A job opening catches your attention but the required experience is only eight years — and you've been in the industry for 15. Should you still apply? And if you're called in for an interview, should you acknowledge you might be overqualified?
What the experts say
There are many reasons why you might go for a job that doesn't match your level of experience. But don't assume your impressive résumé will guarantee you an offer, says Berrin Erdogan, a professor of management at Portland State University and the lead author of a recent study on the subject. "There is a prejudice," she explains. "Hiring managers are not always eager to bring on someone who is overqualified." They might be concerned you'll get bored in the position, says Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a senior adviser at Egon Zehnder International and author of "It's Not the How or the What but the Who."
Check your attitude
First things first: Don't be arrogant. "It's self-defeating to think the company would be lucky to have you," Erdogan says. "The company wants someone who is a good fit for the role. The qualifications that you think make you overqualified may be irrelevant to that particular hiring manager." Make sure you're not giving off vibes of self-importance or pomposity.
Be transparent (to a point)
How candid should you be about the reasons you're applying for the job? "It depends on your reasons and how socially acceptable they are," Erdogan says. She recommends explaining your interest in terms of your career objectives." For example, say you're interested in the job because you have young kids at home and you'd appreciate more flexibility. Erdogan suggests saying something along the lines of, "I'd like to be in a job with more predictability and reduced travel." Think hard about how you will answer questions about why you want the position and why you want to work in the sector, Fernández-Aráoz says. "Nothing convinces more than conviction," he adds. "Show integrity."
Counter common assumptions
It's likely that the hiring manager is making certain assumptions about you and your candidacy, so it's important to understand those concerns and assumptions and second to "provide counter-information," says Erdogan. For example, the hiring manager might assume you're expensive. To counter this, take pay off the table by saying, "I am open on salary and willing to work within the pay range that's set for this position."
If there are still doubts about your fit for the job, Fernández-Aráoz's advice is to take "a problem-solving point of view," and "be strategic" about showing how the organisation could benefit from having you in the job. Here are some possible strategies:
• Think big: "Visionary leaders do not hire for their currents needs; they hire for the future," Fernández-Aráoz says. You can nudge the hiring manager to think more broadly about the role by "enthusiastically sharing your ideas for how big the job can be," he adds.
• Tailor the job: Another strategy would be to "talk to the hiring manager about possible ways to tailor the current opening to your skills and interests," Fernández-Aráoz says. "This approach is a bit tricky because it shows you are looking for more," but it can be a good opportunity to mould the job into one that's more compelling and better suited to your specific experience.
• Offer temporary help: Another approach, according to Fernández-Aráoz, is to talk about the job as a singular "tour of duty." In other words, you'll "offer a specific expertise" to help the company "achieve a goal or objective" for a certain period of time, with the understanding that eventually you will move on to a bigger and better role either within that organisation or at another one.
• ... but don't ask for too much: It's smart to think creatively about how you position yourself for the role, but Erdogan cautions against getting too carried away. "You will have the opportunity to shape the job and expand your role once you're in the organisation and have an understanding of how things work," she says.
• Take heart: "Sometimes when overqualified people don't get the job they applied for, they get angry and upset," Erdogan says. But you must resist that impulse.
Case study 1: Be thoughtful about how you position yourself to hiring manager
In 2008, after the global economy took a nose-dive, the company that Lauren McAdams was working for went belly up. Lauren, who had several years of professional experience, a background in development, and a degree in business, was out of a job.
"I got a little desperate and was applying to bars, restaurants, even a sandwich shop," she recalls.
A year later, Lauren was working as a temp to make ends meet when she applied to what was essentially a marketing assistant job. "It was an entry-level role, but I thought I could make it work; I just needed to be able to communicate to the hiring manager that I'd be a solid investment."
When Lauren went in for the interview, the hiring manager was blunt. "She told me she was worried I was overqualified and that I would be bored in the job," she says.
Lauren shared her ideas for how big the job could be. She talked about new projects she could execute. And she highlighted expanded responsibilities she could take on.
She was bold in expressing excitement about the job and the company, but also humble. "I made it clear I was there to learn," she says. "I noted that once I had learned a solid amount about the company — its products and marketing in general — I would be in a position to contribute to business strategy, further marketing initiatives, and product development. When the hiring manager said that role sounded like management rather than that of an assistant, I told her that was exactly what I was aiming for long-term, of course."
Case study 2: Express enthusiasm for the job, and demonstrate how you will add value
A few years ago, Mehmood Hanif, who trained to be a brand manager and had an M.Phil in marketing management, worked at an educational company in Karachi, Pakistan. But Mehmood was keen to experience other industries, so he was open to any job that could provide that.
One day he interviewed for a marketing support job at a pharmaceutical company. "The candidate was supposed to support brand managers, but wasn't directly associated with core marketing," he recalls. "Based on my education and experience, I was overqualified." Nevertheless, he wanted the job.
He made sure to convey his interest in the role but was honest about his desire to move up in the organisation. "I said I thought I could make a difference and that I hoped to one day move into the core marketing department."
When the hiring manager said he was concerned about an overqualified hire getting bored and leaving, Mehmood pointed to other jobs in his past where he'd had long tenures. "I also told him that I'm self-motivated, and I love to do new things," he says. "If you are skilled enough, you can always find new ways to do your job differently, so you will never get bored."
Written by: Rebecca Knight
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