How to land a job when you’re overqualified
You’ve toiled through years of university and worked tirelessly to build your resume…only to find out that it’s your wealth of education and experience that is actually holding you back from finding a job.
It seems like a particularly cruel fate to be unemployed because you’re overqualified, but it can be a reality in a job market where employers don’t want to hire someone they assume won’t be satisfied over the long haul.
“If there’s a disconnect between your skills and experience and the position being offered, recruiters typically would infrequently bring you in for an interview,” says Joanne Loberg, career consultant and executive coach at JL Careers.
“If they do hire you and you convince them you’re happy, their concern is: will you be content for the long term? Will you start to want a higher-level position and badger them to be promoted?” she explains. “The number one concern among recruiters is: are you a flight risk? Will you leave after they’ve invested all this money in you?”
A major hurdle, but not insurmountable.
If your considerable qualifications are working against you, try these steps.
Re-contextualize your education
As silly as it sounds, all your degrees might have a cooling effect on recruiters.
Even beyond the employers who might worry that your academic achievements are too lofty for the unstimulating demands of the job, some managers might simply be intimidated by your background.
“Sometimes I find that the hiring manager, if they don’t have that master’s or PhD, may have an emotional reaction to potentially hiring someone who has more education than them,” says Mark Franklin, practice leader at CareerCycles and co-founder of OneLifeTools. “It might not even be conscious.”
In fact, Franklin has even seen some well-educated job-seekers scrub their post-graduate degrees from their resumes.
“I find that so discouraging,” he says. “People work so hard to get this advanced learning and then feel they need to hide it.”
Instead, Franklin recommends changing the narrative around your education.
Rather than simply listing your degrees under the “Education” portion of your resume, go into detail on the skills and accomplishments that education provided in the “Experience” section. If you completed academic research, participated in field studies or published papers in scholarly journals, tout those triumphs there. That way, your academic achievements will feel less abstract and more tangible.
“An employer who gets to see the experience section before the education section gets to digest all those wonderful transferrable skills you’ve gained in that master’s or PhD program before they see the advanced degree,” he says. “That’s a simple thing I’ve seen work again and again.”
Tell your story
Whether you’re networking, fielding questions in a job interview, or even crafting your cover letter, seize the opportunity to anticipate and answer the doubts recruiters might have about your overqualification.
Perhaps you’re looking to build out an undeveloped skillset so you can try an exciting new career path. Or maybe even though you have been a manager in the past, you’re now looking to flourish in a more technical role.
It’s also opportunity to reframe your experience as a positive.
“It can be a challenge to present the right face to an employer in this situation, but I think you really want to stress what you do bring,” says Lee Weisser, career counsellor and life coach at Careers by Design.
“Maybe that’s technical expertise, or an ability to see the big picture, or maybe some maturity the team needs. Try to understand what the team needs and figure out how you’d fit in.”
Target companies, not positions
If the job openings you’re finding aren’t commensurate with your talents, it’s time to be a bit more proactive. Find an organization that interests you and approach them – even if there aren’t any openings at the moment that suit your skills.
“Give them that elevator pitch, that branding statement that says who I am. You could say, ‘I understand you have X role open, I might be overqualified, but I’m curious about what you’re doing, you’re on the edge of some new things, and I’d love to talk to you,’” suggests Loberg.
“That might open the door up to an information meeting to sit down and talk should there be future opportunities.”
Try not to dwell on it
Ultimately, your ample education and experience should only be a positive. And while a stigma around overqualified job candidates does exist, it probably isn’t as severe as you think.
“It might be more of a perception on the part of the candidate rather than the reality of the employer,” says Franklin. “I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in the employers’ mindsets, but I think people worry about it more than employers do.”
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