Applying for a Job You’re Overqualified For (without dumbing down your CV)!

In my last blog, I addressed applying for jobs when you are under-qualified for the role. In this article, I address the inverse — being overqualified for a position you want to be considered for.

Certain life situations, like relocation or a bad economy, may warrant you to consider jobs that are below your experience and education level. Being “overqualified” can be a prohibiting factor as employers are concerned that such candidates are only applying out of desperation and unlikely to stay in the long run.

The following are the main concerns employers have about taking on candidates who are considered overqualified;

  • they are a flight risk and will take the job until something better comes along,
  • they will be bored and under-utilised in the role,
  • they will want a big salary commensurate with their experience and skills.

Frustration of being rejected due to being overqualified tempts some job seekers to water down their experience, skills and even hide some qualifications. I personally advice people to be cautious of this strategy, as job seekers histories and qualifications can easily be found on some online platforms. Omitting very significant information about your career background that a potential employer may come across elsewhere may be viewed as deception. Additionally, in concealing qualifications and experience, you may face an awkward position when you’re in the company and a more senior role comes up. You would then have to introduce information that you previously concealed.


How then, do you get around the issue of being “overqualified” for a job without having to “dumb down” your CV?  Here are some tips. 

  • Address the “elephant in the room” upfront. Instead of avoiding the inevitable question about being too accomplished for the role, confront this “discrepancy” from the onset. This can be done through your cover letter or cover email. You need to provide comfort to the recruiter by clarifying your motive for applying  and hopefully dispelling the perception that you are desperate or using this role as a “placeholder’ until something better comes up.  Another “elephant” is the matter of salary.  There may be a concern that you require a salary above what the role is paying, due to your experience. If it is the case, be explicit about your willingness to be flexible on salary and potentially accepting something lower than what you previously earned. There is a very slim possibility (don’t bank on it) that you may get above the budgeted salary range because of the potential additional value you bring to the role. Though realistically speaking, it is very unlikely salary will be bumped up just because they found a candidate that outperforms the position requirements.


  • Focus on the company/industry.  In acknowledging that the job would be a step back, your emphasis should be on your enthusiasm to work for that particular company or for that industry (especially if it’s a new industry for you). It’s not uncommon for people to take a step back to get into their “dream” company or industry. You can posit that because of your desire to contribute or gain experience in that particular company, you are willing to take on a “lesser” role that will provide you the necessary foot in the door. In addition, try find aspects of the role that would be a new learning curve for you. 


  • Sell being overqualified as a benefit. Rather than being a point of concern, persuade the employer that being overqualified will be a benefit to the company.  Your wealth of experience or qualifications means that you are well positioned to take on greater responsibilities and roles in future with minimal training. Basically, you will provide good “bench strength” for the department. You will also have the capability to hit the ground running and need nominal supervision.


  • Omitting titles from CV. If you are concerned that your cover letter will not be read, (in all honesty cover letters are not always looked at during initial screening phases), you can omit job titles from your cv and only list the department/function that you worked in.  (I know this treads lightly on “dumbing down CV” territory). Describe your tasks in a manner that aligns with the role you are applying to. For example, don’t put emphasis on your strategic or executive duties if the postion is going to be predominantly operational or technical. 


  • Use networks to circumvent the “overqualified” objection. The use of networks and internal referrals are a good way to evade the disparity between your experience and the role. Having an internal person vouch or “put in a word for you” can carry weight and at least get you through to interview stages where you have a chance to defend your position.


In closing, “overqualified” candidates make hiring managers and recruiters apprehensive as their motives for applying are viewed with suspicion.  Although CV’s should only contain the most relevant information for the role you are applying to, be careful of towing the line as some employers may interpret your omissions as deception. If you’re uncomfortable dumbing down your CV, rather use tactics such as addressing objections and concerns upfront, selling your “over accomplishments” as a benefit and writing your CV to focus on duties aligned with the role.