Question: “How do I overcome the dreaded ‘overqualified’ objection?”

Few employment-related issues aggravate job hunters as much as the notion that an employer might really like them, and be impressed with their credentials, but neglect to move forward with a formal offer due to the concern that they (the candidate) might be “overqualified” for the opportunity at hand.

In these situations, which are of course much more common among older, more experienced professionals, is there any chance that the job hunter can change the employer’s mind?  Is there any type of tactic or technique that can effectively neutralize this objection and get the hiring manager to see things differently?

Honestly, the answer is probably “no” in the majority of cases.  This is not only because the objection tends to surface at the very end of the interview process, when the employer’s impression of the candidate is already fairly well-formed, but also because the overqualified objection is also not likely the real issue in the majority of cases.  Telling somebody that they are “overqualified” is often a lot safer, and more comfortable, than telling somebody that they might not be getting a job due to other factors such as age, salary level, lack of education, sloppy appearance, or poor interviewing skills.   One can argue (or sue) over the other reasons, if they are expressed, but it’s tough to fight an employer’s subjective decision that a person might be overqualified, and therefore not challenged by a particular work assignment, if that’s the excuse offered for a no-hire decision.   And boy, do employers know it!

This isn’t to say, however ,that a properly-prepared job hunter can’t substantially diminish an employer’s perception that they may be overqualified, especially if they assess this potential threat to their candidacy right from the outset.  As with most interview objections, the key is to hunt for the quasi-legitimate grain of truth behind the negative stereotype or perception.  Simply put, in cases where employers truly believe a candidate is overly experienced for a given role, their fears are usually that a) the candidate will be bored and jump ship at the first opportunity for a more challenging assignment; b) the candidate will end up asking for too much money; or c) the candidate will be so experienced that they will be tough to manage, as well as as a potential threat to the job security of their boss.

It’s difficult for job seekers to admit the likelihood of these perceptions being accurate, I realize, especially when a senior-level person is under the gun to get back to work and generate some cash flow.  As one of our clients recently put it, however, he was saying all the right words in the interview, but knew deep down it was way too junior of an opportunity to consider given his background.  In fact, after responding to this objection in a recent interview, he reported “I didn’t even convince myself, in my own mind, that I wasn’t grossly overqualified for the role.”  The result?  The odds of his convincing the employer to this effect were almost nil.

In the event, however, that you do face a legitimate situation where you think the employer is missing the boat, and that you could be sincerely happy with a given assignment despite your experience level, your best bet is to tackle the issue early on in the process, using disarming honesty.  You might say:

“I can completely understand why you might think I’m overqualified for this position, but honestly, I don’t view this assignment as ‘settling’ in any way, shape, or form in terms of my current goals.  I’ve done a lot of soul-searching around the type of ideal opportunity and organization I want to pursue, and this position you’re discussing is right in my sweet spot because of (insert reasons).  So while you’re right, I might be a bit more experienced than some of the other folks you’re considering, you’d ultimately be hiring an employee who knows exactly what he wants — and would be going into this position with eyes wide open in terms of what to expect.  Ironically, this is probably a more important contributing factor to retention than just about any other element, wouldn’t you say?  Somebody who knows what they want and won’t be surprised to find out what the job really entails?”

Again, whether using this script or any other, you certainly can’t expect to win ’em all.  But if you can inject this kind of dialogue into the discussion right from the opening gate, in appropriate situations, you’ll have the best odds of heading off the “overqualified” objection at the pass — and minimizing the chances of the employer holding your years of experience against you!