How to overcome being overqualified-part I

A common complaint I hear from clients I’ve coached in the military or corresponded with
in my Linkedin group, military to civilian employment is: “They (civilian employer) told me I was overqualified.”

Have you ever gone through the interview process, felt confident that you’d performed extremely well, and then heard those dreadful words?
“I’m sorry, but we feel you’re overqualified for this position.”


Here’s how to prepare for and avoid the negative perception of being “overqualified” for a job. When I was told that after an interview, several thoughts went through my frustration-fogged mind… What kind of crazy excuse is that for not hiring me? So what if I’m ‘overqualified’ — don’t employers always want to hire the person with the best qualifications? (NO….you’d be surprised, it is something deeper than that!)

If I’m willing to take this job, overqualified or not, why is that a problem? This isn’t fair! What’s the real reason they don’t want to hire

When interviewers say you are “overqualified,” here’s what they are concerned about:
(1) You’ll be bored in this position;
(2) You won’t be satisfied with the salary they’re offering;
(3) You’ll leave as soon as you get a better opportunity;
(4) They’ll have to go through the time-consuming and expensive process of hiring and training someone all over again.

The above reasons may or may not make you feel better about being “overqualified,” but admittedly, those are legitimate concerns from the
civilian employer.

If you get the “overqualified” excuse once, you’ll be wary about getting it again. So if you apply for other jobs that may be at a lower level than warranted by your military background, skills, education and experience, you may be tempted to “dumb down” your resume and omit things like college degrees or advanced training. But lying about your background is NOT recommended. 

Here’s a better strategy: address it head-on. Be the first one to raise the “overqualified” issue with a potential employer. If you bring it up
yourself, you can discuss it openly and convince the interviewer that it won’t be a problem.

They key — as with every job interview issue — is to anticipate and prepare. Before you go to the interview, think about what you’ll say and
how you will convince them that they should hire you, even if you are “overqualified.” This is a basic SALES principle called “overcoming

After explaining how you will be a great asset for their company, tell them why you are applying for a lower-level position. In my experience with coaching military members, a certain percentage who transition into the civilian workforce purposely select a“lower level” of responsibility or an “entry level job” if they are changing careers entirely.

There is nothing wrong with being selective.

I myself have had the opportunity to advance or be a “manager” of some sort, but I like to work FRONT LINE in the “trenches” to coach
clients. Do not say, “I can’t find anything else and I really need a job.” Though that may be the case, this approach is a little too honest and will
reinforce the employer’s fear that you will leave at the first opportunity.

Say something like, “You can tell that I’ve worked at a higher level before, but this position is exactly what I’m looking for.”
Then, depending on the job and your circumstances, explain why. For example:

* “I’ve always wanted to work for your company [or in this industry], and I’m willing to take a lower-level position to get that
* “It (the job opportunity) will allow me to use my skills and expand my experience in a new field.”
* “I’m looking for something a little less stressful, with fewer responsibilities, so I can spend more time with my family.”
* “This position provides the stability and long-term growth potential I’m looking for.”
* “The salary is not my top priority. I’d have no problem with earning less than I’ve earned in the past.”

Be very enthusiastic about the job. Explain how you can meet the employer’s needs now and in the future as the company grows. And most important of all, convince them that you will not quit as soon as something better comes along.

If you are convinced that this job would be worth it, you might even try this: offer to sign an agreement stating that you will stay on the job for a minimum of 12 months. Whether the hiring manager actually takes you up on that offer or not, it will definitely make a very positive impression!

Right now, I am helping a former military member (signals operator) transition into the workforce and he wants a simple job at a supermarket or stocking shelves at night at Walmart. For my military client, is a personal choice; he realizes that he must plan for the possibility of being viewed as “overqualified” after twenty-five years in the military.

If you anticipate the “overqualified” issue and address it up front, it will not be a drawback to your success!

Need a credentialed career coach to help you transition to a new civilian career? Call me TODAY at 613-532-9993 or email me

Melissa C. Martin

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