A friend of mine recently heard that she had not landed a job because she is “overqualified.” She was gobsmacked!

What does that mean? How could that be a bad thing? She wanted to know, and I’m sure there are many out there wondering the same thing – “How can anyone be overqualified for an empty position?”

With today’s poor, although improving, employment climate, there are many highly experienced but unemployed folks out there looking for work. Some of them are moving into freelance projects and entrepreneurship, but some are changing career paths and applying for entry-level roles in new industries, perhaps at a lower salary than they previously earned and with fewer or no direct reports.

I asked our team of recruiters what it means when a job seeker is told they are “overqualified” and what it might mean about their experience in relation to that specific position:

  • You may have more experience than the person that you will report to.
  • You may have a higher salary requirement than what they are willing to pay.
  • You may take a position and then be more likely to leave because you are working below your potential and are not challenged by the work.
  • The person you would be reporting to is intimated by your skills and knowledge.
  • Someone with too many years of experience may have work habits that are hard to break. The position might want someone more “green” so they can “mold” them to fit the company’s style and culture.

At the end of the day, turnover and training are both expensive. A company wants to know that the investments they make in new employees will not have to be repeated anytime soon.  Most companies would prefer to leave a position vacant until the right person can be found, rather than hire and then lose someone who is overqualified who takes “the first job that comes along”.

If you are one of the highly-experienced job seekers in the market, here are a few ways to avoid appearing overqualified for positions, before you ever have an interview:

  • Edit your resume bullet points – Replace the accomplishments that don’t apply to this role with ones that do.  Or simply remove them.  Be sure to include keywords for the current position in your bullets.
  • Education – List any degrees or certifications that are relevant to the role, but leave out more advanced degrees. Your Ph.D. or MBA is an incredible accomplishment!  But do you need it to get this job?
  • Cover Letter – A cover letter is really the only way to express why you would be challenged and excited about the role, even if you might appear to be further along in your career on your resume.

Remember that your resume is simply a tool for standing out in a pool of candidates. As long as everything on your resume is true, it doesn’t have to tell your whole life story.

Wendy Stackhouse, for Artisan Creative