“Sorry, but you are overqualified.” – Here’s a way past that.

“Ignoring an awkward truth does as much damage
as fabricating a comforting lie.”

– Author Unknown

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Phil, 58, had always worked in sales of autos, trucks and their parts. His last position was as a Regional Manager for a distributor of parts for light-duty trucks, responsible for sales to 14 dealerships in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. After his wife passed on, he took some time off, and then moved to Massachusetts to be closer to his children and grandchildren.

Phil was not ready to retire, but also didn’t look forward to returning to a job that might require either significant travel or the headaches of a management position. He decided to seek employment working in some aspect of autos, trucks, parts, or related services.

His efforts to secure a position were frustrating. No matter what the job was, Phil kept hearing five words, over and over again: “Sorry, but you are overqualified.” It made no sense to him, but at the same time he totally understood it.

On the one hand, common sense suggested to Phil that having more qualifications than a job required simply made a job candidate more than ready, willing and able to fulfill the job responsibilities, and thus more valuable. On the other hand, Phil totally understood people saying “Sorry, but you are overqualified” because he, himself, had uttered those five words many times when he did hiring. It’s just that Phil had never stopped to consider why even he said that to job candidates, and did not offer “overqualified” job candidates a first or second interview.

Phil considered applying only for jobs at his former level, but they were nearly non-existent due in large part to the introduction of web-based auto and truck parts distribution. Phil also considered “downsizing” his resume to make it appear that he was not as qualified as he was, but decided that deception was not his style, and it was not a good way to begin a positive working relation. And, too, he was concerned that he might get fired should it be discovered he had committed “resume fraud.”

It made Phil think long and hard about “Why would having more qualifications than needed for a job disqualify a person from getting that job?” The experience motivated Phil to And, too, instead of accepting his fate, it inspired Phil to ponder “What can I do to counteract the disqualifying effect of being perceived as overqualified?”

Phil called our office to request a telephone consultation. It turned out to be an unusual telephone consultation for me, because I learned so much about the “overqualified” experience in the course of speaking with Phil. Working together we devised a plan of action for Phil that ended up with him landing a job at an auto parts distributor that he has now enjoyed for over three years.

LESSON TO LEARN: These days, with many older workers wanting to continue work past “retirement age,” and with so many industries consolidating and shedding employees, the “overqualified” dilemma is becoming widespread. Overqualified” has become something of a “dirty word” to those who are seeking a new and “lower rung” position because it is so discouraging to hear.

Some “overqualified” job applicants end up “downsizing” their resumes, which sometimes helps, but can also be a risky thing to do, as the internet has made it quite easy for background checks to foil such attempts. And, also, after landing the job, to be terminated for such “resume fraud” can result in being terminated for “cause,” and thus leave a very negative mark on an otherwise fine resume, career and reputation.

A central part of wise workplace “navigation and negotiation” is to reflect on the concerns of your negotiating counterpart and address those concerns constructively. What would prompt a prospective employer not to hire a qualified candidate just because he or she has more than the necessary job requirements? Most people identify these five hiring manager concerns:

1. Concern there might be a “problem” in your personality, health, attitude, etc.

    • “There’s just got to be something wrong . . .”

2. Concern you won’t stay very long: “Gee, I bet, if we hire her, she is sure to leave us as soon as she gets a job offer at the level she is used to.”

3. Concern you will be bored: “With what he has done in his previous positions, he is sure to find this position beneath him, mundane and boring.”

4. Concern you will not be satisfied with the compensation: “Since she used to make more than we are offering, I’d bet that she will be asking for a raise in just a few months.”

5. Concern you might make your colleagues or manager uncomfortable: “With what he’s done before, he’ll be sure to make others feel – or look – silly.”

