Overqualified Candidate: 

Overqualified Candidate

We understand that the job market is lousy and you have a mortgage to pay.  And by the way, according to the job description you just read, you can do the position in your sleep…so why not apply? Is applying for a job as an overqualified candidate a smart thing to do?

The Hiring Manager’s Perspective

I recently onboarded a couple of new back-office team members. Because the members of my back-office team work from home, I received a flood of applicants. 

Many of those applicants were seriously overqualified. Their resumes were impressive, and as I reviewed their credentials, I certainly considered that hiring an overqualified candidate could be a terrific solution in certain cases. But from a hiring manager’s perspective, there are risks in onboarding an overqualified candidate.  

The Positives:

The obvious positive of hiring an overqualified candidate is that these outstanding candidates will bring more experience and an advanced skill set to the table. This means I can safely expect them to come up to speed quicker and be able to advance into more senior-level positions quickly. 

And because of their experience, they will bring insights to my team that more junior-level candidates can not. After all, they have more advanced and varied experience, so contributing ideas that can increase our productivity or improve our business model is highly likely. 

And a favorite positive is that these more senior candidates will be well-positioned to mentor my other team members. And of course, this could mean increased performance and morale across my entire organization. 

All wins for me and my team…right? 

The Cons:

But as I reviewed the resumes of these senior-level candidates, I had to ask myself: do these overqualified candidates want this job? Or are they looking for any work-from-home job? Are these highly skilled candidates willing to settle for a more junior-level position to avoid entering an office? 

As a hiring manager, I need to know that I am hiring someone who wants to work for me. Seems simple, doesn’t it? However, it has been my experience that candidates forget their job application isn’t just about them. It takes a lot of resources to interview, hire, and onboard a new team member. And in every case, the wrong hire will cost the company money. It can also negatively impact team morale and client relationships as well as result in project failures. 

With that being said, every hiring manager is looking for someone who is both qualified and wants that specific job. Hiring managers are afraid of candidates who are willing to settle

What The Overqualified Candidate Should Consider

People often have very valid reasons for choosing a lower-level position. Perhaps you have a desire to transition into a new career and taking a step back will help facilitate that move (we call that a ‘slingshot moment’). Or maybe you believe you will be more fulfilled in a role you previously held. 

To illustrate my point: there is a huge difference between the “I need a job and can do the CRA role in my sleep” mantra versus the “I would like to step away from management and move back into monitoring because I miss the role / site interaction / fill in the reason” mantra. I and my team love (seriously, love) working with managers who have decided to step back into monitoring because they want to move back into the role


Because people who work in a role because they love it are better at it. So if you have made a tactical decision to apply for positions where you are overqualified, be sure to strategically embrace the job search so that hiring managers know your intention. Here’s how. 

Document the “why”.

Before you update your resume, tweak your brand, or apply for a position, ask yourself the following questions. And write down the answers because you will use the results throughout the job application process.  

  • Is this the position you really want? Said differently, if you had different options, would you still take this role? 
  • Along those lines, will you be happy in the position? 
  • Will you feel challenged? 
  • Can you handle lower compensation for a lower-level role? 

If you answered yes to all of these questions, craft a response that outlines the ‘why’ behind each. Alternatively, if you answered no to any of them, perhaps taking a step back isn’t a good idea. 

Why? You always want to tell a story through your resume. And if you quickly resign from a position because you settled and later realized it wasn’t the right fit, the impact on your brand may be significant. For example, if you are a consultant who loves picking up short contracts, then having several short-term positions or assignments on your resume aligns with your intentions, and isn’t a problem. But, if the short-term positions aren’t strategic, the impression isn’t likely to be a positive one. 

Update your brand by creating a cover letter. 

Now that you know your ‘why’, update your brand to show your intention. Start by writing a cover letter that outlines what you want to do. 

This is important. 

You should never allow recruiters or hiring managers to use their imagination. And this is exactly what they will do if you start applying for jobs as an overqualified candidate without explaining why. A cover letter is the perfect starting point. 

Go ahead and address compensation. 

The compensation will be the hiring manager’s first concern. We often see candidates who want to step back into a lower-level role but they can’t take a pay cut. Addressing the compensation concern in your cover letter gets it out of the way and will give you a stronger chance of moving into the interview stage. 

Just remember this when you are addressing this topic: Compensation is set based on the skills required of the candidate, not the actual skills held by the candidate.  

This is a subtle but important point.  For example: If you are a brain surgeon applying for a position as a greeter at Walmart, do you think Walmart will pay you the salary of a brain surgeon or that of a greeter?  Be clear in the beginning that you are flexible with the salary due to your interest in the position.

Be transparent regarding your ‘why’. 

You know your ‘why’…so tell your future hiring manager. It is extremely important that you articulate how serious you are about this role.  If you don’t explain your ‘why’, hiring managers are going to assume you are settling. 

And you certainly do not want the hiring manager to feel you are applying for a job as an overqualified candidate just to make the mortgage payment. Be prepared to outline why you feel this position aligns with your personal situation as well as your career goals. Here are some thoughts to get you started: 

  • You see a future with the company and want to advance within it.
  • The opportunity is one in which you can excel based on your prior experience.
  • While you have enjoyed moving into leadership, you truly miss this particular role and are excited to move back into it. 
  • You love that this position will place you under less stress and allow you to have a greater work/life balance. 

Opening up a transparent dialogue with your future manager allows you to explain why you are applying for a job as an overqualified candidate. It also enables you to discuss what excites you about the position as well as explain what experiences you have that will benefit the team. 

Tweak your resume.

I just received an applicant for one of my back-office positions. He was applying to the bookkeeper role but his objective stated he wanted to use his medical experience to gain entry into the dermatology field.

I have said it before but it bears repeating: adding a written objective to your resume can be the death of your candidacy. It was for him. Tell your story in your cover letter instead of adding an objective. 

Your resume is your first impression so make sure it fits the job for which you are applying. Yes, that means you must tailor it every single time. But by tailoring your resume, your application will be of higher quality, thus your candidacy will be more seriously considered. And of course, this means you will not have to apply to as many positions. 

Don’t forget your LinkedIn Profile. 

Some candidates question whether they should have a LinkedIn Profile (spoiler alert – all candidates need one). For those who do have a LinkedIn Profile, don’t get hung up on how ‘formal’ or fleshed-out your profile should be. When creating or updating your LinkedIn profile, a general rule of thumb is that the details should be honest and align with the details in your resume. 

But no, it doesn’t have to match exactly (but it shouldn’t conflict either). Your LinkedIn Profile is an important branding tool, so leverage the platform to speak to your passion. If you are experiencing a career transition, tell your network what you are doing and use the ‘About’ section to explain your ‘why’. 

Be personal and transparent. Your network will want to help. And recruiters and hiring managers will see that the story you are telling on LinkedIn aligns with the story you are telling in your cover letter, your resume, and in the interview. 

So Let’s Discuss The Interview

We have loads of material on preparing for an interview so I won’t dig too deep here. But I do want to call out a couple of things. 

Make it a point to articulate that you want this specific job. Then explain your ‘why’. Don’t make it complicated…just be honest and transparent. 

Are You An Overqualified Candidate and Have Questions? 

We understand that transitioning your career can be a challenge. If you have a unique situation or questions, feel free to reach out and we will be happy to help where we can.