Help, I’m “Overqualified!”

Recently I worked with an executive-level client (“Linda”) who had a very distinguished legal and compliance career, including experience with a high-growth international finance corporation and a major big city law firm. Linda worked on some extremely impressive deals and made significant contributions throughout her career. Unfortunately, as happens with many a professional, she found herself laid off due to circumstances beyond her control.

Linda came to me looking for a career services package, including resume, LinkedIn profile and strategic career planning. After our numerous hours working together, Linda had a new found sense of self-confidence and enthusiasm for her job search. She found a posted position in a company that she was very excited to apply for. I advised her to find a networking contact within the organization to whom she could send her resume, as well as applying to the online posting. Linda diligently found a contact, who got her resume into the right hands. Wonderful, right???

Well, Linda hit a glitch at this point in her job search when the hiring authority pointed out to Linda’s contact that he feared she was “overqualified” for that particular position, and wanted to know why she was applying. Linda came back to me with the “now what?” question.

My immediate reaction was that I had actually done Linda a disservice by making her look so good on her resume that she would only be positioned for executive level openings. Then again, why would I downplay a client’s brilliant career when she really did deserve a comparable position? After a bit of thought and putting myself in Linda’s shoes, I came up with a sincere and effective response to the hiring authority’s apprehension. It went something like this:

“I have done a great deal of research concerning my next career move, and I am carefully targeting companies that I believe would benefit from my particular skills and which would provide me with the challenges I crave. I am additionally considering cultural fit. I realize that a comparable position to my last one may not be available at XYZ at this time, however, XYZ is at the top of my list. Therefore, where I begin within the organization is not the most important consideration for me. I trust that once I join XYZ, my skills and qualifications will allow me to progress naturally into positions of increasing responsibility so that both XYZ and I will realize maximum value from the relationship in the long run.”


  1. Being overqualified is a challenging issue at any level of the organization. However, there is a way to deal with that question.

    The problem is that the candidate really doesn’t know why the company rep things they are overqualified; not enough of a challenge in the position, expecting too much salary, seeing the position as a stepping stone to something else, not interested in staying long, and the list goes on.

    The way I advise my clients to deal with that question is to ask the interviewer exactly why they think you are overqualified. Something like, “Well, Ms. Interviewer, I think I can understand why you see me as overqualified, but to be sure I am addressing your particular concerns, would you tell me specifically why you think I am overqualified.” When that issue is identified, the candidate can now answer the question in a way that is meaningful to the company rep.

    This approach doesn’t negate the challenge, but it does bring it down to specifics and gives the candidate the opportunity to explain why they are considering and interested in the position under discussion.

    Hope this is helpful.

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