3 Reasons Employers Won't Hire 'Overqualified' Applicants

overqualified job searchShouldn't it be easy to get a job if you are more than qualified -- even overqualified -- for the opportunity? If you're an experienced engineer with a Ph.D. and you're having trouble landing an entry-level engineering job, it can be tough on your morale. However, you should not be surprised when employers don't jump at the chance to hire someone who isn't a perfect fit for the job, even if that means turning away someone with too many qualifications.

While you may think employers should be happy to have overqualified candidates fill their positions, the opposite is actually true: many employers won't even consider a candidate with too much education or experience. Why?
  • They worry the candidate will be "too expensive."
  • Employers assume (probably correctly) that the overqualified applicant will leave at the first chance to land a better opportunity.
  • Hiring managers may be concerned an overqualified candidate would become easily disgruntled and unhappy in the job. No one wants to bring on a potential "grumpy Gus" or "sad Sally" to their team.

How can job seekers address these concerns?

Target appropriate jobs. Apply for jobs well suited to your background and work experience. Now that you know that getting a job beneath your qualifications isn't necessarily easier than landing a more fitting position, stop wasting your time applying for jobs that hiring managers don't want to hire you to do.

If opportunities well suited for your are few and far between, consider investigating other industries that require similar skills and write a great resume that proves your skills in another field are transferable to the new field. (It can be a tough sell, but it's a better use of your time and more likely to land you an offer than applying for jobs below your grade.)

The best way to transfer industries is to network with people who work in the organizations where you'd like to land a job. If you can convince new contacts that you're well qualified, they may be willing to refer you for a position, and studies show referrals are much more likely to land interviews than people applying for jobs online.

More: 5 Ways To Get The Job When You're 'Overqualified'

Address the salary issue. Maybe there's a good reason you're applying for jobs similar to what you did 5 or 10 years ago. If you're purposefully ramping down your responsibilities, make a point to explain that to the hiring manager. Most applications list a salary requirement; make sure to fill it in with a salary range appropriate to the job. On your cover letter and in conversations with hiring managers and networking contacts, explain why, at this stage of your career, you recognize there are more important things than a high salary. Identify positives, such as work-life balance (if appropriate) and the opportunity to work for an organization with a good reputation and talented colleagues. Give good reasons for wanting the job that don't make you sound desperate for a paycheck.

Make a time commitment. When you have a chance to speak to someone about the opportunity, make it clear that you plan to stay in the job for a certain amount of time. If you are committed to this type of job, make it clear that the opportunity is a destination, not a jumping off point for you.

Make a convincing case for why the job is a good match. It's always up to the candidate to make a case for why he or she is a good fit, but it's even more important for overqualified workers. Study the job description and be able to point out exactly why you're a good person for the job. Make a convincing case that this job, at this stage of your career, is exactly what you want to do.

The Un(Der)Employed

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Jay Averageman

Psst: here's a hint ... UNDERqualified applicants will also bolt at the first opportunity for a better position.

February 16 2015 at 11:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Victoria Moore

I have been on countless interviews in a field that I got my B.A. in and have seen people in their 60s and 70s on the job and I still haven't gotten it so I'm very frustrated by whatever discrimination I'm experiencing. I have, in the past had to deal with a lot of prejudice from Hispanics regarding my education, the way I dress (I'm known for my style) and my race, so when I'm interviewed by a manager who is Hispanic I have confronted the same obstacles. I'm African-American and when I say prejudice, I'm talking about blatant prejudice, from asking me what I'm mixed with to telling me I remind them of Aunt Jemima. I've also had other African-Americans tell me when they went to certain jobs that if there were a lot of Hispanics there they don't hire African-Americans. I really don't care what the issue is I just feel that everyone should be allowed to work and contribute, especially those who are the best qualified, regardless of their race, age or education.

August 22 2014 at 11:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Edward Jones

I totally agree with Steven and Tim . Overqualified usually means too old. Employers worry that older member on the team might not fit in or might become a father/mother figure to other team members. I agree with Tim in that most people who get offered better opportunities would take it regardless of whether they are under qualified or over qualified.

October 14 2013 at 7:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Add another reason: "Too old for the job." Yep, that good ole excuse they cannot tell you legally because it IS age discrimination.

August 23 2013 at 5:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't agree with this article:

#1 The employer has posted what they are willing to pay for said job... Why would they worry the applicant would be too expensive?

#2 Most everyone that gets offered a better opportunity usually takes it... This may apply a little more to the over-qualified, so I'll give you half credit on this one reason....

#3 Why would they be a grumpy gus... They are working and happy.... They would not have applied for the job in the first place if they didn't want to do that kinda work....

July 26 2013 at 6:08 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

This is a very interesting article however I have a question. I am looking for at home jobs doing freelance blog or article writing I am a first time author and long time writer, with a successful blog for seven years. I had heart surgery and have slacked off but making plans to start another more pertinent to our times.

Do you ever have anything come up that would be of interest to a freelance writer. I have written for the GURU.com site as well as Elance.com lately.

I have written for our local newspaper, writing for the "Faith and Spirit" page. During that time I also worked for the online newspaper, The Examiner.

I would appreciate any information you can give me.

Doris Thompson

March 29 2013 at 5:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good one. Be specific in your resume about your project involvements and your role as a team member. Give a brief description of the project, including name/location, and the phases in which you contributed and deliverables you produced or to which you contributed. http://1stsalary.blogspot.in/2012/08/how-to-create-great-resume.html

March 21 2013 at 7:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My sister is learning that harsh reality, but then she expects top dollar when she gets the job>> that's a harsh reality too.. in this economy you shouldn't expect that anymore..

March 14 2013 at 12:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is just another way to discriminate against older workers. Companies would rather hire someone unqualified and unreliable as long as they can pay them less.

Your chances for employment are best if you are a young, single, minority, woman.

Heaven help you if you lost your job at the beginning of 2009. The U6 unemployment numbers peaked at nearly 16% a year later. There was no way to find a job, and when things got a little better (the U6 number is still 14+% today), you will not be hired if your credit took a hit and there is a 6 month gap in your employment history. Millions of people will never work again. This is the new reality.

U6 Unemployment Rates portal7.com

March 14 2013 at 10:05 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rudniski136's comment

Older workers.... I recently saw an article on line entitled, "Age 70: the new "30". I suspect that the HR "experts" haven't yet read that article.

March 19 2013 at 8:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The hiring process is full of discrimination, key likes and dislikes and a popularity contest. Seldom is it about finding the "right fit" and who 'looks good' in the position. I've seen plenty of under qualified people get jobs where I lose out in my field just so they can SAVE MONEY and do a worse job all around. If you don't aim at this mediocrity audience you won't even get a decent look.

March 14 2013 at 5:21 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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