Let’s talk about what being “overqualified” means. Simply said, you have either more experience or more education than is required for the job or your skills are at a higher level than needed for a particular position. While you see this as a good thing because you can do the job more efficiently and at a higher level than others, the employer can see other issues with hiring you.
So, what is going on in an employer’s mind when they review your CV and say that you are overqualified?
Even If You Take a Pay Cut, They Still Might Need to Hire You at a Higher Salary
Some companies have salary ranges based on the experience of the people in the role. Someone with the minimum experience would be on the low end of the range. Those with significantly more would be at the top end of the range. This is in keeping with internal equity strategy—a systematic application of criterion, such as the amount of experience, to determine what people are paid. If you need to come in at the top end of the range due to your experience, this can cause two issues. First, the department budget for labor may have been determined with an average wage rate that is lower than what you would require. Hiring you may put the department labor costs over the budgeted amount.
Secondly, if you come in at a higher wage rate, you could be at or close to the maximum they will pay for this role. This could mean no further increases or only small increases. Most employers do not want to hire new employees, knowing that their salary is already topped out. This can cause anger and disappointment when the employee realizes that they will not make more money unless the outside labor market causes changes that would require an increase in the salary range. When a person has already taken a pay cut, no pay increase is adding insult to injury.
The Hiring Manager Is Intimidated by You
If you have more years of experience, education or are operating with a higher-level skill set than the job requires, you may have the same level of skills as the person that will be managing you. For some managers, that is very threatening. What if you come in and show yourself to be so good at your job that people will start wondering if you should be the manager? What if you can do work that the hiring managers cannot do or has never been asked to do, such as complex data analytics? What if the team starts coming to you for answers instead of the hiring manager because you are more readily available and have the knowledge?
Maybe their loyalty will be transferred to you, especially if they see you as more capable?
While these scenarios may be made up in the hiring managers’ minds, they can be of real concern, especially for a new or just less confident manager. While some leaders espouse hiring people that are better and more capable than they are, few people do this.
You Might Become Bored Quickly
When something comes to you easily, it may not seem very challenging. This has the potential to cause boredom and, as a result, disengagement. For example, a very capable HR professional that I know was in a role that asked her to do work that she did early in her career. She did an excellent job. She also found it very dull to the point of being mind-numbing. She was used to doing strategic work, and most of this job was doing lower-level tasks. Had she not been close to retirement, she would have quit the job to find more interesting, challenging, and stimulating work.
Your situation might be different, and you might be delighted to do work similar to what you did years ago. Many hiring managers, though, put themselves in your shoes and think that they would be bored, so why wouldn’t you?
There May Not Be Any Room for Growth
Some jobs just do not have a career path. The position may be responsible for work that is important but not a core part of the business. Maybe the organization is small, and the owner will not invest money into growing the department. If that is the case, the company may be looking at the long term and realize that you would not be a fit, as there is no room for you to grow in the company. They actually may be looking out for your best interest and realizing there will be no increase in responsibilities or title, feel it is better to have you continue looking so that you have an opportunity for a better career path. They may decide that someone with less experience can learn new things if employed by the company, and even if they eventually leave, it will be a steppingstone for their career.
Potential for Team Issues
An employer is looking at two things when making a hire, 1) whether you can do the job, and 2) whether you are a good fit for the team. You would meet the first criteria. They may judge, though, that you do not meet the second criteria. This could be for many reasons, legitimate or not. If the team members have more-or-less the same experience level and skills, will you cause the team problems? People say they want diversity, but often that is not the reality. If the team is very social and does many off-hours activities, and you have a family and small children, there may be fear that you will not fit in. If you and the rest of the team are of different generations, will you have many things in common?
Other issues can be work style and how it impacts team dynamics. Suppose you are given the ability to make independent decisions while others on the team are not allowed because you have more experience and higher capabilities. Will this result in jealousy amongst the group?
Of course, none of this may be the reality of your situation, but those reviewing your CV may project issues on to you that could be of concern.
Pay Cuts Are Not a Good Thing
No one wants to take a pay cut. But many people feel they must do so to find work. We all have to pay our bills. If you take a pay cut, employers generally do not believe you are fine with it even if you say you are okay with it. They think that as soon as you can find another job that pays more, you will leave. While they do not know when that will be, the fear it will be sooner than later. If you are taking a pay cut because of a downturn in the economy, they feel that you will be looking for a new job as soon as economic times get better. Every employer wants to get a high return on investment when they hire someone. The return on investment will be what you can produce and how long you do it. While you should need less training than others, if you don’t stay long, the ROI might be lower for you than someone that, while requiring a bit longer to get up-to-speed, also is happy with the compensation because it is commensurate with the market for his/her skills and experience.
They May Consider You Too Old
Age should not be a factor, but the reality is sometimes it is. People have prejudices, and though it is illegal to discriminate against anyone over 40 in the US solely based on age, it happens, and it is hard to prove. We have mentioned the issues that a younger manager or the team might have with you. If they are younger and you are older, they may not want to work with you, as they see working with you like working with their parents-not that fun. They may think your age brings old-fashioned ideas or a lack of technical competencies. This all can be cloaked in the language of being “overqualified.”
These are all fears, real or imagined, that an employer thinks about when they see someone, they believe is overqualified. Understanding these fears can help you address some of them in your CV, such as eliminating older jobs not to make yourself appear as experienced. You can also communicate to your network why a lower-level position is something you desire and are not taking as a default (such as not managing people anymore). Make the case why these employer fears do not apply to your situation, and you will have more success in finding a new job.