How to land a job that you’re “overqualified” for

Experience – in all areas of life – is incredibly valuable because it gives you a greater understanding of who you are. The more you experience, the more skills you’ll tuck under your belt, and the more perspective you’ll gain – which can only be a good thing, both professionally and personally.

However, when it comes to changing careers in later life, you may feel uneasy about applying for a job that doesn’t match your skills and experience level – especially when you have more skills than are necessary for a particular role.

If this feels like you, then the key thing to remember is that hiring managers are less likely to doubt your ability to do a good job, and more likely to worry – with so much experience – that you’re hoping to gain more from the role than it can realistically offer – e.g. higher pay and a fast-tracked promotion. People may also make incorrect assumptions about your commitment to the role, assuming that you might feel it’s beneath you in some way.

But, by preparing to address these incorrect assumptions head on – you can easily show prospective employers that the term “overqualified” is completely irrelevant – and that by hiring you, they’ll be gaining a star team member with great intuition and resilience.

1. Declutter your CV

declutter your cv

When you’ve got years’ of skills and experience, it can be tempting to try and include too much information on your CV – especially about things you’re particularly proud of. But it’s likely that not all of this information will be relevant to the role you’re applying for, and will make your CV much longer than it needs to be.

An employer can often receive hundreds of applications for a single job, and if your CV is more than two pages long, there’s a good chance they’ll become overwhelmed and move onto the next, more concise application. Whilst it’s important to list places you’ve worked, job titles you’ve had and core skills you’ve picked up along the way; any additional details or examples from more than 10 years ago should only be included if they demonstrate your ability to do the job you’re applying for – otherwise it becomes irrelevant.

It’s more important to summarise a list of your relevant skills and experience at the start of your CV in a brief personal summary, than it is to give extensive information about the jobs that you did 20 years ago.

2. Always include a cover letter

Whatever your experience level, it is so important to make sure you include a cover letter. It’s your chance to speak directly to a prospective employer and let them know why you want this specific job with this specific company, and which of your positive attributes you can bring to the role.

From looking at your CV alone, there’s a chance that your potential boss might wonder why you’re applying for a position that doesn’t match your skills and experience level – and writing a cover letter gives you an opportunity to address this question outright. It will also allow you to let some of your enthusiasm shine through, so it’s clear that you have a genuine interest in the role that you’re applying for.

Your cover letter is your chance to make a lasting first impression and stand out from the crowd, so it’s always worth taking the time to write one.

3. Express loyalty

Some hiring managers may worry that if you are going for a role that is below your current skill and experience level, that you’ll treat it like a stop gap or may be expecting to accelerate through the ranks as soon as you get your foot in the door. For this reason, you should try to reassure your potential boss – both in your cover letter and/or your interview – about your motives for wanting the role. It’s a good idea to explain what led you to apply for the role and how you think you could help the company grow.

4. Let your network speak for you

If you know people within the organisation that you’re applying to, then there’s a good chance that – if they haven’t already – they can put in a good word for you with the hiring manager. A recommendation from someone that the hirer knows will give them positive insight into what you could be like to work with day-to-day.

If a prospective employer is having doubts about your loyalty or longevity in the role because your skill and experience level is above what is required, then a reliable account of you from a trusted third party could give them the reassurance they need to move past the idea that you may be “overqualified.”

5. Show admiration, interest and enthusiasm

show admiration and interest

One of the main things that prospective employers will want to know about you – other than how your skills and experience will qualify you for the role – is that you are interested in the opportunity, admire what the company stands for, and are humble and willing to work hard. You may have more skills and experience than the role demands, but if an interviewer gets the sense that you are complacent, this could harm your chances of securing the job.

6. Show that you’re a team player

Hiring managers might consider how your skills and experience could affect the dynamics of the current working team – for example, whether you can take direction from team members who may be less experienced than you. They may also be worried that others will be intimidated by you and your experience.

If your interviewer asks you to give examples of times you’ve successfully worked as a team, then avoid giving examples of times when you were in charge (unless they specifically ask for examples where you have led a team). Instead try to give examples of times when you worked well as an equal member of a team to reach a specific goal.

