In an ideal world, we’d all be applying for (and getting) a job that is a perfect, snug fit for our skills, experience, and career goals. In the real world, that’s not always an option. Maybe you were laid off, and are seeking a foot (any foot!) back in the door of your career path. Perhaps you’re feeling stalled in your current job, and are looking to move back a step or two to get new skills and experience. Whatever the reason, it could very well lead to the dreaded “aren’t you overqualified for this position?” question in an interview.
Does “overqualified” necessarily have to translate to “disqualified”? While this question can feel judge-y and like a bit of a dead end, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some strategies to consider if/when it comes up.
DO emphasize your commitment to the job at hand.
This question is really about the interviewer’s concern that you will fly the coop as soon as a more suitable job comes along. So your first step in answering should be managing that concern. Acknowledge that you may have more experience or seniority than the job description requires, but make sure the interviewer knows that you are interested in the long-term potential for this position.
DON’T turn it into a joke.
When acknowledging that yeah, you might have more experience than necessary to be a junior copywriter, don’t use it as a *wink wink, nudge nudge* jokey moment. Even if you’re kidding when you say something like, “Oh, it’s really only temporary. I’m outta here as soon as my lottery money comes through,” it can confirm the interviewer’s fear that you’re just looking for a for-now paycheck, and s/he will be rehiring in six months’ time. It’s a serious question, and deserves a serious, well-thought-out response.
DO be honest...
If you’ve been unemployed for a while, your resume will show that. It’s okay to be up front and say that you understand that this might not be the most orthodox choice for someone with your history, but that you’re looking to commit to something permanent, with growth potential. Emphasize that with the job market the way it is, you’re seeking a place to put down roots and flourish, using everything you’ve learned along the way.
...But DON’T feel like you have to tell the whole story.
If you applied for an entry-level position (despite 15 years of experience) out of desperation, try to keep that note out of the discussion. A sob story may get pity from an interviewer, but it’s not likely to net a job offer. Make sure the focus stays on your qualifications, and your commitment to the job.
DO emphasize the opportunity presented.
If necessary (like if the interviewer has a blatant case of Skeptical Face), make sure you drive the point home that you see this position as an opportunity, not a settling point. Talk about how the skills you have can push the position to a new level, while you learn even more about the field. Talk about where you want to grow professionally, and how the job fits in with that goal.
DON’T shut the door to future growth.
If the interviewer suggests (or says outright) that there may not be raises or promotion opportunities in this particular position, stick to your forward-looking script: “I understand that this particular position may not be where I want to be in 10 years, but I’m confident that the company would offer other opportunities for me to grow professionally and be of service. This company is where I want to be, and this job is the right starting place.”
And the most important “don’t” of all in this case: DON’T let it discourage you. If the interviewer truly thought your experience was an automatic dealbreaker, you never would have gotten the interview call in the first place. This is a chance for you to make your case, and explain how your many qualifications work in your favor. Don’t let your hard-won experience pull you down. It can, will, and should work for you if you know how to spin it.
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