Why You Shouldn't Accept The Word 'Overqualified'

When I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree, I was most determined and motivated person on the planet.

Despite the economic downturn, and the harsh reality of having a Music Business degree, I was so incredibly focused - I was ready to rule the world! 

This is the look of a freshly graduated Valedictorian who is pretty sure she's going to be CEO of everything soon!

This is the look of a freshly graduated Valedictorian who is pretty sure she's going to be CEO of everything soon!

I spent the next few weeks sending out resumes and cover letters like it was my full time job. I also had the great fortune of already working in the music field prior to graduation, and had built up a decent amount of real professional experience for a recent graduate. My resume looked pretty good!

A month after I graduated, I was invited for an interview with a large reputable company in the music business world. I was beyond ecstatic! Yes, this hard work was going to pay off! 

The position entailed working in the music library of the company, categorizing and cataloging millions of albums while maintaining the database to keep it all nice and clean. As a lover of all things highly organized, this was a dream job in my book. 

The week before the interview, I did extensive research on the company. Since I was fresh out of school, taking notes and retaining knowledge like a history lesson was no sweat off my back. I was proud to say that when I walked into that interview, I knew every up, down, and in-between about that entire company. 

I interviewed with the person who was the direct supervisor to the open position. He was maybe in his mid-30’s with a fairly casual demeanor. At first glance, the building was impressive, innovative, and warm. I was sold!

The interview lasted around 30 minutes, and ended with a tour of the entire facility. Nine times out of ten, if someone is going to take the time to give you a tour, you’ve got a great shot at getting that job. Immediately after our walk around the building, the interviewer sat me down and proceeded to tell me his honest truth. 


“I want to let you know that I enjoyed meeting you, and I could let you walk out of here anticipating another interview or an offer, but that’s not going to happen. After meeting you, listening to how knowledgeable you are in the field, and really going through your experience - I’m sorry, but you’re just simply overqualified. You’re more qualified than me at my own position, and that’s just a little too close for comfort.”


Wait, what? 

I’m what? 


How is that possible? I just gradated school. How can I be overqualified? 

No no no. You’ve got this all wrong! I promise, I am totally not overqualified. I would love this job! Really, I would just love to have a position like this!


“Yeah, until you want more, and then there goes my job.”


I walked out of that company and back to my car shaking. How could this have happened? Why did they call me in for this interview? What am I going to do now?

What. Am. I. Going. To. Do.

If I was overqualified for this position, but under qualified for the other available positions in the company, how was I possibly going to find a fit anywhere? 

Fast forward 10 years later, and I’m proud to say that I have never had an experience like that ever again. Why? Because being told I was overqualified forced me to take a long hard look at my resume and experience, and really understand what was happening with my professional timeline and skills. 

There are a number of common reasons that HR professionals, recruiters, and hiring managers are not interested in speaking with people who are overqualified:

  • You’re going to want to get paid too much

  • You’re going to get bored and eventually leave

  • You’re going to refuse to perform tasks that appear menial to your experience

  • You’re going to be in competition with your supervisor

  • You’re going to not want to deal with co-workers that know less than you

On the flip side, there are a bunch of other real reasons why applicants are applying for jobs they’re overqualified for:

  • You actually enjoy the job you’ve been doing for the past 15 years

  • You’re not looking for a high stress environment and want to stick with what you know

  • You’re not actually concerned about how much you get paid

  • You need a change of professional scenery

  • You’re actually faster at your job than someone less qualified, and knows there is value to employers that understand that

The honest reality of the situation is that you can have any job that you want and are technically qualified for, if you understand how to sell your experience, your skills, and yourself. If you find yourself in the ‘overqualified’ conundrum, you have two options on how to move forward.

  1. Rethink your professional objectives and career goals - This means taking the approach I had, by carefully looking through my experience to understand where my skills really aligned. What I found is that the entry-level type jobs I was applying to really weren’t going to cut it, and I shouldn’t have been surprised by the lack of (or negative) responses. Even if you’re still interested in performing the same type of job you’ve been doing for a long time, it might be time to examine what new things you’d like to establish from your career, now that you’re seasoned and well versed.

  2. Remarket yourself to showcase your value - This means it’s time to revamp what you’re presenting to an employer, be it on a resume or in an interview. Does your resume over-highlight your accomplishments and underplay your actual skills? Do you come off as someone who is going to be easily bored in a position? Do you keep talking about wanting challenging work? Are you actually explaining to employers why you want the job? Look at all these questions will help you understand why employers are passing you up.

Overqualified truly doesn’t mean anything more than you’re just not the right fit. And that’s okay! Why would you want to work for a company that didn’t want you anyways? After coming off the shock of losing my first big opportunity out of college, I am extremely grateful I didn’t go down that path. Because that hiring manager was right - I would have gotten bored, I would have become eager for more, and his job probably would have been in jeopardy. And if a company culture is creating an environment where people are just plain scared, then take my advice, and run towards something better.