Escaping the Overqualified Trap

Career Blog

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 competent. 

Getting optimal value for the money offered should be ideal. So why 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 stems from bias, unintentional or overt. Here, overqualified is code for old. 

Obviously, you should report clear discrimination cases, but often, the intent is unclear. If you lack the time or inclination to psychoanalyze the interviewer, invest your energy in 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 illustrate how your skills align with a hiring manager’s needs. Listing every job you have had since the corner lemonade stand may make it hard for them to “see” you in the position. 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 matter. Set yourself apart from other applicants by drafting a one-page cover letter featuring a side-by-side table noting their requirements and how exactly you match them. For example, if their posting says they need a project manager with IT experience, excellent communication skills, and the ability to manage a virtual team 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 of experience. 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 helps them free you from the “maybe” pile.

Many 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. 

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