, but jobs that I think would be entirely satisfying and careers that would be fun to work in.  Please correct me if I am wrong and don’t worry about being straight up with it, as honesty is the best policy.

    • Cwgeek85,
      Congratulations on
      your Masters and thanks for stopping by. 
      Just remember, you have a “high class” problem.  I would much rather be over qualified than
      “under qualified”.


      As to applying for
      positions that you WILL use your Masters:

      Remember that there
      are positions out there where they are NOT looking for experience.  In the same way you mention that there are
      positions looking for a Bachelors with NO experience, there are positions
      looking for a Masters with no experience. 
      They don’t grow on trees but they are out there.  Continue to pursue these avenues.


      You mention that you
      are worried about being overqualified for entry-level jobs that are looking for
      a 4-year degree with no experience.   Depending
      on the job, you may be considered overqualified.  That being said, there are a lot of companies
      that would appreciate an extra couple of years of school and maturity in their entry-level
      position.  If an applicant is applying
      for the above position with 10 years of experience and a Masters degree that is
      when things start to get “sticky”.    


      Try not to think of
      it as being over qualified; think of it as bringing “more to the table” than
      the competition.  Realize of course that
      these positions are budgeted to pay “entry level with no experience” salaries.  The point is to get in the door and prove
      yourself.  When I have put an ad up in
      the past for an entry level person, I would be excited to get someone with a
      Masters degree if they went to Grad School as soon as they finished their 4
      year degree.  (It sounds like this is
      your case).  If the job really only
      required a 4 year degree from “any college”, we would be excited to get someone
      from an Ivy League school or someone with Masters.  Some may feel they were over qualified, but I
      felt as if the company was getting lucky. 
      We paid at the top of OUR salary band, but probably not what this new
      hires peers were making on Wall Street. 
      I worked for a Fortune insurance company and there were a number of
      folks with Masters degrees as Liability Claims adjusters and underwriters.  The degree was requested because the training
      program was 4-6 months and the company wouldn’t make their money back on a hire
      till 18-24 months because of the On The Job training required.  The degree and advanced degree was an
      indication that the individual had good study habits and wouldn’t quit the
      program.  Very few people go to school
      looking to be a Liability claims trainee. 
      These companies know this and know they are going to have to train
      everyone soup to nuts.   They want to
      know that their training efforts are safe bets. 
      An advanced degree is a good indicator.  


      If you do feel like
      there is a very “entry level position”, don’t list your Masters degree.  Only list your 4 year degree.  It isn’t a lie, and perfectly
      acceptable.  If I find out 6 months after
      I hired you that you do have a Masters degree, you will respond with something like
      the following:  J


      “Yes, I have a
      masters degree, but I don’t look at it any differently than a 4 year
      degree.  It isn’t what makes me or
      identifies me as special.  We have plenty
      of folks working here with 4 year degrees and 5 or 10 years of experience and
      they know much more than I do.  Even
      someone with only 2 years of experience knows more than I do at this
      company.  I really enjoyed school, it was
      always a goal of mine to get a Masters degree, but I don’t the degree makes who
      I am.”


      You could also add a
      bit of self deprecating humor with something like “if I had an MBA from
      Wharton, trust me you would have heard about it”. . . .


      Said this way, we are
      all still “equals”.  No one is “over
      qualified”.  No one is going to say to
      you “you have a Masters, what are you doing here?”   You are here because you enjoy being


      If your Masters is
      related to the job list it, if it isn’t, don’t list it.   I am not saying to hide it, just saying
      don’t call attention to it. 


      Hope this helps,