Help! I'm Over-Qualified
Six months ago, you were laid off from your executive job by a company that's now six feet under. You've sent out 800 resumes, done one interview, received zero offers. You blew through the severance pay in two months, the COBRA health insurance is gone and your unemployment benefits are about to expire.
You find yourself looking lower and lower on the totem pole and occasionally eyeing openings for line managers at the competitor that killed your former employer. If you must apply for a position for which you're clearly overqualified, how do you actually land the job?
Withhold Your Resume - Here's what not to do: Fire off a volley of resumes to human resources departments. "Sending a resume is simply a way to oblivion," says Jeffrey Fox, author of Don't Send a Resume. HR departments must quickly eliminate nearly all of the hundreds of resumes submitted for a single opening. At the first whiff of your extra qualifications, most screeners will stamp "no" on your application. "Resumes are read to be rejected," Fox says.
What's the workaround for overqualified candidates? Go directly to the hiring manager to pitch your ability to excel in the open position. You can either call or write, but hold back your resume in the first round of communication with the employer.
Sell to the Employer's Need - Once you've found out as much as you can about the company and the position, you've got to imagine how your qualifications mesh perfectly with the job requirements. "If you're overqualified, you need to articulate how a handful of your skills will help that specific employer," says Nick Corcodilos, author of Ask the Headhunter. At least at first, say nothing about higher-level skills that don't pertain to the position at hand.
Use Emphasis to Shape Employer Perceptions - Sooner or later, you'll probably have to send a resume. More than you ever have before, you'll need to customize your one-page presentation of yourself. To de-emphasize those over-the-top elements of your professional background, "you can make some information more sparse, but you've got to be careful about misrepresenting yourself, " says Corcodilos.
How do you tread this fine line? One solution is to create a functional resume where relevant skills are pumped up in detail toward the top of the resume, while overly impressive titles are demoted to the bottom and given little ink. Strategic emphasis is integral to persuasion; omission of recent, important rungs in your career ladder is unethical deception.
Make a Virtue of Your Extra Qualifications - In the interview, if your prospective employer says that your extraordinary qualifications cast doubt on your candidacy, recast your past as an asset to your future at the company. Emphasize that "you're getting somebody with the potential to move up," says Frances Haynes, coauthor with Daniel Porot of 101 Toughest Interview Questions.
Draw Out Objections; Don't Volunteer Them - Employers typically have the following objections to candidates with extra qualifications: You'll get bored quickly; you won't be satisfied with the salary; you'll jump to another company as soon as you get a better offer.
"Employers are pretty reticent to hire overqualified people, because they believe when the economy picks up, they'll lose those people," says Haynes. If you raise these issues early in the application process, you risk short-circuiting your candidacy. Instead, see what's on the minds of your interviewers by asking open-ended questions such as these: "What else do you need to hear to be convinced that I'm the best fit for the job? Do you have any questions about my candidacy that I haven't yet had the chance to answer?" Just make sure you've already ferreted out all the tough questions that your work history could possibly raise -- and practiced answering them.
The Ultimate Issue
Finally, be prepared to answer one question that the interviewer may be too embarrassed to ask: Won't it be humiliating for you to take a job that many people would consider beneath you? You can address this issue indirectly through the positive attitude you convey in everything you say about the available position and your fitness for it. "You have to be perceived as the kind of person who believes there is honor in every job," says Haynes.