7. Make it clear that you’re willing to learn

Many hiring managers will already see that there is great value in hiring someone with extensive skills and life experience, but they will also want to see that you are willing to take on new skills and learn new things. Not all companies do things the same way and employers appreciate candidates who can acknowledge this and remain open-minded and flexible when it comes to taking on new tasks or adopting new ways of doing things.

Let them know that yes, you may already have experience, but you’re more than willing to get stuck in and embrace new challenges as they arise. Of course you know this – but it’s important that by the end of your interview the hiring manager knows this too.

8. Listen

An interviewer will always look at your communication skills – not just how you express yourself, but also how well you can listen. It’s one of the defining features in the success of our species – the ability to communicate with one another, work together and make things happen that we couldn’t do as individuals. Nowhere is this more important than when you’re working as part of a team in the workplace.

By showing your interviewer that you have excellent listening skills, you’ll also be giving them a clue about what you could be like to work with i.e. that you’re a team player who is willing to learn from others. This is especially important when you are interviewing with a hiring manager who may be less experienced than you are. To avoid feeling intimidated they will want to know that you won’t be telling them what to do in the job! By showing them that you are willing to let them direct the interview and listen intently to what they say, you’ll be off to a good start…

Interviewers also typically have a number of things that they are looking for in a job interview. They are also used to leading you in a way that gives you the opportunity to say what they need to hear. So if you follow their lead, and stop to listen or ask questions regularly, they will most likely walk you towards the answers that they want to hear.

9. Be realistic about the salary expectations

be realistic about salary

Try and do your research up front. If the salary ranges aren’t displayed in a job advert, then before making your application, try doing some broader research into the role to find out what sort of pay you can expect. If you’re applying for a role that requires less skills and experience than your previous jobs, then the salary may also be lower.

We always suggest that you don’t discuss salary expectations in your interview, unless you are specifically asked or until someone offers you the job – it’s much easier to negotiate salary when someone has offered you the job – whereas asking upfront in an interview can give employers the impression that you care more about the salary than the role – which even if true, is not the right message to give.

Some recruiters will actively ask for your previous salary however, so if you know your previous salary was significantly higher than the role you are wanting to secure – then it’s a good idea to make it clear to your interviewer that you’re flexible, and that you are clear about the salary range for the role they are advertising.

Are you applying for roles you are ‘overqualified’ for? We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for others, and any experiences (good or bad) that you’ve had in applying for roles. Email us at [email protected].

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13 thoughts on “How to land a job that you’re “overqualified” for

  1. Avatar
    George R Taylor on Reply

    I think the problem of being overqualified is an British problem, I’ve worked for an American multinational in the UK also European companies where being overqualified is looked upon as being an asset to the team and is likely to encourage the rest of the team.

  2. Avatar
    David Sturdy on Reply

    I think you are right George, the UK wants people that can do the job, but not necesaryily having been a Manager/Team leader, who is seen as a a threat when reporting to as senior manager. I read a training book which stressed that you alraedy can you do the job but could handle ‘change’ and ‘future’ needs as b eing more important. I tride this emphasis over the last year from an unemployed status and it still didn’t work.

    The skill seeems to be finding if the traget company has a operational hierachy or it splits wide into brand experts!

    i am at the point of giving up


    1. Avatar
      Helen on Reply

      Please don’t give up David. I know job hunting can seem like an insurmountable hurdle at times but do remember you need just one opportunity and one person to give you a chance. Make sure you’re tapping into your networks, as they already have a sense of what you can deliver.

      That emphasis on change is here to stay. Have you looked at doing some skills training? This isn’t always about skills directly related to jobs you’ve done in the past, but acquiring skills that may help in the future and show you’re still curious and open.

      Wishing you all the best.

