It seems so unfair not to get a job because you’re over-qualified--to be rejected because you’re too good. If you really want the job, why should the employer care if the position is beneath you? Indeed, shouldn’t employers embrace the idea of bringing in the extra firepower you can provide?
Sadly, this is not the way things usually work. Getting tabbed as “over-qualified” is hard to overcome. Hard but not impossible. Here’s a question I got from an ExecuNet member who’s wrestling with this problem and how one of our “Career Coaches” answered it. Although the job-seeker in this case is a software executive, his situation and the advice he received apply equally well to safety professionals.
I've had interviews in which I've been told that I’m “over-qualified” and have "too much experience." In some cases, I’ve agreed with the assessment. But what happened to me during an interview yesterday was particularly annoying. What made it so hard to take was that it really seemed to me that my skills and experience were an excellent match for the company. And it felt like my dream job—or pretty close to it. The person who interviewed me sent me an e-mail after the meeting saying: "Given the level of experience you have gained to date, I thought the Director role may not be sufficiently challenging for you."
I'm a little bewildered. I'm actually fairly young, 33. But through the dot-com years, I had a good bit of career compression in which I was in positions of relatively high responsibility. I did many interesting things, albeit for a relatively short period of time, a couple of years in each position. I've gotten my marketing campaign (CV, cover letters, elevator pitches and interviewing stories) down and polished.
Is there such thing as too strong a sell? And even if I am over-qualified, as long as I'm motivated, why wouldn't employers want me? After all, they’d be getting more bang for their buck.
Here’s how ExecuNet “Coach” Walt Kuchinski, founder of Diversitas, a broad-scale human capital solutions provider based in Charlotte, NC, answered:
This is always an interesting question. It’s hard to know what’s on the mind of the person who tells you you’re over-qualified. Sometimes over-qualification is simply a convenient excuse that recruiters and employers use to disqualify candidates they don’t like for reasons they prefer not to express. At other times it expresses a genuine concern that the position does not represent a significant challenge for the candidate.
In any case, if you’re labeled as over-qualified, it’s perfectly OK and, in fact, encouraged to push back, probe and challenge the statement. I have seen instances where that question is really more of a “test” than anything else. So if you believe the job is a good fit, then by all means fight for it to the extent that you can. Sell your experience, the value-add you bring and your willingness to “take a step back” for the chance to work in a position which offers the advantages this one does, e.g., in terms of culture, organization size, growth opportunity, learning opportunity, different business, etc.
The key is to be convincing in your sincerity and willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed. Keep in mind that your presence at the company might be perceived as a threat to the interviewer, the person to whom you’d be expected to report or somebody else more senior. It is therefore incumbent on you to assure people that you will leave your ego at the door and be a consummate team-player.
As a final note, since you’re still young, I think it’s reasonable to pursue positions which may in fact appear on the surface to be of a lower level than your last role. But you also have to be realistic. Don't go for jobs which are too junior for you. You will likely wind up miserable and frustrated. And the astute recruiter/employer who can size up a job candidate’s credentials and fit for the position will recognize that all too well.
Well, there you have it. I hope you experienced safety professionals out there will take Coach Kuchinski’s advice to heart when and if you seek more junior positions with a new company.
Wishing you career success,