What it means when employers say you are over qualified

Updated 17 January 2023

Sometimes an employer may believe a candidate is too qualified if they have more credentials than what the available position requires. These qualifications often include more experience, advanced degrees, extra training, a superior skill set or age. Learning how you can get a job if you exceed a company's expectations may improve your confidence when applying for jobs. In this article, we discuss some frequently asked questions about exceeding the qualifications, explore some benefits of being more experienced and offer tips to help you in this situation.

FAQs for over qualified candidates

The following are some FAQs and answers that may help you understand what it means when employers say you're overqualified:

How do you answer interview questions about being too qualified for a job?

When answering interview questions about your qualifications, you can explain why you want the job and how much preparation you've put into the interview. That way, the recruiter can see your genuine interest in the position and may determine you want to work long term.

Related: Interview with the CEO (including interview questions)

Do employers want to see overqualified candidates?

Some employers may delay hiring a candidate because they think an applicant with excessive qualifications may leave the company after a brief period. They sometimes think the candidate may find the job too easy or lose interest quickly. Another concern employers often have is that the new hire may continue to look for a job that uses their qualifications even after they start working. Additionally, some employers may think the candidate feels they are better than the work and delay performing their duties.

How do you know if you're qualified for a job?

To know if you're qualified for a job, you can check if you have adequate experience for the position or the industry. Then you can determine if you have the skills, interests, hobbies or personal attributes relevant to the job. Having the basic qualifications and extensive experience often helps if the job lists some qualifications you have yet to acquire.

Related: Underqualified vs unqualified: what's the difference?

How can you respond to an employer who discusses your qualifications?

A hiring manager may tell you they want to offer you a job but are hesitant because you exceed their qualifications. In that case, you can ask them to clarify why they think this, so you can give them an appropriate response. For example, you can ask, 'Please share why you feel like I'm too qualified?'. If the interviewer offers their reasons, you can respond by thanking them for their honesty and explaining how you feel about working there.

How do you answer a question regarding your expertise?

When an employer asks you about this, you often want to respect your accomplishments. It's important to feel proud of your experiences and your credentials. You can tell your potential employer how these qualifications and skills can help the company because that is what they're often interested in.

Why do some employers say you're too qualified?

When employers say this, it can mean many things. An employer may believe you want to apply for the position while you wait for a job that better suits your qualifications. This often happens when you have more experience than they require, or you have more advanced skills than necessary.

Employers sometimes believe that you might leave after you get your dream job. Even if you stay, you might feel less interested or motivated after a while, which can affect your productivity. In addition, an employer may recognise that your expected salary exceeds their budget, which may make hiring you challenging.

Is it better to be overqualified or underqualified?

Some employers prefer under-qualified candidates with potential because they want to train them to meet the organisation's needs. With this potential, the new hire can contribute to the company's growth quickly. A candidate with advanced qualifications might be able to work in their role immediately with high efficiency and effectiveness, but they may want more responsibilities in the long term, which can exceed the position.

Does this mean you're too old?

Some hiring managers may say over qualified rather than stating that a candidate is too old. They often know it's important to consider candidates regardless of age, but sometimes they believe older candidates hesitate to learn new things, or that it might be challenging to direct or manage them. As a result, they may prefer younger candidates.

Is it challenging to get a job if you exceed their qualifications?

It might be challenging as some hiring managers only want to spend the time choosing a candidate who wants to stay long term rather than hiring again soon after. As an experienced candidate, you often want to be patient in your job search to find a suitable position. If you want an employer to hire you, consider editing your CV and making adequate preparations to answer interview questions about your qualifications.

The benefits of having additional qualifications

Having more qualifications than the role asks for can benefit a company because it often means you have more knowledge from your experience and training. Here are some ways your qualifications can help you and the company:

Positive attention

If you get the job, you might attract other employees' attention. For example, whenever there's a challenging situation, they might come to you first because they see you as an experienced professional who understands the situation. When you can resolve issues or lend support through your expertise, it often garners respect from your colleagues.

In addition, you might receive requests from the hiring staff to help train new employees. Doing this can increase your confidence and strengthen your skills. It can also place you above your colleagues, which might lessen the impact of accepting a job below your capabilities.

Future opportunities

Since you may have superior skills, you might advance your career quickly, provided you perform your duties well. With time, your employers might promote you to positions that better utilise your skills. These promotions often come with a pay increase. As you get more opportunities to demonstrate your skills and learn, you can increase your knowledge and prepare for your next job.

Less training

Companies often spend a lot of money on onboarding and training new employees. Having a candidate with experience may mean they only focus on onboarding. If you have advanced qualifications, the company can often spend less on improving your skills. You might also start working immediately and produce effective results.

How to turn your qualifications into an advantage

You can prove that your extensive experience provides value to the company by following these steps:

1. Communicate your needs

When discussing your interest in the company, you can focus your conversation on the present. You may want to limit questions that seem like you're thinking about career progression, as this might make the employer feel you're a short-term employee. You can talk about how you want to share your skills with other employees, what you can do for the company and the steps you can take to increase the company's growth.

2. Explain your situation

If you come across a job where it feels like you possess too many credentials, consider writing a cover letter to explain your situation. You can let the hiring manager know why you want to apply, even though it's clear you have more experience than required. For example, if you were working at a fast-paced job but want something that provides a better work-life balance, you can inform the recruiter through your cover letter.

3. Create a CV with relevant experience

You can ensure your CV only contains relevant experiences to the job you're applying for. For example, if you've worked in a management position and want to become a customer service officer, consider removing any experiences you had while working as a manager. You can include only the experiences where you contacted customers and helped them resolve issues. Before creating your resume, it's helpful to study the job description and note the requirements.

Related: The ultimate guide to CV basics (with example)

4. Show your enthusiasm

The employer often wants you to demonstrate your excitement about a position. You can let them know what interests you about the job and the company and point out the specific duties that fit your career goals. It's helpful to let the hiring manager know you're happy with the role and all it offers. You typically want them to believe the job is the one you want and that it's something you intend to stay with because it fits your current career aspirations.

5. Be reasonable about salary expectations

If you're applying for a role lower than your experience, you can expect a lower salary than what you were formerly earning. When negotiating with the hiring manager, you often want to stay reasonable because a high number might make the employer hesitant to hire you. It's important to remember that employers want to pay for the skills that apply to the job rather than the ones you've gathered throughout the years.

Related: How to negotiate a better salary

6. Sell yourself

Advanced qualifications often mean you have more experience and additional skills. These skills may be useful in performing your duties, so you often want to let the employer know their possibilities. As a result, it's important to communicate the skills you possess and how they can help the company grow.

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