4 Reasons Why Recruiters Say You’re ‘Overqualified’ For The Job

It’s a fairly common situation: Your candidacy for a job has been rejected because you’re considered to be “overqualified”.

It’s easy to understand not getting a job because you lack qualifications – but to be too qualified? It can be perplexing.

Sometimes, the language recruiters use needs to be “de-coded” a little in order to understand what they really mean. Here are a few possibilities of what being deemed overqualified can really indicate.

1- A prudent recruiter

In some cases, being told that you’re overqualified seems similar to the old excuse for breaking up with someone: I hope you understand, it’s not you, it’s me.

Sometimes, recruiters are hesitant to be fully transparent with their reasons for rejecting a candidate.

For example, if a recruiter feels that you act in an arrogant manner, they may be worried that if they hired you, your attitude would become a problem. Of course, it would be considered rude and judgmental if the recruiter explained this to you in plain terms, wouldn’t it? Not getting the job is bad enough, but to have to hear someone tell you that you are arrogant would really hurt.

Recruiters would give themselves a lot of trouble if they spoke to candidates this way and gain nothing as a result. In fact, they have everything to lose. They risk offending the candidate, who may well decide to file a formal complaint against them: They told me I was arrogant, but what would that accusation be based on? This recruitment process was based on totally subjective criteria!

A recruiter can easily avoid this situation by using the established formula of telling the candidate they are overqualified, which may even flatter the candidate. The recruiter may even imagine: This person is so arrogant, they will feel flattered that I called them overqualified!

2- The fear that you will be bored

In the interview, you did your best to show the recruiter that you’ve achieved amazing things in your career – that you’ve moved mountains!

Well, congratulations! You’ve convinced the recruiter. Unfortunately, that’s the problem.

In the job you’re interviewing for, you won’t be called upon to overcome the complex challenges that you so clearly seek out.

This is called shooting yourself in the foot.

Then again, maybe not. It’s possible that the recruiter has seen you for who you are and correctly decided that this job isn’t for you.

Imagine a student, having just completed their Doctorate in university, finding themselves teaching a class of primary-school age children.

This situation illustrates exactly what overqualified means: Employees who are bored will eventually quit, or become disenchanted and unhappy with their job.

3- You scare them

I often help organizations evaluate candidates and it’s happened two or three times that, during the final selection process, an employer consciously decides not to go with the most qualified candidate – and I agreed with their decision.

But why?

There can be a few possible reasons:

  • The position demands a high level of conformity
  • The organization has a very conservative culture
  • The immediate supervisor to the position has fragile self-esteem

Often, when we think about the labor market, we see it as a competition analogous to a sport, where the strongest or most capable always wins the gold medal.

In many cases, this analogy is accurate. But there are also contexts where the most qualified person may not be the best choice for the job. In an environment where hierarchy is very important or where employees must pay close attention to internal politics, the employer will be reluctant to hire a visionary or a champion of efficiency who wouldn’t hesitate to ask the CEO a pointed question in the middle of an assembly.

If the person was particularly brilliant and lucid in the interview, they represent that much more of a threat. In cases like these, the company may want to engage this person as a consultant, but not as an employee:

Give us your opinion, in private, and then please leave quickly.

Not all companies think this way, but keep in mind that consulting is often a great avenue for professionals who are often considered “too qualified”.

4- You’re too expensive

This reason is based entirely on the bottom line.

Companies have compensation policies that link salaries to qualifications. Therefore, an employer will calculate your salary based on the number of years of experience you have and the education or training you’ve received.

In these cases, overqualified simply means that the employer is not willing to pay more for qualifications that they may not consider essential and that you’re simply too expensive.

Falsely believing you’re overqualified

Some job seekers decide themselves that they are overqualified and that it’s the reason why they aren’t being hired.

I was a director of finance. Now I’ve applied to be a chef at several restaurants, but no one is willing to hire me. They must think I’m too qualified.

This isn’t a situation of being overqualified – rather, simply NOT qualified. Why would a finance director be a good chef?

It’s a mistaken interpretation of the job market to think that a person who has held a high-level position will automatically excel at other jobs supposedly beneath that position.

The solution

I’ve met with several job seekers who decided to leave some of their experiences and education out of their CV, in the hopes of not being seen as overqualified.

I don’t recommend this approach, because if you do get hired, how long will you be able to keep your experience a secret? Will you go so far as to pretend you don’t know something when you actually do?

Instead, take the time to explain why you’re interested in the job in your cover letter, even if the position is below your qualifications. This will help you respond to the recruiter’s questions well in advance.

Otherwise, stick to looking for jobs that align with your profile. Start by asking yourself who would be the most interested in taking advantage of your qualifications.

By: Mathieu Guénette, Guidance Counsellor at Les Chercheurs de sens.

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Mathieu Guénette

Mathieu Guénette is a self-employed Guidance Counsellor with over 20 years of experience, as well as an author and a lecturer. He has worked with a diverse clientele (teenagers, adults, managers, job hunters). In 2017, he has simultaneously obtained the Ordre des conseillers et conseillères d'orientation du Québec’s Professional Award and the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés’ HR Book of the Year Award for his work Le candidat visceral. He provides services in Montreal, Lanaudière and remotely. His website is full of handy resources for you: Les chercheurs de sens.

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