Being over-qualified for a job can be a difficult sell. You know that you have a wealth of skills and experience to bring to the role – but how do you persuade an employer that you won’t resume your job search and leave as soon as something better comes along?
There are many reasons to apply for a job that, on the face of it, is well below your experience level. You might be changing careers, need a job that fits around childcare commitments, or have been forced into the decision by redundancy or unable to find a graduate job after leaving university. Whatever the reason, it’s important to reassure the employer that you will be happy in the role.
‘If you’re worried that you might be dismissed as over-qualified, it’s best to be honest and open with prospective employers,’ says Kelly Kendall, Managing Director of Cordant People, the high street brand of Cordant Recruitment.
‘Don’t be defensive – show the potential employer that you have positive reasons for applying for the role. If you’re changing careers and applying for a junior role as a foot in the door, tell them that you are committed to this new career, so much so that you’re willing to learn from the bottom up.
‘Or if you are applying for a junior role in your current sector, explain what draws you to the role, what attracts you to the company, what skills you can bring and what your long-term ambitions are.’
Find a recruitment partner
Michael Bennett, managing director at Rethink Group suggests working with a recruitment partner.
‘They will highlight your willingness and ability to do the job which can make a big difference. A reputable firm will have long-lasting client relationships and their advice will be trusted.
‘Your initial approach to the organisation is key, whether this comes from you or the agency. Use the opportunity to explain why you’re interested in the role with a definite rationale, for example, that you wanted to focus on a specific part of a previous job.’
Adapt your CV
Your CV should be tailored to the job you’re applying for. If the role doesn’t involve managing people, there’s no need to remove previous managerial positions, but you don’t need to discuss them in detail. Likewise, it’s best to summarise lengthy education and technical information.
‘While stacks of technical qualifications may look impressive, they’re only going to clutter your application if they aren’t relevant for the role,’ says Michael. ‘An employer is unlikely to read masses of information to find a few relevant details, so make sure your CV is as tight as possible.’
If you have a diverse work history, try grouping your experience into sub-sections, such as ‘sales experience’ or ‘teaching roles’ rather than listing each position. It’s better to briefly list roles and education than leave them out, otherwise you’ll be left with gaps which could set off alarm bells.
If you have limited work experience, expand on skills gained from university placements, voluntary work or summer jobs and explain how these are relevant to the role.
The covering letter is a chance to spell out why you are applying for the job and why you’re a good match. Give an honest explanation as to why you want to work for the company. For example, you might want a role which you can fit in around childcare commitments, or be limited to jobs within an easy commuting distance of home.
Be honest, but at the same time, say why you want this particular job – what skills you’re looking forward to using and developing and why you think you will enjoy it. An employer needs to feel that you are enthusiastic about the role, and not just looking for any job.
At the interview
‘Strictly speaking, companies are not allowed to dismiss candidates from the recruitment process for being over-qualified. But such is human nature that interviewers are more likely to question people’s motives if they apply for a more junior role,’ warns Kelly.
‘If you have been used to leading people, be prepared to answer challenging questions, such as how you would take to being “one of the team”.
Practice answering questions, such as “what makes you right for the job?” with a friend and ask for their feedback to ensure your answer is convincing without being clumsy.
Kelly adds: ‘Don’t forget to ask the interviewer questions – really get to the bottom of what it would be like on a day-to-day basis to work in this role. And remember if the role doesn’t feel right, then it’s probably not right – don’t just accept a job because it’s the only thing on offer.’
Sell your experience
Finally, don’t be afraid to promote the fact that you’re highly qualified or experienced.
‘Your experience will have given you skills that less qualified or experienced professionals simply won’t have and this can make a big difference to a business, particularly a smaller one,’ says Michael.
‘Do a good job of selling your maturity, wide skillset and breadth of experience, and it’s likely that a potential employer will be impressed.’
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