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Overquaflied. The unintended signals your resume conveyed that declined you for the job


What do you think when this guy applies for your job?

Overqualified for the job

In my business, I meet a lot of overqualified candidates. How do I know they are an overqualified candidate? Here are a few statements I hear on a regular basis :

  • I didn’t hear back from the company and I could have done that job in my sleep.
  • Look at this job. This is perfect for me! I am totally qualified.
  • I will probably be bored at this job, but I want to get my foot in the door so I am going to apply.

When I hear the above and similar statements, it is easy for to jump to my petty conclusions. Yes, I said petty. I will admit, I don’t know all the details of the applicant. HRNasty is not saying the following to brag. I say it to make a point. Unfortunately, I have seen 1000’s of resumes and declined 95% of them. This is why it makes it easy for me to go HRPetty and connect some unrelated dots.

My goal is to help candidates land jobs and accelerate careers

The way I try to do that is by explaining what is happening on the other side of the interview table. What is the interviewer thinking when they decline a candidate that can do the job in their sleep?

When we post a job for X position, we also list that we are looking for Y years of experience. Let’s say we are looking for a candidate with 3-5 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree and I receive 100 resumes.

Most of those resumes will be declined

How many will be declined? I’d say 50% are declined because they are the overqualified candidate.

If I post a position looking for a candidate with 3-5 years of experience, anyone with 7, 10, 20 years of experience is going to be declined. I am optimally looking for 4 years of experience and for this specific position the budget is $60K. Someone with 7 years of experience will probably require $70K, someone with 10 years of experience will require $80K and someone with 20 years of experience will want $100K.

So, it just isn’t worth it for me to talk with someone with 7 or more years of experience. Yes, the candidate with 7-10 years of experience could do the job in their sleep. They can do this job in their sleep because they are the overqualified candidate.

Hiring managers don’t want to hire someone who will be bored with the job, underpaid or both. Both of these factors lead to less than 100% effort. Managers don’t want someone on their team that is putting in less than 100% because it looks bad to the other folks on the team. 

An overqualified candidate because of education

If a job opening requires a high school education than a candidate with a Bachelors will probably be overqualified. Let’s say we are looking for someone to make hamburgers at the local burger place. It makes sense if we have a candidate that is able to work summers at a hamburger place while going to college. While they were going to college, they got the job because they had the high school education.

After graduating from college and working 3 summers through college, our candidate knows burgers. With 3 summers of burger experience, our candidate is qualified but no burger place will hire them. The college degree is getting in the way. The owner of the burger place doesn’t want to hire someone who has the perception of being an overqualified candidate.

The mindset of the burger joint owner

The burger joint owner doesn’t know how long Johnny Bachelors is going to stick around. Johnny will be willing to flip burgers after college, but as soon as he finds a position where he is using his degree. . .   Make like a tree and split. If he finds something in 1 month, Johnny Bachelors out.

Yes, the burger joint owner had the college student for the entire summer when he was a going to school. After 3 summers, he is very well qualified to do the job. But the perception to the biz owner is a lack of commitment. No one wants to hire a lack of commitment, less than 100% effort or short timers syndrome.   

Overqualified via experience

  1. Apply for positions where our experience matches the job description. If we have 15 years of experience, only apply for jobs where our years of experience are in the ballpark. When we have 3 years of experience, apply for positions where the job is looking for 2-3 or 3-5 years of experience.
  2. If the job description is asking for 10 to 15 years of experience and we have 20 years of experience, only list the last 15 years. What we were doing 20 years ago is probably junior to the position and won’t be relevant to the job description. If the job is looking for 5 years of experience and we have 10 years of experience, only list 5 years. Remember, the salary is going to be commensurate with someone who has 5 years of experience so our salary requirements will probably need to be lowered.

Overqualified via education

  1. When an entry-level job description is asking for a Bachelor’s degree, and we have a Masters, keep the Master’s degree off the resume. The assumption is that a candidate with a Master’s degree is overqualified. (If we are applying for a job looking for 7+ plus years of experience that is asking for a Bachelor’s degree, a Masters degree won’t hurt us. This isn’t an entry-level position anymore) 

Give em’ what they are looking for, and don’t disqualify yourself by assuming you can do the job in your sleep. 

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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