Told You're 'Overqualified' For The Job? Here's What They Really Mean

overqualified job what it means

Have you ever had an employer or recruiter say you're "overqualified" for a job? Honestly, how can you really be "overqualified" for a job? You can either do the job, or you can't. How can having more experience than required be a negative, right?

So, what does "you're overqualified" really mean?
First, it's important to know that it's a catch-all excuse that hiring managers, recruiters and HR use to politely eliminate you from the candidate pool. Why do they use it? If they said what they were really passing on you for, it would seem silly, petty, or down-right discriminatory. In fact, here are nine most common reasons they are saying it:

1. Your personality isn't a match for the office/department culture.
You were either too upbeat or too low-key and came across wrong. Or your personality would clearly rub an existing employee the wrong way and the employer doesn't want to deal with the drama that hiring you would bring.

2. You don't look like you would fit in.
Your attire indicated that you weren't the type of person that would be a fit for the organization. (Yes, what you wear matters. People discriminate on clothing all the time!)

3. You seem like a slow worker.
Your voice speed was slow, methodical, and gave off the impression that you wouldn't be able to keep up with the pace of the work environment.

4. You have too many degrees and/or were paid too much previously.
The assumption is that you'll quit when a better job comes along, leaving the employer to have to start the search all over again.

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5. You didn't seem reliable.
Your answers to questions made it appear like you had health issues, personal life challenges, or attendance issues that would cause you to not be on-time and accountable.

6. You acted like a know-it-all in the interview.
You said, "Well, at my old company, we did it this way..." one too many times. Plus, you oversold yourself. As a result, you gave off the impression that you weren't ready to learn something new, nor ready to adapt to a different environment than the one you were in.

7. You didn't seem like you really knew what you were talking about.
You came across as not having as much expertise as your resume indicated. You didn't answer questions in the way expected.

8. I don't like you, can't see working with you every day, and I just don't want to be rude.
You didn't connect with the hiring manager, and maybe even rubbed them the wrong way. Employers assume that if they didn't feel comfortable with you in the interview, it will only get worse over time.

9. I already have the candidate I want and interviewing you is just a formality.
Some hiring managers by law, or company policy, have to post and interview for jobs. Many times, they already have who they want to hire. So, they just go through the process to cover their bases.

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Notice There's No "Fear of Competition" in the List
When people see this list, they often say, "J.T., what about the fact that the hiring manager probably realized I was more qualified than them and was scared that I'd take their job?" My answer is: It's not on the list because it's not usually what they are thinking. That's more of an excuse job seekers use to justify why they didn't get selected. It makes them feel better to put down the employer who didn't pick them. I won't deny that there are some insecure hiring managers out there. But, for the most part, the average hiring manager who is looking for a new employee generally feels good about their status in the organization and has a clear sense of the kind of person they want to bring on board. Trust me, if you are more qualified but can convey sincerely to the employer that you respect their position and don't want it, you can get hired. In fact, I know many hiring managers who like to hire people whom they feel are smarter or more accomplished than them in certain areas, as a way to strengthen the abilities of their team.

Can You Overcome the 'Overqualified' Objection?
When you get told you are "over-qualified," ask the manager the following question:

"What is your concern with respect to my experience in terms of how it will hurt my ability to do the job?"

This question will force the manager to articulate how they see being "overqualified" as a bad thing. If they are honest, you just might have a shot at giving them a response that could change their mind. For example, if the concern is about your degrees or former pay grade, you can say, "I can assure you that my goal is not to leave a new job for a different one. I applied here because I like the company and see being able to work in an environment I appreciate and respect worth more than money alone."

When we get the "overqualified" objection to our candidacy, we have to do what we can to understand what's really making the hiring manager say "no" to hiring us. And, if you are getting it a lot, it might be time to work with a coach who can be honest with you and see if the way you are presenting yourself is really the reason for the excuse that they are giving you. Often we don't know how we are appearing to hiring managers and can use a little "interview intervention" to help us send the right message. I work with job seekers daily inside my Career HMO to help them present themselves better in interviews. They are always shocked to learn what they were saying was giving off the wrong impression. Interview prep that helps you anticipate the objection and deal with it effectively can make a big difference.

Don't let the "overqualified" reason get the best of you. See what you can do to improve the chances of you being a fit by getting feedback and assistance on your interview skills. It could make all the difference!

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Yesterday I got the feedback from the recruitment agent regarding my interview for a Facilities Assistant role, and it was something like this: "You didn't get the role, they said you are very pleasant but you would suit more for a Facilities Coordinator role"
At the interview I was asked around 4 questions, not the most relevant in my opinion, I asked 3 questions, and the rest of the time they were trying to sell themselves as a company...I even got a tour.
I don't understand these people, they seem so nice, smile and be so fake. They had my CV, they called me for an interview, why waste more time that they had allocated for my interview if they thought I won't fit the role.

February 04 2014 at 10:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Hunt, PE

Interestingly, I also just posted an essay on "overqualified".

