The coronavirus pandemic has upended career ambitions and caused many of us to reevaluate our priorities. Maybe, like many others, you want to work fewer hours now, or you want to take a step back to being an individual contributor after managing a team. As a result, you may be looking for a new job where your qualifications exceed an employer’s expectations for the role.
This comes with challenges. When you’re applying for a job you’re clearly overqualified for, recruiters will wonder why you are interested. “One of the things that is a big issue is that hiring managers and recruiters, they see that as a red flag. They’re wondering, ‘Are you going to leave as soon as something better comes along?’” said Jessica Hernandez, an executive resume writer and career development coach.
Here’s how to address those questions when applying for a job you’re overqualified for:
Make it clear in your job application that you want the role.
On your resume, Hernandez suggests putting the position title you’re targeting at the top of your resume and including a short summary that tailors your career experience to that role, not the roles you may have held previously. That way, it lets the hiring manager know that you have taken the time to customize your resume to the role.
In your cover letter, you want to explain what excites you about the position, and how that benefits the company and its values. “The more specific you can be in your cover letter about that, the more inclined they’re going to say, ‘Oh this person put some thought into this,’ and there’s a reason they want the role,” Hernandez said.
Be prepared to answer interview questions like “What if this role is not challenging enough for you?”
Onboarding new employees is expensive, and employers may ask interview questions to see if you are going to job-hop at the next opportunity when you are overqualified. The questions may sound like, “Where do you see yourself in the next three to five years?” or “What if this role is not challenging enough for you?” Your goal is then to allay any concerns that you are not going to get bored and disengaged.
When you are being asked questions about your engagement, Kristen Fitzpatrick, the managing director of alumni, career and professional development at Harvard Business School, said you need to convey that you understand what this job is about. You can do this effectively with language like: “There was a time and a place when I was striving for the next level, and proving to myself that I could take on really tough assignments. At this point in my life, I’m more interested in being really successful at what I know I can do well, while saving time for my personal life,” she said.
“You always have to frame it in what’s in the best interest of the company.”
– Jessica Hernandez, career development coach
Fitzpatrick said it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you can do well and what satisfies you. “I think there are some roles that are too under your abilities that won’t be interesting, that won’t keep you stimulated,” she said.
Hernandez said you need to convey how their values align with yours, and let the employer know that the job is a match for you. “You don’t have to commit to forever. Loyalty doesn’t necessarily mean longevity,” she said. “But they also don’t want to invest all this money and time into training if, six months down the road, you’re going to jump ship for the next best thing.”
If your job hunt is a result of the pandemic, you could emphasize that you’re looking for a job with more stability and security, as a different example. “That’s a compliment to the organization,” Hernandez said. “It keeps it off of you having to say, ‘I need to make ends meet right now, and I’m doing because it’s really important for me.’ You always have to frame it in what’s in the best interest of the company.”
If you are not hearing back from anyone, then your goal is to get an advocate inside the organization.
If you are overqualified and are not hearing back from employers after applying, it may be time to focus on networking by joining and using professional and alumni networks, and asking them for help with getting your job application read.
Unfortunately, job candidates who are older may also be facing implicit age discrimination in addition to biases for being overqualified. If you are an overqualified, older job seeker, Hernandez suggests working with a career coach to focus the majority of your search on networking and getting a referral, as opposed to just applying through a job board, because “that’s not going to be the most effective way for them when you’re working with a double challenge,” Hernandez said.
If you are an overqualified candidate, don’t despair. Recognize you are not alone in this predicament. “I certainly have people who are re-entering the job force who hit this all the time,” Fitzpatrick said.
There are challenges with job hunting while overqualified, but it can be done successfully to get the job that suits your needs. “Most overqualified people do this, so that they can be present at home and still do really well at work without feeling totally pulled in multiple directions,” Fitzpatrick said. “You just don’t want them to infer that you’re not going to be available on the job.”