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3 Ways to Handle Overqualification Bias

By Tiffany A. Dedeaux

Career Changers and Job Seekers ask me about what I am noticing in the market around ageism, or they express their concerns about being discriminated against. While there are approaches that can be used when putting together a job search strategy or resume, a game-changer for me was seeing it positioned as an overqualification bias by the Harvard Business Review (HBR).

While I find it more pleasing to say ‘overqualification bias’ than ‘ageism,’ this also resonates for those I work with. As a mid-career professional, some of my clients report getting feedback that they are overqualified. To help, I recommend considering why it matters in the first place. As a Job Seeker, you can proactively address an employer’s concern from the start.

When I dig into employer feedback, I hear concerns that the candidate would be bored in the role as it is more ‘entry-level.’ If you’ve ever done a contract or a probationary period on a new role, within three months – if not in the first week –  it is clear whether the job you are doing is truly a good fit for you.

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In addition to expressing concerns about boredom, I have heard some employers suggest that the candidate would not be truly committed to the role, the company, or the team. Essentially, what they’re worried about is that if you’re overqualified, this is a ‘for the moment’ role when they intended it to be permanent. 

This matters because hiring is an investment and to do it poorly means not seeing a return on that investment (ROI) or, worse, having to start all over.  While I had encountered a report that said it cost 15% of the annual salary to hire a new employee, here is a more detailed breakdown from the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Getting somebody in place and up to speed from onboarding and mentoring to the point of full autonomy costs both time and money.  Here are three ways to address the employer’s concern as a Job Seeker:

Why This Job

Make sure you are clear with an employer why you want this particular role.  In some cases, you have applied on purpose, or you have followed through on a networking lead with intention and are not just “spraying and praying” to get just any job. Employers, like you as the Job Seeker, want to feel special. Chosen. This effort to be clear why you want this role will help to distinguish your application from all the others.

How This Job Fits Long-Term

Photo by Alexander Suhorucov from Pexels

The second thing you want to be sure and do is explain how you see this role fitting in with your longer-term career goals. What skills would you be able to use? What is the next stage of your career and how does this role help get you there? This can involve anything from gaining experience with a certain aspect of the industry – like Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or software sales – or it can be to develop skills – like team leadership with the goal of one day becoming a manager. Positioning your candidacy as a growth opportunity can shift how the employer views your fit into the existing team and it can help you set expectations as you continue the hiring conversation.

How You Can Help

The third thing that I recommend doing is explaining how you could help the company and the team. This can feel like bragging, as Job Seekers often tell me, but I challenge you to reframe this as how you can help or what your qualifications can empower the organization to accomplish.  With this approach, you can both indicate you are ready to hit the ground running, and you are creating a way to bring your whole self to the position. 

By explaining how this role fits into your career plan and how you see yourself fitting in with the team, you can proactively pre-empt an employer’s concern with overqualification and help make this job interview a more productive conversation so you can both decide if this is a job you want to take.

If you have career questions you would like to discuss with me, join me for Career Q&A or enroll in Career GPS.

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