… but I was told I am overqualified – now what?

5 November 2020

Based on many coaching sessions with candidates, I see some common questions coming up time after time. One of the hot topics in career coaching sessions for experienced and senior clients is how to think in the following situation:

You have applied for a position you really believe you are the perfect candidate for – you have all the formal functional requirements, you have had many years of experience of similar challenges and you have the needed leadership and management experience. Still, you were not even interviewed or, if you were, did not get an offer. The popular feedback from many recruiters is that you are overqualified. Or in other words, the employer does not believe this is the right level for you and you would probably get bored or demotivated because the job would not provide enough challenges.

How should I think?

First, you may choose to agree that you were overqualified. This means that you accept that you made a mistake, and the job most likely would not have  been a right fit and you should never have applied. This means that you need to go back to your own expectations, requirements, competence and experience and revise your job search strategy.

However, it is quite common that you disagree with the recruiter. When you have had very senior assignments in the past you might feel inspired by the opportunity to work more operationally or having a smaller team. You sincerely applied for the job with a true belief that the company and role description would meet your expectations. You wanted to have this position, not at a higher level or providing more complexity, higher management level or a huge salary increase. In my coaching sessions I see disappointment and even anger when candidates are disqualified as overqualified.

After receiving such feedback, I suggest you get over your disappointment and negative feelings and revise your job search strategy. Situations of course vary a lot but here are my top take-aways after many years of career coaching.

  • I believe the most critical item is to analyze what kind of jobs you want to apply for, taking into consideration that you may sometimes be regarded as overqualified. This is needed to create clear limitations meaning which ones of your requirements are “must haves without compromise” and “nice to haves with some flexibility”.
  • You need to communicate why you want to have the particular position. Your CV and Cover letter need to be updated to reflect this. The best way is to express what is your personal desired potential for the role. As an example, if you have +20 years of experience on managing IT projects and the requirement is a minimum of 5 years, you already know that you risk being regarded as overqualified. My proposal would be that you clearly identify the arguments supporting your job application such as learning new products or working for a company within your specific interest area.
  • Having the feeling of being a perfect candidate might be both good and bad in the interview situation. You may sound very trustworthy and competent, but you might also risk being perceived as arrogant with a “know-all” attitude. Therefore, you need to practice your interview skills and techniques

To sum up; in practice, this means that you only apply for the positions you really want, feel motivated for and can be transparent both to yourself and the recruiter why you want the job. In interview situations you will need to demonstrate high motivation, collaboration skills, openness towards new learnings and cultural adaptiveness.

By following these steps, you work proactively against the argument of being overqualified and reduce the risk of losing an opportunity you really want.

When you work on your strategy, fine tune your CV and cover letter and practice your interview skills, You will increase your chances remarkably. A good career coach can help you with these areas and challenge your current way of thinking and support you to perform better in your search for your next assignment.

We, at AIMS International, ensure major focus on supporting our clients and always find the best available candidate for each position. By doing this we continuously interview the candidates with various experiences and ensure that we understand both the employer and candidate expectations. We are always transparent when sharing the feedback with our candidates and very often provide individual career coaching as part of our Candidate Management Process. Through our Talent Management Solutions, we put extra focus on coaching and supportive onboarding and making sure that our candidates will perform well in their new assignments.

About the Authors:

This is a re-run of an article originally published by AIMS International Sweden and written by Mikko Taipale, Senior Consultant

Final edit by Leonie Pentz VP Sustainability and Managing Partner South Africa and the AIMS Marketing team