These are the five primary concerns to address when viewed as “overqualified.” So, how do you address them? What seems to have worked for Phil, and what most career coaches and writers on the subject suggest, is to address these concerns “head on,” and constructively. It’s what most “overqualified” people don’t do, and so is often seen as a candid – and welcome – “breath of fresh air.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you think prospective employers might see you as “overqualified,” or if your efforts to get interviews are repeatedly unsuccessful, chances are pretty darn good that that is how most, if not all, prospective employers see you. That is a problem. Ignoring a problem – especially the “elephant in the room” problem – is not often an effective strategy. Like most issues in life, addressing those concerns “head on” and in a constructive manner is most likely to get you the job you seek.

There’s no guarantee that this will work for you, but you are pretty much guaranteed that ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Here are the steps we suggest:

1. Address the “overqualified” issue early on, and more than once. There are three separate occasions in which we suggest that you seek to resolve the concerns underlying the “overqualified” issue: (i) first, in the letter you use to transmit your resume, (ii) second, during interviews, if and when it seems appropriate, and (iii) in the “Thank You” letter you send following your interview(s).

You don’t need to dwell on the subject, but taking the opportunity to address it in a thoughtful, deliberate and unapologetic way is suggested. If you don’t raise it when you transmit your resume, you just may not get a second chance to do so.

2. You will likely stand out as “that guy (or gal) who boldly and honestly raised the obvious issue, himself.” Preemptively raising and addressing the “overqualified” issue is something that few job candidates do. Most try to ignore it, but in many cases, it is essentially unavoidable. Many try to hide it, or hide from it.

Raising it yourself is not only different, but may well be viewed as bold and refreshing, and thus portray you in a very positive light. Raising the “overqualified” issue yourself may also “break the ice” and be an interesting topic of conversation during your interview(s).

3. Negate the “There must be a problem” concern. Why would someone seek an Assistant Vice President job when she used to be a Senior Vice President? Your task here is to offer sound and sensible reasons for being a former “general” now seeking a “sergeant” position. There are many good reasons to do so, including, among others, (i) that you are now seeking less responsibility (e.g., a position entailing less travel, less stress or less management of others); (ii) seeking a reentry following a gap in employment (e.g., after caring for an ill loved one or recuperating from an accident); or (iii) to accommodate a new life commitment (e.g., a new marriage, a new religious commitment) or a new family responsibility (disability of a family member.)

One good way to do so is to provide numerous industry references as to you positive attitude, good work ethic, high standards, and unblemished work history, Some may come from former colleagues, some from clients, perhaps others from those who used to work for you, and some from those you have worked for. “I would love to work with Josephine” sounds very reassuring to an interviewer who fears you “have a problem.”

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4. Negate the “She will soon leave” concern. As simple common sense would suggest, address the “she will soon leave” concern by offering a commitment to remain at least a certain period of time. You may do so by offering to commit in writing to remain for a set minimum time – say, two or three years.

You may also do so by pointing out that your prior positions always were long term, and that you are not, by nature, a “job hopper.” That you are aware of, and sensitive to, the employer’s concern for your being a sound, long-term “investment” will, in itself, be both impressive and assuring.

5. Negate the “He will definitely be bored” concern. This old saying might be one to repeat two or three times: “There is no such thing as a boring job; there are only boring people.” Discuss your lifetime enjoyment in learning, your pursuit of positions that offer daily challenges, and your positive attitude and keen passion for this position. You might also mention that at age 87, Michelangelo said, “I am still learning,” and remind people that you are not even close to 87.

Another thing you might express is “I have never been bored in my life, I am not even certain what “bored” means, and I don’t intend to change who I am now.”

6. Negate the “The compensation will be inadequate” concern. It is important to address this concern, as budgets are always tight, and pay ranges are often limited. Perhaps seek to remove compensation as a concern by stating, early on, that so long as the compensation offered is in “market range for the position,” it is likely to be sufficient for you, and secondary to the opportunity, the new challenge and quality of those you are going to work with.

If your prior salary is raised, asked or discussed, don’t be apologetic, but do be clear that your present life circumstances are such that the level of compensation the position offers is far down on your list of concerns.

