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Over Qualified? Good for You!

Copyright © 1997, 2000 by David E. Ross

You are at a job interview when those awful words come so effortlessly from the mouth of the interviewer: "Sorry, but you're overqualified." Obviously, this is a way to say: "I just don't want to hire you." but there are further meanings to this expression:

How should you react to this statement. DON'T! Do not react immediately. Think for at least a few moments. Pretend that the statement was never uttered. Do not blatantly ask how you are unqualified for the position under discussion; that only opens the door to negatives. Continue with the interview. Gradually steer the conversation to how you can meet the prospective employer's needs even as the company and the position both grow. Subtly treat the statement as a compliment. After all, not only do you have all the qualifications needed for the current position, but you also have many qualifications that will be needed later. Even the interviewer said that you have extraordinary qualifications. Good for you!

Blondie cartoon strip; Dagwood: 'I'm sorry, but you're over-qualified for the position we're offering.' Job applicant: 'Not a problem … I've never lived up to my potential.'

On the other hand, you might want to abandon any thought of working for a company that would hire a jerk who would tell anyone he or she is over qualified. In that case, offer to refer your friends for employment there, assuring the interviewer that they are all under qualified and therefore lack many important qualifications.

I once attended a job fair at the Los Angeles Convention Center. I was in line to talk to a company that was much closer to my home than the 40 miles to the Convention Center, a contractor for the Defense Department that was still prospering in this era of reduced defense budgets. The recruiter adamantly and loudly told the person in line directly in front of me — an engineer — that he was over qualified. The engineer pleaded with the recruiter merely to look at his entire resume, but the recruiter refused to read beyond the top third of the first page. That very quick, incomplete, superficial scan was all the recruiter needed to reject the engineer. No interview, no analysis of the brief of accomplishments were necessary. (I still wonder whether "Sorry, but you're over qualified" in this case had anything to do with the engineer being middle-aged or black.) I was next in line. I took all of 30 seconds to determine that they did not need any software test engineers (my career specialty). I then told the recruiter — in a voice as loud as he had used with the prior engineer — that he was rude and insulting and that his company would flush down the toilet if they only wanted employees who were under qualified. I felt very good.

Shortly after that job fair, I received a very attractive employment offer from another company. Having just written Recruiting Mistakes Made by Employers … And How to Handle Them for Disgruntled, I carefully noticed that my future employer did not make a single one of the mistakes I documented in that article. However, they must have felt I was over qualified because the offer was for a salary $2,000 per year greater than what I suggested. They saw future needs that would be greater than the current position required.

[In the three years since I started working there, I have indeed performed tasks that I had never done before. I even surprised myself (at age 59) with how adaptable I still am to undertake new assignments. I was indeed over-qualified for the position into which they initially hired me. Both my employer and I have benefited from this anticipation of future needs, needs that were not known at the time I was hired and that required qualifications beyond those I used in my first project with the company.]

7 September 1997
Updated 12 August 2000

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