Escaping the Overqualified Trap

Career Blog

Recent high school or college graduate has to take a low wage job because of tight employment market.

Overqualified is a ridiculous concept. In no other exchange would the customer complain about getting a product or service that is too good, too experienced, or too smart.

Getting optimal value for the money offered should be ideal. So why then do hiring managers reject competent, engaged candidates based on an arbitrary assessment of their skill set and motivations? Would these same people seek out a less experienced physician or a sub-optimal contractor? Of course not.

Sometimes the rationale is fear-based. The hiring manager doesn’t want to be outshined or is worried that the candidate is simply seeking a career Band-Aid and will leave when greener pastures materialize. In other cases the decision is based on bias, unintentional or overt. Here overqualified is code for old.

Obviously clear discrimination should be reported, but if you lack the time or inclination to psychoanalyze the interviewer your energy might be better spent building your case as the ideal employee. Creating this connection starts long before the interview. Take these two actions to make the most of your experience and the message it sends:

  1. Design an Age-proof Resume: Resumes are designed to show how your skills align with a hiring manager’s needs. Listing every job you had since the corner lemonade stand may make it hard for them to “see” you in the position at hand. An effective way to zone in on what’s relevant (regardless of your qualifications) is to focus on your most recent, applicable work and then include a brief section that notes “other business experience.”
  2. Put a New Spin on an Old Standard: Details matters. Set yourself apart from other applicants by drafting a one-page cover letter that features a side-by-side table noting their posting requirements and how exactly you match them. For example, if their posting says they need a project manager with IT experience, excellent communication skills, ability to manage a virtual team and experience in a matrix environment, break down those items and give a clear example of each. You don’t need to say you have 20 years (or one) in each. That can falsely weed you out. The point is you can do what’s required. 

Most hiring managers only spend a few seconds on each submission so providing a tight resume and a clear side by side does the work for them. When you get to the interview stage back up your statements with a combination of proof points and passion. A lot of things have changed in the world of work over the past few decades, but some things are timeless. Hiring managers want people who can do the job and are valuable to work with.

Need a career coach? Contact me via

Check out my latest book The HR Guide to Getting and Crushing Your Dream Job and follow me on Twitter at @timtoterhi or LinkedIn


Share This Article


Leave a Comment


Pin It on Pinterest