“You’re Overqualified”: How to Beat the One-Liner and Get the Job

In the current economy with layoffs, downsizing, and the flat-out lost job, there are a lot of professionals hoofing the street for a job as well as skilled laborers and unskilled workers. If all you’ve ever done is something as specific as, say, Title Insurance, how do you get the job at something “less” prestigious?

The first step is to get over the idea that your former job is at a specific social standing that you have to match with your new job. The next step is to get your new employer to believe the same thing. How do you do that? You build a dichotomy between your previous job and the one you’re after:

  • You’re expanding your skill set

  • You’re narrowly qualified for a specific job
  • There’s still a lot to learn as far as [management/teamwork/individual initiative] goes
  • You’ve never worked with [externally/internally] imposed deadlines
  • You’ve only had experience with certain [operating systems/merchandise/ inventory/ service]
  • You’ve always been interested in this new career path

What’s the big idea? To let your potential employer know that their job offers something for you other than a paycheck. An employer is looking for someone they can teach, and who will do the job the way they’ve asked them to. They don’t want to hire someone who is going to look at the position and say, “Hey, this will be easy” and toddle off to do it their own way. New jobs are supposed to be hard and require a bit of getting used to, not just in ritual and policy, but also in atmosphere and task performance. The statements with the brackets show versatility, that you’ve already given the position your imagination and can already apply your current knowledge to something that you may encounter.

When an employer looks back at your interview, they want to see:

  • That you are capable of learning, not that you already know everything you need to know
  • That you imagine yourself as multi-talented, not as a specialist
  • That you can handle several kinds of pressure, not just be able to do a hard job well
  • That you can think on your toes, not just follow procedure and variations of procedure

Most importantly, an employer wants someone who will give the job a chance, not just take what’s available. Remember, you’re not the only one out of a job. If you’re not compatible enough, they’ll call in the next guy in the waiting room.

In the process of showing the prospective employer that there is no stratifying jobs according to qualifications, you’re showing them two of the top things most employers are looking for: honesty about your skills and what you expect, and the ability to communicate effectively. Really. Because if they’re feeding you a line about being overqualified, it’s just an excuse, a nice way to tell you that you didn’t come off well. Or, they just don’t know exactly what it is they want from an employee. If they don’t know what they want, they’ll miss it unless you spell it out for them.

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5 Responses to “You’re Overqualified”: How to Beat the One-Liner and Get the Job

  1. Lizzy says:

    I think a potential employer (especially in these economic conditions) telling an applicant that they are overqualified may have just as much to do with longevity. Why would you hire someone even if they are fabulous, if you know they are going to jump ship when a better opportunity comes along?

  2. Karen says:

    @Lizzy (and all who share that view): Isn’t that a risk every employer takes with every employee they hire? Some people are truly interested in starting over in a new career, not just collecting a paycheck until something better comes along. It is that narrow-minded attitude that is KEEPING many people out of work.

  3. Karen says:

    Not to mention, is the available job so bad that employees want to run at the first chance they get??

  4. Rob says:

    Being told you are overqualified is insulting. It’s like saying that because you have held a higher paying position in the past, you’re exempt from getting a lower paying position. This bogus Employer attitude is making the unemployed middle class, who have worked hard to achieve high standing in the past, the new lower class. Thanks, society, for making me broke, depressed, pessimistic, and credit challenged.

  5. Ben says:

    Lizzy may be right. A lot of hiring managers for “low end” jobs only will hire really stupid people for them. They have this irrational fear that “smart” people will abandon ship at the first opportunity.

    Here’s how you deal with that: Put your “stupid” mask on.

    Strip all the “overqualified” stuff off your resume. Drop your college credentials, drop your master’s degree. Convert your job descriptions into something really stupid sounding.

    Ridiculous? Yes. And it’s much harder than it sounds. Does it work? A lot of anectdotal evidence suggests that it does.

    Hey…if they want stupid people…you gotta act stupid.

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