How Candidates Can Answer Claims: Overqualified

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Boston — Dec. 9
With the unemployment rate rising to 6.7 percent, the highest since 1993, more applicants may be hearing the dreaded “O” word, as in “overqualified,” when seeking new employment, according to ClearRock, an executive coaching and outplacement firm.

“There have been extensive cutbacks across many industries, from Wall Street and other financial services to pharmaceutical and high-tech companies. Layoffs have occurred at all organizational levels, from top executives down. With about 1.9 million fewer jobs in the workforce than a year ago, more people will be applying for lower-level and/or lower-paying jobs than they recently had and may have to confront claims that they are overqualified,” said Ali Chambers, vice president with ClearRock.

“Being labeled as ‘overqualified’ may especially be a problem for someone who really needs the income from even a lower-level or lower-paying job than he or she was used to,” added Chambers. “Candidates need to learn how to counter assertions that they are overqualified when interviewing for jobs.”

ClearRock offered the following advice to people on how to reply to being labeled as overqualified:

Push back and clarify your position to the interviewer. “Answer that you aren’t overqualified, but are ‘completely qualified’ for the job,” said Chambers. “Tell them that you wouldn’t want to buy a car that can go only as fast as the speed limit; you want a car with reserve that can handle varying road conditions and situations. So why would they want to hire someone who can only do exactly what is expected of him or her, when they can bring aboard someone who can do that and more as needed?”

Argue that to you, a job is more than just a paycheck. “Tell the interviewer you feel there are many components to job and career satisfaction and that some intangibles might be worth a pay cut to you. These nonmonetary benefits could include flexible work hours, opportunities for you to learn a new industry or skill, being able to work from home or having a shorter commute to work. These are things that money can’t buy,” said Chambers.

Demonstrate that you are motivated by the opportunity the job presents. “When a candidate is overqualified, there’s no question he or she has the skills. However, you need to show you are motivated by the opportunity. The job may offer the chance for someone who has been used to managing people to be an individual contributor or may present someone in the latter part of his or her career the chance to coach and mentor employees and share experiences,” said Chambers.

Show how your background, skills and experience will solve problems and grow the business. “Some of the biggest concerns employers have about potentially overqualified candidates are that they will leave when a higher salary is offered, or they will get bored. Convincingly demonstrate how your talents will provide the necessary solutions to solve problems and increase revenue so that everyone’s salaries will increase in the near future,” said Chambers.

Ask whether you can take on additional responsibilities to match your abilities. “Volunteer to perform the increased duties within the same salary range as the original job. This will establish your interest in working for the organization, and position you as a ‘bargain’ with talents beyond those of average candidates,” said Chambers.

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