Avoiding the ‘Overqualified’ Label

We have examined the importance of skilling up and the value of continuous professional development, but what happens when you’ve done everything right and seem to have qualified yourself right out of the job; when your experience and qualifications become a liability?

You were certain that you were perfect for the job, that the employer would take one look at your brilliant resume and hire you sight unseen. Months later you find out that the position was filled. Unless you follow up it may be difficult to determine the exact reason your application was bypassed but generally hiring managers may consider a candidate overqualified  if their education level, experience, and/ or salary (current or asking) exceeds those of the position. The prevailing assumptions are:

  • The jobseeker will leave once something better comes along that is more in line with their qualifications, experience, and payscale.
  • The candidate will be bored in a job that does not effectively utilise their talents and may not be prepared to do lower level work.
  • The candidate may struggle with having to take direction from someone younger or less qualified/experienced.
  • The candidate may be initially willing to take the lower salary but it will ultimately not be enough.

The hiring manager’s primary concern is to avoid premature turnover and hiring decisions are based on a reasonable expectation that the employee will stay. While you cannot change who you are as a professional there are ways to mitigate this challenge by being proactive. You have three opportunities to change the hirer’s mind. They are your resume, your cover letter and the interview.


Cover letter

Your cover letter may or may not actually be read, but this is a good place to proactively take the proverbial bull by the horns. By anticipating the objection you can mitigate it here by explaining why you, an unlikely (overqualified) candidate, want this job. Explain your motivation for applying in addition to why you would be a good valuable candidate. For example, you may be retired but want to maintain a connection to the industry; or you have a personal passion for the particular position or company; maybe you are willing to leave management to pursue more hands-on work in the field; or you’re looking to improve your work/life balance; perhaps you’re changing careers or industries. Continue by explaining why you want this particular job and convey genuine interest to demonstrate that you are excited about the contributions you will make to the organisation. Essentially focusing the hirer not on your surplus to requirements but how it can be of value as an asset and not a liability. This will require some research into the company and its needs.



In much the same way that you tailor your cover letter to the job/position/company, it is advisable to tailor your resume to the job.

  1. While you should NEVER lie on your resume it is permissible to leave off jobs and academic qualifications that do not fit the specific job. You do not necessarily want to advertise the fact that you have more credentials than the employer is looking for.
  2. If you are a more mature candidate applying for an entry-level job you may also want to omit any indication of your age that might work against you such as graduation dates. While the employer will eventually determine your age when you appear for the interview, you want to give yourself the best advantage so that you land the interview and once there you can make your pitch about why your maturity will be an asset.
  3. Use the summary/objective section to explain your desire to transition to a new career or to clarify why you would take a seemingly lower position. For example, successive promotions may have led you to management but away from the work that you actually enjoy.
  4. Consider reformatting your resume so that it tells a slightly different story that de-emphasizes those areas that my seem superfluous.


The interview

If you are invited for an interview do not assume that you are out of the woods. Anticipate a question or concern about your being overqualified and prepare an answer. For example, if the concern is because you have a postgraduate degree you may be able to counter that it is in an unrelated field and therefore not a factor, or the reason you pursued an advanced degree was more due to your interest in staying au courant than through a desire to enter management. Alternatively you can highlight that your knowledge and experience would be a boon to the company since it ensures a shorter, steeper learning curve, and how the organisation stands to benefit from all that you have to offer. Indeed, they would be lucky to have you.

Good luck!