How to Handle Being Told “You’re Overqualified” in Interviews

By Ruth K. Robbins, GetFive Certified Coach

Imagine this scenario: You’re interviewing for a job you really want and everything is going well until you hear the words, “You’re overqualified.”

What exactly does that word “overqualified” mean?

Oftentimes it’s a nice way to get rid of you. “Overqualified” is something of a code word used in place of other concerns and worries, such as:

  • You’ll jump ship as soon as you get a better offer.
  • You’re settling for the job because the market is bad.
  • You’ll be unhappy with the compensation.
  • You’ll be bored or impatient with how things are done.
  • You might be a know-it-all, and you’ll be too difficult to manage.
  • You’re too old for the position or for the culture of the department and company.
  • You might not be able to keep up with the quick-paced digital environment or technology.

If you don’t want the word “overqualified” to end the conversation, you need to anticipate these concerns prior to the interview. You should be prepared to explain why you want to work in a position that’s a level or two below where you’ve been, how it fits in with your long-term vision or immediate short-term goals, and why you believe the company is a great fit for you.

Phrases to Practice

If you can anticipate the concerns a hiring manager might have, your next step should be to practice the right response. Here are some useful examples that may benefit you:

  • I’d like to address your concerns. I want to help you feel more secure about my interest and desire to come on board and stay with the organization. For example…
  • Well, I’d like to reframe “overqualified.” I’m more than qualified for the position, which I think is a positive. I’m proud of my experience, my skills, my knowledge and I’m excited about the position you’ve outlined.
  • I know I can both contribute and learn from you.
  • At this point in my career, I’m really more comfortable being a team player than the team leader. I’ve experienced that. My ambition isn’t with empire building. I’m excited about the job you’ve described.
  • I am very willing and pleased to roll up my sleeves and do the work that has to be done for this job.
  • I work at 10,000 feet just as well as I work on the ground level.
  • A good response to end with is: I’d love to keep my hat in the ring.

GetFive recommends that job hunters should go into interviews armed with carefully crafted answers to objections, including “you’re overqualified.” Additionally, be honest with yourself. If you’re not convinced or clear that this is the job you want, you can be sure the hiring team won’t be either.

Ruth K. Robbins, has been a Certified GetFive Coach since inception, coached at Columbia Business School in their graduate program and has been in private practice since 1992.

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