Anyone who has spent any time looking for a job understands the disappointment of being rejected by a potential employer. Unfortunately, almost all of us will experience job search rejection at some point in our lives.
For overqualified candidates, however, that rejection can be even more depressing. After all, why would an employer decide to not hire you based on your abundance of qualifications and years of experience? As it turns out, there are many reasons for such rejections.
Is it even possible to be overqualified?
Some people wonder whether it’s even possible to be truly overqualified for a job. The reality is that the answer is probably no. Sure, you can have qualifications that far exceed those the job actually requires. But does that mean that you’re overqualified? Technically, no.
That extra level of qualification may be impressive, but there’s really no such thing as having too much knowledge, skills, or experience. If there were, we would all stop learning once we achieved competence in our job roles.
Nevertheless, there is a perception that some people are overqualified for certain positions. Moreover, some job seekers consider themselves overqualified for those jobs.
Perception and beliefs can play a huge role in how you interview for a job and how hiring managers respond to your presentation. And since most people accept the idea that overqualified job seekers exist, many employers may cite it as a reason not to hire you.
With that noted, here are the top 12 reasons an overqualified candidate may be rejected, followed by some tips to overcome the challenge.
Top 12 reasons overqualified job seekers are rejected
1. The employer may believe that you won’t stick around
If you are overqualified for a job, employers may wonder whether you’re just interested in the job for a short-term position. They may assume that the company is just a stepping stone to something better. After all, your qualifications mean that you have a lot of opportunities for better jobs.
Few recruiters or employers want to invest in somebody who’s going to leave in six months or a year.
2. The company’s concerned about meeting your salary expectations
The more qualified you are, the greater your potential earnings. Employers know that and are always concerned about being able to meet expectations. For overqualified job seekers, this can be problematic.
That potential employer may just assume that your salary expectations are more than they can offer and you’re not looking for a pay cut. Unfortunately, they won’t usually tell you about those concerns, and may just reject you based on their assumptions.
3. Employers often worry that overqualified job seekers won’t do certain tasks
There’s also a chance that the employer will believe that you won’t be willing to do anything the company needs. That happens with some highly qualified people, as they often think that their time is best spent on the most important tasks. Rather than take a chance, companies will sometimes reject overqualified job seekers out of hand.
4. You might not fit in with the existing group
Many hiring managers also worry that those who are overqualified may have difficulty working alongside their colleagues. If you'd be the only person on the team with a Ph.D. while the job only requires a high school diploma, hiring managers may worry about how the team would work as a whole.
5. The employer may be worried about having you supervised by younger managers
Truly overqualified job seekers tend to be a bit older and more experienced. When leadership and management are younger, they often think twice before hiring older workers. Many young leaders are leery of trying to manage people with more experience and assume that it will be more difficult to get what they need from those team members.
6. The company could believe that you will get bored
Overqualified job seekers can even be rejected simply because the company thinks that the work will bore them. Job engagement is critical for productivity, so if an employer thinks you will be bored, you probably won’t get hired.
7. Your expertise could be viewed as a threat to existing management
Despite their positions of authority, many managers and leaders lack self-confidence. If your resume looks like it might be more suited for their own position, you may seem like a potential threat to their credibility or power.
This often happens when you are so qualified that the company’s managers can easily envision you replacing them. If that’s the case, then chances are that they will reject you to protect their positions.
8. Some hiring managers won't ask questions regarding their concerns
While most of these concerns could be allayed by discussing them during the interview process, that doesn’t always happen. In fact, some hiring managers are simply too lazy, too busy, or too overwhelmed to delve into these issues. When you don’t match what they’re looking for, it’s easier to just reject your application without giving you an opportunity to address the worries.
9. There may not actually be a position to fill
Some job postings are not meant to be filled. Hiring managers might want to know what the talent pool looks like, or if there is interest in a position that doesn't yet exist.
There are also times when the hiring decision was made before you submitted your resume. If the hiring manager or recruiter already knows who they want to hire, consideration of your resume may be just a formality.
This generally occurs in companies where internal policies require a thorough job search. In those instances, managers just go through the motions to fulfill their duty. You don’t really have a chance at winning the job.
10. You interviewed poorly
It could be that you’re at fault for the rejection during the job interview. Overqualified job seekers can sometimes present themselves as arrogant and overconfident. Or you may be too demanding. Even the most qualified candidates can be passed over for jobs because the people they’d be working with can’t imagine actually seeing them on a daily basis.
11. You may not really be overqualified, but the hiring manager uses that excuse to avoid the real reason
There are even cases where you may not be overqualified. There could be any number of other reasons your resume is rejected. Some of them may even be questionable, which could cause the hiring manager to describe you as overqualified--as a way to hide the real motivation for rejecting your application.
12. You might be facing discrimination
The final reason on this list is the most serious. Discrimination is still unfortunately at large in hiring and work, and could be the reason your impressive resume isn't getting the results you want.
You may wonder about how rejection based on being overqualified plays from a legal standpoint. Is it illegal to discriminate? Like most legal questions, this one depends on the circumstances and nature of the discrimination.
For example, you may have a legal case if you are rejected and can demonstrate that it was due to your age, gender, race, or other protected characteristics. However, if you feel like you are rejected simply because your qualifications don’t align with the company’s expressed needs, chances are that you will face an uphill battle if you try to seek legal remedy.
What to do when you're overqualified for a job
The good news is that overqualified job seekers can quickly overcome these challenges preemptively. The following tips can help:
1. Answer their questions in your cover letter
Use your cover letter to explain why you want the position. Don’t expect the hiring manager to read your mind, since that can lead to all manner of faulty assumptions.
Explain why the company’s job matches your lifestyle and priorities. That can help to put your audience's mind at ease. You might be looking for a lower-level job because you want to return to an earlier point in your career you enjoyed, or you want to work with the next generation of talent in your industry. You might also be transitioning to part-time work or even a new career.
You need don’t to give every reason why you’re seeking this job, but give at least one reason.
Finally, you can address that while you are highly qualified for the role, you are eager to learn something at this job. Admit that you don't know everything, but that you are ready and able to fulfill this position's requirements.
2. Keep your resume relevant
Don’t broadcast unnecessary qualifications. If, for example, your advanced degree might seem to make you overqualified, you can safely (and legally) omit it. Focus your resume and interview on core competencies, relevant skills and experiences. You want to be qualified: not overqualified.
3. Keep your job search strategic
Do some research and locate companies that hire people with your qualifications. Choose companies that are not averse to hiring overqualified job seekers. Sometimes, that can make all the difference in the world.
4. Check your attitude
You never want to leave the impression that you’re too good for the job. Don’t make it sound like it’s an easy role for you to fill. Instead, express genuine excitement about the opportunity to take on a new and different challenge and contribute to the company’s success.
Overqualified job seekers may struggle to avoid rejection, but it’s not an impossible task. Learn to recognize why you might be rejected and work to address those employer concerns as best you can. And remember, persistence pays off in the end.
Good luck with your job search!
The ZipJob team is made up of professional writers and career experts located across the USA and Canada with backgrounds in HR, recruiting, career coaching, job placement, and professional writing.