  3. Avatar
    Nwe Ni Lwin on Reply

    In my opinion, the hiring manager (Personnel and HR) have a clear understanding of the person looking for a job. I found a few managers that they evaluated by themselves without knowing Senior Management decision for the potential candidate and rejected those candidates. Some Managers do not prefer career gap, high qualified education and left from decent positions. Let it gone by the past and look for the present. In US companies, knowledge, skills, and experiences are an essential key asset to their organization, and they value those skills. Even in Myanmar (Burma), we are under British colonial for more than 100 years, and a lot of mindset and cultures derive similarly here. It is good to have a generous and sincere heart for subordinates who want to get your position. Also, give them a good chance and space for career ladder. Be a good leader rather than a good manager in the organization. Cheers, NweNi

  4. Avatar
    Annabelle on Reply

    Totally terrified now that I’m back in the employment market. 30yrs + experience and trying to get a job in an office.

    1. Avatar
      Helen on Reply

      Hi Annabelle. It can, indeed, feel rather overwhelming. However, if you can find that spark of curiosity and possibility under the fear, it can lead you somewhere quite amazing. I find our personal stories particulalry helpful as it reminds me there are people who have come up against that feeling of impossibility, only to break through and discover something quite new. Best of luck.

  5. Avatar
    John Murphy on Reply

    Hi Annabelle. Don’t give up is my main message. Let your friends and family know you are looking for an office role they may have contacts or connections who can help. A lot of positions can be filled by word of mouth if someone can vouch for you, it saves advertising or agency costs!. Join Linkedin put your CV on and say you are looking for new opportunities. If you have traditional office skills such as good communication allied with current Microsoft Office knowledge you will be hard to beat. There will be knock backs just persevere.

  6. Avatar
    Paul Marsh on Reply

    I’ve been in this situation a number of times. The company responded by saying they think I will “get bored” because the role is too basic for my experience. I now make sure to address that point in my cover letter. The issue that cannot be avoided is the suggestion that I “won’t fit in” because everyone else in the office is in their 30s. This is nonsense. My age doesn’t make me an old fuddy duddy. But there are only so many years I can delete from my CV to make myself appear a bit younger.

  7. Avatar
    Caroline Thacker on Reply

    Two months now into redundancy. Having worked in admin for 18.5 years. I’d known redundancy was coming and had, had 2 interviews prior to redundancy – one went well (feedback was typing average and Interview good) and one didn’t. Due to the spring lockdown, I stopped looking and then had to serve my redundancy period. I have now applied for 19 jobs and had 2 interviews, both for Tesco temporary seasonal sales. One was my local store and one in neighbouring town. I thought the 2nd one went better than the 1st one, but unsuccessful on both occasions. Concentrating on admin assistant jobs again.

  8. Avatar
    Peter Fletcher on Reply

    I got my PhD in Computer Science last year at the age of 55 and I’d like a job for which I’m now qualified, not one for which I am overqualified. I spent too many years working as a Chartered Accountant for a sole practitioner and in order to keep my brain active, I did several Open Univerity degrees. When my father died, I decided to use some of my inheritance finally to do what I should have done straight after my first degree. Now I’d like to use some of my skills and knowledge to earn some money.

    1. Avatar
      Gaetano on Reply

      Hi Peter, thank you very much for sharing your experience with us, what you have done is very impressive indeed. Congratulations for your PhD! May I suggest you to check the jobs available here and also to use the support of all the other members of our community here.
      We are a digital community for the over 50s, offering lots of different tips, inspiration and guidance across work, learning, volunteering, health and lifestyle.
      And Rest Less is free to use. We have some services – like some of our courses and also our new Dating service – which are paid for.
      Everything else on the site is free.

  9. Avatar
    Daniel on Reply

    I have a master degree in Agricultural engineering from Iran and I have 20 years work experience as a manager in Agricultural,industry and import/export.
    I live in London I am looking for a job from 2015 in the UK. However, any company do not accept my education and work experience . They do not accept me even as a worker in a section that I can improve there.
    I worked as a volunteer at British red cross, Church, and also worked at restaurant as a waiter and I do food delivery because the UK system really has a problem and they do not like to give some body same me a good chance to make a good life. Therefore, some of my friends in Canada supported by Canada government and they have a good job and life now.

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