“Sorry, You’re Overqualified!”

Did you catch “The Intern” with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway? Without giving away too much, it’s about a retired guy named Ben (De Niro) who, bored of being bored, is hired as an intern by a fast-growing Internet-based fashion sensation run by Gen-Xer Jules (Hathaway) and almost exclusively staffed by millennials. Seems they needed a couple of older employees on staff so DeNiro gets the gig, yay! But it turns out this septuagenarian, with decades of experience under his belt, surprises everyone, especially Jules, by…

Oops, that was close! No, we won’t spoil it for you in case you haven’t seen it yet. But the story brought out some truths near and dear to our hearts. In fact, maybe you’ve been there.

You may be an “older” person who’s out there competing with far younger job seekers. And, routinely, you’ve been turned down right out of the gate. “You’re overqualified,” they say.

Being told that a business needs someone less experienced or less talented can be hard to take.

After all, you’ve done everything they require and have been doing it for quite some time. You offer everything they’ve listed in the job description – and more!

If you’ve found a position that really appeals to you but believe your resume may trigger the “overqualified” response – particularly if you are an experienced candidate and/or coming from a different field – it may be best to anticipate rejection and dispel concerns before the recruiter or hiring manager has an opportunity to reflexively disqualify you. A carefully-written cover letter or having talking points on hand for an initial interview can help to nip rejection in the bud.

What do employers really mean when they say you’re overqualified?

Here are a few things employers may really be thinking when they say “Sorry, but you’re overqualified” – and some thoughts as to how you may avoid or counter those dreaded words.

What they’re really thinking: “You’ll get bored and quit not long after you’re hired.”

How to handle:

  • Consider emphasizing your true enthusiasm for the position;
  • Itemize the qualifications required and how your experience would enable to take them on while hitting the ground, running, rather than requiring lengthy – and costly – training.
  • If appropriate, spotlight longevity in positions you’ve previously held so they know you’re not a job-hopper.
  • If push comes to shove, ask them if they’d prefer to have an average performer for three years or an overqualified superstar for one.


What they’re really thinking: “You’ll try to advance to a higher position too soon. You’re going to be a know-it-all and undermine the hiring manager’s authority.”

How to handle: 

  • Be candid and emphasize how the job closely matches your present professional goal; you have no interest in climbing the corporate ladder, but rather want to apply your skills and experience doing what you do best and enjoy most.
  • The fact that you know more may enable the hiring manager to use you to cover vacationing employees in the department without losing productivity – quite a wise ROI.


What they’re really thinking: “You’ll be stuck in your ways and hard to train.”

How to handle: 

  • Mention achievements in new positions in your career, your flexibility and thrill of keeping up with a rapidly-changing workplace which keeps you motivated and keen to learn.


What they’re really thinking: “Other employees will feel belittled.”

How to handle: 

  • Include your skill and experience mentoring previous staff and/or successes collaborating.


What they’re really thinking: “You’re simply overqualified.”

How to handle: 

Emphasize how much you’ll bring to the table:

  • Experience so you can hit the ground running;
  • Experience working or managing others – proof you know how to fit it;
  • The hiring company will get far more skill from you than from a less-qualified candidate  – all for the same amount of money!


“Despite (their) efforts, Biringer again faced a worker shortage and typically drew fewer than 60 of the roughly 100 employees it needed on harvest days.” Much of their produce rotted, which may result in higher prices eventually being passed along to the consumer.

What can be learnt?

Are there parallels between delicious fruit withering on the vine and older job candidates being neglected for being overqualified? No, although such a metaphor may be tempting.

But recruiters and hiring managers know that the job market today has changed dramatically during the past few years, and candidates can afford to be choosy. Finding a qualified candidate is tougher than ever.

So perhaps they just need a little help recognizing that hiring an overqualified candidate may prove to be a really smart decision.

Don’t let the fear that you’re “overqualified” keep you from going after that job. Even if it means sending a couple of tickets to “The Intern” to the hiring manager, carpe diem!


Author: Lewis Lustman; I’m a recovering UCLA English major who loves communicating using today’s variety of media. As Content Marketing Manager for HireRight, I have the privilege and opportunity to discover and share new perspectives on the background check process.

[Image Credit: Shutterstock]

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