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Yes, it is time to bring up the dreaded “O” Word: Overqualified.
This word is bandied about by job seekers in the never ending quest to find that sweet spot between a job that they are fully qualified for and one that they do not significantly surpass the requirements. An overqualified response from an employer is oftentimes seen by the candidate as unjustified, and at the same time generates the feeling that there was nothing that the applicant could do to prevent the situation.
When a company tells a job seeker that they are overqualified, one of two situations usually exists:
Sometimes an overqualified response is simply an excuse by the employer, a nice way to say that they are not interested in the candidate. This is not so different from a person that breaks up a relationship with the response “It’s not you, it’s me”.
Most (serious) companies have a profile of the employees that they seek. Although what they publish in an advertisement is the minimum job requirements, in many cases there may also be unwritten maximum expectations. Companies are legitimately concerned that a person that has a significant amount of work experience/education beyond what is required to do the job may not be satisfied with the position/compensation in the long run, and be looking to leave the first chance they get. Or, the manager may be worried that a candidate that greatly exceeds the job requirements is a threat to take their job.
How can you as the job seeker use this information to increase your attractiveness to companies? In the second case, where the employer considered you likely to leave after a short period of time, there are options. What you need to do is to remove or at least minimize the doubt in their mind:
CV – A skills-based style may be the best approach:
focusing on your skills as they relate to the job rather than your previous work experience.
In this skills-based CV, there are two (2) overall approaches:
“Dummy Down” your CV - Make sure that your CV is targeted at the job you are applying for. This means that if you are trying for an entry-level role, you probably don’t want to send a CV that shows you have a PhD or 20 years of work experience in the sector. Dummying down your CV does not mean adding things that are not true. Instead, what you should do is remove things that will give the wrong impression. Focus on your relevant skills rather than your job titles.
Do not minimize your CV’s work experience/education sections, but instead use your cover letter to preempt the overqualified designation. This means explaining why you are applying for the position and that you are interested in the job for the long-term. Remember, your experience is an asset; it simply needs to be put in the correct perspective.
If you are invited to an interview, it means that your CV was acceptable. Now you have to make sure that you continue to emphasize your skills as related to the job in question, and not to highlight those parts of your background that can cause the overqualified label to appear. In case the employer raises issues that are problematic, you must be ready with a response to reassure them that you are interested in the specific role for the long term, and why.
A job candidate doesn’t always have a lot of control over the reaction of the company to their application. However, understanding the concept of overqualified from the employer’s perspective may give you the ability to improve your chances.
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