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7. Negate the “Others will be uncomfortable” concern. This concern is a really big one. “How will his colleagues react to working with someone who may make them feel inadequate, overwhelmed, or intimidated? “Do you think she will try to boss others around? Perhaps others will be intimidated?”

To assure your interviewers that you will not be an “intimidator,” stress your being a team player, your comfort with taking direction, and your personal humility. Note that you have been a member of many teams – as a player, not the coach – and that you know full well that an army has far more privates than it does generals.

Be humble, act humbly and speak with humility to reinforce this important notion that “I am no better nor smarter than anyone I work with.”

8. Show you will be a “High Value Hire” – Focus on why your “many qualifications” make you the perfect candidate for the job. In what you write and what you say in interviews, your focus should be on the many reasons you are the perfect candidate for the position.

Some of these reasons to cite for being the “perfect candidate” will likely flow from your “overqualified-ness.” These will likely include (a) you are ready – from day one – to be an effective team member, with little need for lengthy training or orientation; (b) you have experience in the very job duties you will be assigned, and good judgment from that experience, (c) you possess the practical skills needed for the job, (d) you have a proven track record of accomplishments just like those sought here, and, perhaps, (e) you already know the people in the industry you need to work with, or how to reach them.

It never hurts to mention, too, that you (f) have up-to-date, cutting edge skills, and (g) are experienced in, and are adept at, both increasing revenues and cutting costs. If you are not “tech-savvy,” do all you can to pick up one, two or three cutting edge skills, or at least gain familiarity with them.

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9. De-emphasize past titles; instead, highlight skills, experience and accomplishment. If you were the Executive Vice President for Logistics, consider not listing your formal title on that job on your resume, but instead note “Oversaw Acquisition of Raw Materials.” On your resume and in your interviews, describe what you did, what your role was, your experiences and your accomplishments, as they relate to the job you are seeking.

10. De-emphasize any interest in advancement opportunities; instead stick with this position, this compensation, and this challenge, and your devotion to them. You are seeking to be hired for this job, in which you will be (a) a team player, (b) a valuable member, (c) a loyal follower, and (d) will not seek to leave for other positions or rise to higher offices. It’s THIS job that will be sufficient for your needs, not your manager’s or – heaven forbid – the CEO’s.

We offer a Model Letter entitled “Overqualified” Applicant Submitting a Resume to help address, in a thoughtful and proactive way, the concerns that employers have about interviewing or hiring “overqualified” candidates. It shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.™ To obtain your copy, [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

In Summary . . .

Being viewed as “overqualified” can be quite frustrating. It is a unique circumstance that requires carefully considered steps and measures to overcome. Like any difficult circumstance, it won’t go away by simply being ignored. Consider carefully and creatively the concerns of those who may hire you, and address them proactively, head-on and confidently. These ten steps have helped our clients, and we offer them to you to help you get past this problem situation.

P.S.: If you would like to speak directly about this or other subjects, Mr. Sklover is available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations, just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can often be accommodated.

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you – traps and pitfalls, included – and to avoid the likely bumps in the road. For those viewed as “overqualified” for the positions being sought, addressing the underlying concerns with these suggestions is the essence of wise “navigation and negotiation.”

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.

Please Note: This Email Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale.

Sklover Working Wisdom™ is a trademarked newsletter publication of Alan L. Sklover, of Sklover & Company, LLC, a law firm dedicated to the counsel and representation of employees in matters of their employment, compensation and severance. Nothing expressed in this material constitutes legal advice. Please note that Mr. Sklover is admitted to practice in the state of New York, only. When assisting clients in other jurisdictions, he retains the assistance of local counsel and/or obtains permission of local Courts to appear. Copying, use and/or reproduction of this material in any form or media without prior written permission is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved. For further information, contact Sklover & Company, LLC, 45 Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 2000, New York, New York 10111 (212) 757-5000.

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