How many times have you seen a job listing that’s made you say, “Wow, that looks interesting, but I’m way too experienced?” This used to happen to me a lot—especially as I started advancing through the ranks of a sales organization. I wanted to write full-time and I’d let myself daydream by looking at companies hiring entry-level writers. But I never took action because I’d resigned myself to the fact that I had “too much” professional experience to ever be hired.
However, when I became a recruiter, I realized that I was looking at the situation all wrong. There are plenty of things employers discuss when they’ve got a good, but technically overqualified candidate on their hands. And often, they’re not just asking themselves, “What is the meanest way we can tell this person no?”
Instead, here are a few questions they ask:
1. Is This Person Trying to Make a Career Change?
While you might look at your resume and think that you’re overqualified, the hiring manager won’t necessarily do the same. Why? Let’s say that you’re looking to switch from a marketing job to a finance role; it’s pretty obvious that you’ll have a lot to learn on the job. Sure, you’ve had more professional experience than another candidate applying—but you might still have the exact same industry credentials.
And the fact you’re applying shows that you’re aware of that fact. You can make it clear to hiring managers that you’re actively trying to switch industries by stating your case in the cover letter.
2. Does This Person’s Current Title Accurately Reflect His or Her Role?
One of the biggest surprises to me as a recruiter was this: Many people have titles that look senior on paper, but aren’t indicative of what they’re asked to do on a daily basis. In fact, the biggest mistake I made early on was assuming that every single “manager” role meant that the applicant had a dozen direct reports and made high-level decisions every day. And I learned the lesson the hard way after scheduling some underqualified candidates for phone interviews.
So, what should you take from this? Two things actually. One, that when you’re looking at job openings, you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on titles. Obviously there’s a difference between a senior VP and an intern, but don’t be scared to apply for a role that has junior in the title just because you’ve been out of a college for a few years.
The second thing is for anyone who’s worried his or her “senior-level” title will turn a hiring manager off. Use your resume and cover letter to explain what you actually do every day at the office—this information’s far more valuable to a recruiter than what your business cards say you do.
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3. Will This Person Be Comfortable Reporting to Her Boss?
One thing we tried to figure out when we were considering someone “overqualified” was whether or not the candidate would be OK reporting to person who would be her boss. Because sometimes that meant having a manager with a less senior title than the candidate had in her previous job. Other times, I wondered if the candidate would be comfortable working with a handful of people with the same title—and not managing anyone.
That didn’t necessarily keep me from bringing in someone. But it was something we definitely thought about. If a person made it clear that he or she was not interested in being a team player, we’d pass.
So, not to keep repeating this, use your application materials to make it clear that you’re current experience won’t hold you back; emphasize that you are a team player and that your ego won’t get in the way of doing your job.
There isn’t an exact science to knowing if you’re overqualified for a job you want. However, there also isn’t a hard and fast recruiting rule that says employers are only allowed to hire people who match every single qualification. It might seem like a waste of time to submit an application if you think a company will pass. But knowing what they discuss will (hopefully) help you take the leap and hopefully land a position that’s perfect for you—title be damned.
Photo of person working courtesy of Natalie Faye/Getty Images..
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy or follow his blog.More from this Author