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Job search: What to do when you're overqualified

Meridith Levinson | June 10, 2010
The odds of getting the job offer may be stacked against overqualified job seekers, but it's not impossible.

1. Use your cover letter to sell yourself.

All cover letters should explain why you're interested in the company and the position for which you're applying. They should also demonstrate that you've done some research on the company, says Michael Kohlman, information systems manager at Cook Group Inc., a Bloomington, Ind.-based medical device manufacturer.

If you know you're overqualified for the job in question, explaining specifically but succinctly in the cover letter how your experience makes you ideal for the position and uniquely suited to solve the company's problems is critical, he adds.

If you're applying for a position at a lower level than you've previously worked, your cover letter should address why you're down-shifting, says Kohlman.

A compelling cover letter will make a hiring manager more receptive to the breadth and depth of experience on your résumé and less prone to dismissing you as overqualified.

2. Don't dumb down your résumé.

Say you're a software developer with 10 years of experience and you find yourself applying for a documentation specialist position: You may be tempted to downplay your experience on your résumé and to leave off various skills you possess and certifications you hold, thinking that a hiring manager might dismiss you as overqualified on the basis of your résumé. But IT hiring managers say don't give into the temptation. They caution job seekers against dumbing down their curricula vitae.

"Having a really deep résumé is key," says Eddie Jenkins, the director of IT for Medex, a provider of travel medical insurance based in Baltimore, Md. "You want to tell the whole story of who you are."

3. Anticipate questions about your career goals.

Since one of hiring managers' most pressing concerns about overqualified candidates is their "flight risk," they will ask a lot of questions during the interview about your interest in the position, their organization, and your career goals to determine whether you're genuinely interested in their job or simply view it as a stop-gap measure on the way to a more suitable or higher-paying position.

Job seekers who answer the "Why are you interested in this position" question by letting on that they're desperate for a job or a paycheck immediately get weeded out, hiring managers says.

Similarly, job seekers who make it clear they want to move up quickly when asked about their career goals also get knocked out.

"If someone is looking for a way to get past the fact that they're overqualified for a position, making it clear during the interview that they've thought about their qualifications and have goals is a big plus," says Kohlman.

In other words, the overqualified candidate needs to be able to convincingly explain how this position aligns with their longer-term career goals.


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