If you’re leading a smart, targeted job search, chances are high that you’ll be applying to roles you think are a strong fit for your skillset. You’ll envision yourself in each role before hitting submit, assuring yourself that there’s a potential match beyond a reasonable doubt. And even then, even when you think you’re the perfect choice for an opening, there’s still a chance that companies will tell you that you’re overqualified.
On the other hand, throughout your career, you may yourself feel like you’re overqualified for the job you have. Whether you feel that the work is something you can do in your sleep, or you feel that your potential is not being tapped, or you’re not making progress toward promotions and further responsibilities, these feelings can result in job dissatisfaction and stagnation in your career.
But what exactly does being overqualified mean? In a job search, a lot of companies will say this to you without giving any clear reasoning. In your own career, you may feel overqualified but not understand why you keep winding up in those situations.
Here’s how to know what being “overqualified” actually implies, first in a job search and then in a career, and what you can do to fix it in either scenario.
In a job search
Hearing “you’re overqualified for the position” can mean one of two things. The first is that the company doesn’t actually know what they want out of the role they’re hiring for and figured out it wasn’t you on the spot. It often happens that the job description is poorly written or copy-pasted from a prior listing and doesn’t properly reflect the true needs of the team.
If this is the case, there’s not much you can do to change that company’s mind for that specific role. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t try to learn from this assessment. Get back in touch with the hiring manager and try to understand what makes you overqualified, according to their standards. You won’t get an answer 90% of the time, but you might wind up hearing a clear response that changes your perspective on your resume or strategy. Learn from that assessment to find roles of better fit moving forward.
The second case is that you don’t actually know what type of role is best suited for you. Whether that’s because you don’t realize how far you’ve progressed in your career, or because you aren’t doing your due diligence in reading the job description and determining how well you fit the role, there are things you can do to avoid further mistakes.
It all starts with a better, more targeted approach to your job search. Begin by determining exactly what type of role you want. Go beyond the job title and think about the responsibilities you’d want to have on a daily basis. Finally, actually read the job description for each job you want to apply to. You might find that, despite the title, the role is too easy for your skillset and employers are assuming you’ll move on or be bored quickly.
Doing this will not only help you avoid the “overqualified” label, but will also help you craft better cover letters and resumes for each job application.
The third case: your resume just doesn't match you. You read a job description, realized it was perfect for you, but your documents aren't presenting that to the potential employer. Comb over your resume and cover letter and see where you might be overselling or underselling in comparison to your experience and what the role is asking for.
Finally, you might be hearing this answer as a fake over other reasons you’re not hired -- whether they’re legitimate or not. It happens, and so every “you’re overqualified” might not mean you need a change in your approach. Look for patterns.
In your career
If you feel like you’re overqualified while working any job, you either accepted the job without fully understanding what you’d be expected to do, or you’ve outgrown the role and responsibilities. The former is a mistake that might have come from your job search, or that might have come from misleading conversations with the hiring manager. The latter comes from your natural career progression.
If you accepted the wrong job, there are still things you can do to make the most of it, especially if you don’t want to quit too early. If you put your all and outperform expectations in your current assignments, you can then begin to make the case for higher-level work with your manager. If you feel unchallenged, you can challenge yourself by taking each project to a whole different level, either completing it faster or better than what was required of you.
If you outgrew your role, that’s not a bad thing, but an adjustment needs to be made. Whether it’s to ask for more responsibility, ask for a promotion, or even find a new job with a better title, more challenges, and a higher pay grade, you can’t just sit around and wait for the situation to correct itself.
If you feel like you’re overqualified after having done the same job for a few years, chances are you can contribute those newly sharpened skills in a more interesting position. Get out there and search for it, both within your organization and outside it.
Be dynamic in your job search
As a dynamic job seeker, it’s important to always look for ways you can learn from the stumbling blocks and obstacles you face along the way. Even if something outside your control happens, you can still use it to better yourself as a professional and as a job seeker. So if you hear that you’re overqualified, assume it’s something that you can fix rather than a situation you can’t influence.
Taking this approach will allow you to tackle your job search from a self-criticizing direction. By becoming your own biggest critic, you’ll be able to see what you’re doing right, what you can be doing better, and how you can change or present yourself for the better.
So don’t write “you’re overqualified” off as the company not knowing what they want, even if that’s the case. Be dynamic and present yourself better every time you send an application, narrowing your focus of what roles you apply to along the way.
Be proactive in your career
It’s important to make a conscious, regular effort to keep your career moving forward. In the working world, you can’t sit around and wait for promotions, pay raises, and praise to fall into your lap. To keep moving forward, you need to constantly evolve your skillset and ask for more experience.
To do this, always strive to learn something new. There are tons of free and inexpensive continuing education and certification options that will allow you to grow beyond your current job title. Ambitious side projects and gigs will allow you to train and expand your skills beyond the workplace.
And as you learn and develop as a professional, it’s your responsibility to stay proactive about your role, salary, and responsibilities. So if you know you deserve it, go ahead and ask for a promotion or a raise. If you feel like you’ve hit your limit at your current employer, go ahead and seek a new challenge elsewhere.
If you stay quiet and never shake things up for yourself, there’s a chance you’ll get left behind. Be proactive and you’ll rarely feel like your career has become stagnant.