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How You Can Overcome the 'Overqualified' Label

Many of you, especially those who found yourselves unemployed over the last three years, struggle to overcome the dreaded "overqualified" tag during job interviews, if you're lucky enough to make it that far in the process.

OverqualifiedYou find yourselves lodged between the proverbial rock and hard place: you have more skills than the employer is looking for, but your ideal jobs that match your levels of expertise just aren't there. You're the kind of person many employers don't want to hire, out of fear you'll bolt when those ideal jobs resurface.

But you may actually want to find a job that’s "beneath" your capabilities. If that’s the case, employers need to know the whole story. And it’s up to you to do a better job explaining why you would want something at a lower level than jobs you’ve held in the past.

Consider these three situations:

  • The 50-something "empty nester" who's done paying for the kids' college educations and wants a job that's closer to home with less pressure, even if it means a pay cut.
  • The 30-something single parent who wants to leave a demanding executive-level job to have more time with the kids.
  • The mid-level manager with high blood pressure who's had it with working for mega-corporations and wants to work for a small company with a more relaxed work culture, but at a 20% lower salary.

In each case, the job seeker—unemployed or not—may be reluctant to address how taking the job would affect his or her personal life (and a hiring manager who asks about it may expose the employer to a discrimination charge).

But the job seeker may have to address it to help convince the hiring manager that the reasons they want the job go beyond money and status. Some employers may be overlooking that, and they would be missing out on a chance to hire someone who can make valuable contributions for more than just a couple of years.

That's what a University of South Carolina business professor pointed out after he studied the issue last year.

"A manager trying to fill a job that demands less-than-top-level smarts should never reject a candidate out of hand just because the applicant’s score on the company’s intelligence tests labels him or her as smarter than the job requires," says Dr. Anthony Nyberg. "If anything, our research suggests that such a candidate could be expected to stay longer and perform better than an applicant whose scores make him supposedly a better fit.

"This kind of thinking has no doubt tossed more than a few layoff victims into the ranks of the long-term unemployed, a group that now constitutes nearly half of all U.S. jobless."

I agree with Nyberg's assessment that hiring managers have a mistaken assumption about candidates they think are too smart for the job. But job seekers must have a clear vision of what they want in the next job, even if it's a step or two down the career ladder, and communicate that in their cover letters and interviews. In some cases, a pay cut may be an adequate trade-off for, say, a more laid-back corporate culture, shorter commute, or extra face time with the kids.

Have you been told you were overqualified for a job even though it would have suited your needs at the time? Tell us your story in a comment below.

RELATED LINKS

Overqualified? Turn It into an Advantage
What Employers Really Mean by 'You're Overqualified'
Should You Dumb Down Your Overqualified Resume?

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