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Turn the Tables on "You Are Overqualified"

December 2011

You have lined up an interview for a job that you are really qualified for. Everything is looking good, and then you hear the too frequent dismissal from someone on the hiring team, however kindly or respectfully delivered: "you're overqualified." You need to be prepared to turn the tables in your favor.

It's time to get back to work. You could really use this job. This will fill in your resume nicely. Then you hear the too frequent dismissal from someone on the hiring team, however kindly or respectfully delivered: "you're overqualified"

Overqualified might be code for several unspoken concerns and agendas:

You'll jump ship as soon as you get a better offer;

You're just here because the market is bad;

You'll be unhappy with the compensation; you'll be a bored, a know-it-all, and impatient with the way we do things; you'll be too difficult to manage;

(the following clearly unstated) You're too old for us/ the hiring manager/ the culture of our department and company; you might not be able to keep up with our technology;

(and again tacit) ….You have more than all the qualifications but you're not what we want; calling you "overqualified" might be a way to get rid of you with what looks like a compliment

These concerns must be anticipated prior to the interview and responses thought out very carefully. Knowing why you want to work in a given position even if it's a level below where you've been; how it fits in with your longer term vision or immediate short term goals; why you strongly believe the company is a great fit for you…. answering these questions is of paramount importance in countering objections. Where you are at this time in your career path and how might this position in fact be, a good fit for you? Ask yourself frankly: can you afford to take a strategic cut in salary or even job title, to get back into the job market? And most importantly, can you yourself get excited about this position?

The methodology of the Five O'Clock Club requires thorough preparation for the interview, including anticipating those kinds of questions –

Doing due diligence on the job prior to the interview, i.e. the company's future trajectory, financial health, goals of the department and of course, the names of individuals on the hiring team—go without saying. But digging deeper on the cultural and more interpersonal front is what we strongly recommend. Find out for example, what kinds of experience the members of the hiring team have under their belts. Where are they approximately in their careers? What is the level of seniority of the hiring manager in terms of industry experience (and perhaps intuit a ballpark chronological age).

Ask ahead of time about their professional backgrounds; years with the company; years in the industry. Look on the website for clues: you might see a diverse staff, but are there any photos of gray heads? Network ahead of time with everyone about the "culture" and true diversity picture.

Too many job hunters are afraid to ask these probing questions of the individual setting up the interview. We understand that and say, if you don't get good background information at the time the interview is scheduled, call a few days later and ask:

"so that I'm best prepared for the interviews, can you tell me a little bit about the people I'll be meeting with and their backgrounds? "

You don't want to be surprised as a client of mine was when a well meaning networking contact arranged an interview for a position whose hiring manager had far less experienced than she did. If you suspect that the "overqualified" label will apply to you, then prepare for how you want to field this game changer ahead of time. Practice an answer and note that on a 3 x5 card…. perhaps underlining notes in a contrasting color to make sure you have a good counter response under your belt. You know one way or other it's going to come up.

Here are responses that some of my clients have used in the past :

Job Applicant: Would you share with me any objections you might have in bringing someone like me on board?

Hiring Manager: Well…. Hmmm… One thing…. I'm….afraid you might be over qualified for the position. Or more bluntly: I'm concerned that you're overqualified for the position

Job Applicant: I'd like to address your concern. I'm confident that I'm very qualified for the position and I want to help make you feel more secure about my interest and desire to come on board and stay. For example…

Job Applicant: Well…. I'd like to reframe 'overqualified' if I may…. I'm 'more' than qualified for the position which I think is a good and reassuring thing to say about someone . . . i.e. " s/he's more than qualified." I' m proud of my experience/skills/knowledge and I'm excited about the position you've outlined. . . and know I can both contribute and learn from you all.

Job Applicant: I have been a team leader but right now I see myself as more of a team player and/or experienced contributor.

Job Applicant: I am very willing and pleased to roll up my sleeves and do the work that has to be done for the job you've sounds really interesting.

Job Applicant: Where I'm at in my career, I'm really more comfortable being a team player than the team leader. I've experienced that. I'm not wedded to empire building or anything close to that. I'm excited about the job you've described to me.

End the response with: I'd l o v e to keep my hat in the ring

Honest reflection, preparation and rehearsal pay good dividends: we need to arm ourselves with professional self-assessment, deeper information on the hiring manager and culture of the company/department, and overcome any personal ambivalence we ourselves have about the prospective opportunity. If you're not convinced or clear that this is the job you want, neither will be the hiring team.




Get the Edge with Direct Contact


One method that few folks use, and which career coaches know will give you "that edge," is directly contacting a company or individual. That's right - no ad, no search firm, not even a networking contact in to that individual is necessary. Just a strong letter that grabs positive attention, summarizes your capabilities and asks a key individual or potential influencer for information and advice. Avoid asking for a job, because chances are they don't have anything now. You are planting seeds for future opportunities and a contact that will hold you in better stead in the long run, than answering an on-line ad where you are competing with hundreds of other applicants.

Are there a few target individuals in divisions/companies/organizations you would love to outreach to but simply don't have the introductory networking leads to get you in? Make contact anyway. Start with 5-7 people, craft a thoughtful, tailored letter to each person that grabs their interest and attention and establishes you as a potential 'insider.' Then be sure to follow up with a phone call to their office. Email can be effective too especially in technology fields, but pay attention to the subject line so this important recipient will open your unsolicited message. (Sometimes getting a contact name through Linked-In or Ryze --online networking sites-- will resonate recognition or connection in that subject line and prompt the target reader to open to your high impact email message.) Get a mailing list from an industry association for example, call a company directly to get a specific name and go ahead and write that letter of introduction. There are several sample contact letters I can help you with as well as give you the necessary support and encouragement to pick up that phone. Really, what's there to lose? Get a meeting, create some dialogue and establish a professional connection with at least a couple more people than would otherwise have come your way.

And of course, parties and holiday gatherings are great opportunities to rub shoulders with new people and let others know who you are and how they might help you move forward. There should be some give and take, so be prepared to reciprocate with information sources of your own, a short pertinent article or some other item of interest to them.

And speaking about holiday season, why not take some time to re-contact a selection of folks with whom you've networked or interviewed in the last year -- and in wishing them a great holiday (Fourth of July, summer holiday greetings or December holiday wishes) -- also let them know how you are doing. This is an excellent way to get back on key people's radar screen. You never know who knows of an opening or an important next contact or vital piece of industry information.

So be well and enjoy this summer season. Have fun and meet new people.

resume service, career development, life coaching, career services, career counselor, life coach, job coach, professional development, mentoring, interview job, cover letter, job interview, employment, new york ny, Ruth Robbins

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