December 26 2013 at 10:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hello JT, I was expecting to see "age discrimination" on your list..I recently was on a search panel for an advisor position at private university..the hiring manager plus his staff were all in their 20's and early 30' when we came across a candidate who was decades older than the manager himself and possessed all the experience that went along with it, we didn't end up even giving the candidate an interview because 1.) we thought he/she would soon look at other (often faculty) positions in the school, 2.) it'd be hard to see this seasoned professional taking orders from a much younger man, and 3.) we were skeptical that the elder candidate would be open to new ideas and/or be willing to change professional habits...if that's not age discrimination that i don't know what is!
a similar example, yet hypothetical, is i see my father in his early retirement looking to work on a part-time basis..he's a big tech guy so has entertained the idea of working at Best Buy..however, we both share the assumption that Best Buy, if presented with my father's candidacy and another's, say a fresh-out-of-college twenty-something, the company would lean towards hiring the younger and perhaps more energetic individual who's thrilled to earn his/her first paycheck. all of this coincides with your message that employers discriminate.

December 17 2013 at 11:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Greg's comment

While I'm sure age discrimination does happen (someone being rejected based on nothing more than the year of their birth) I think most of the time it's as article points out, for a genuine concern they have. Just because someone needs a job and is "willing" to do it, doesn't mean that they actually want the job. The last thing I'd want to do is take on someone who for whatever reason (age, experience, qualifications, perceived superiority) will feel dissatisfied in the role, not be excited by the it or be looking out for something better from day 1.

I regularly receive applications from people who are applying for "entry level"roles when they have decades of experience and are clearly "over qualified" but they're trying to convince me that this just what they're looking for. Unfortunately they forget that they've also applied to my colleagues for roles paying triple that of my role......

I think people often use discrimination to excuse why they're rejected for a role. My best advice is to only apply for roles you genuinely want to do and can justify/explain your reasons for wanting it.

January 06 2014 at 11:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't think so is just means because you are too old. I was told I was overqualified when I was 25. I had a master's degree by the time and had already more than 6 years of experience. So it is not a matter just of age. It think so too that it is a matter that many managers are in their mid-life's and they don't want to loose their jobs to something more qualified, they feel threatened, at least in my experience. You can have a great attitude, be so nice, etc. Yet, they don't hire you.

December 13 2013 at 2:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The only time I've heard this, I'm pretty sure that they meant "you're too old."

December 13 2013 at 7:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Antonio Ierano

well you could add a 10th reason: "you're way too old, but i will never tell you.".

December 13 2013 at 7:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Simple if you have a proven verifiable and documented track record regardless if you had a bad day on some of the items listed as reason especially maybe after 2 rounds where the company can see more of your personality to remove some of the 'fitting in and personality" reasons and they still didn't select you then consider it a blessing. You don't wont to work for them unless you are starving.

December 12 2013 at 2:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I believe there are many more possible reasons to that particular rejection. Recruiters and hiring managers lie to job candidates all the time. As candidate, you will rarely ever get an honest answer. I have been interviewing for many jobs and received tons of rejections. In about 95% of the cases, I see the "we move forward with another candidate that matches the requirements more closely" and the other 5% are rude, insulting, and just dumb answers (if any answer comes back at all).
What I also experienced over the last 9 years of going through 300+ interviews (phone and in person), the candidate's worst enemy is actually not the candidate themselves, but rather the recruiter and company policies. I wish this was different, but recruiters are just not in the position to recognize a qualified candidate. Most qualified candidates fall through the "grid" just because most of those numb nuts don’t recognize a specific skill, don’t know industry terms or have issues understanding the candidate’s answer in an interview. Others keep looking for a certain key word that just isn't on the resume.
I have seen so much BS, from getting answers that don't make any sense, to being laughed at, to getting ushered out of the meeting room, to being insulted regarding my prior experience. Applying for jobs that are posted online at various career portals, professional networking sites, or even social networking sites, is not the way to get an offer. There is only one way to get that job. You need to be either well acquainted with the hiring manager, or at least know someone who is a close friend of the hiring manager and is willing to do them a favor by hiring you. Period!
Another example that might raise some eye brows is when I was strung along for over a year. After a lengthy interviewing process, an offer was in the works, but the company hit a hiring freeze before I was able to receive and accept it. For about a year now, the hiring manager had told me that he would love to have me on his team and kept me under the impression that once the job reopens he will resume the process. Although, the job was indeed reapproved later this year, I was surprised when the job was publicly re-advertised. I then found out that they started the interviewing process again with new candidates. Not only did I understand that they tried to find someone better out there, but it also showed that they breached the trust we had built. Sometimes, we have to face the fact that we as job candidates are treated like second and third choice merchandise. With this, that company and also the manager have shown their real picture, and I realized that this is not a place I would want to work after all.

December 12 2013 at 12:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to bn.1's comment

My best comment ofr overqualified of all time was this:

"I think you are overqualified. Hell I know you are overqualified because your credentials are better than those of the VP I report too. The fact is I am literally tasked with finding someone to just hit the keyboard and not ask questions - both tasks I believe would lead you to be bored and I know you would ask questions. Since this job is notoriously a dead end position, I think in your case I would be looking to refill the position within 6 months."

After hearing that (and suppressing my building anger inside) I just said "Well umm thanks". and hung up the phone. The absolute worst part was this 'boring' job paid about 20K more than what I was making...

December 12 2013 at 12:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jack Menendez

One more: you are over 40 years old

December 12 2013 at 11:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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