Is being overqualified a bad thing?

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Dear Working Wise:

I recently applied for an Accounting Clerk position with a local car dealership, but during the interview they told me I was overqualified. I have just completed my MBA plus I have some related experience. The fact is, though, I need a job. Do you have any advice?

Signed, Eager to work

Dear Eager:

Hiring managers tell candidates they are overqualified for a lot of reasons besides the fact that they are overqualified.

They may be trying to avoid telling you that they don’t think you’ll fit into their corporate culture, that you didn’t make a good first impression, or that you looked better on paper than you did in person.

Employers also have a host of reasons that they hesitate hiring people they really do perceive as being overqualified.

They may be concerned that you will:

  • Expect a quick promotion;
  • Want more money than other applicants;
  • Leave as soon as you find a better job;
  • Have had performance issues at your last job;
  • Become bored with the job too quickly; or
  • Be unhappy working for someone younger or less experienced.

Good reasons to apply

However, there are many good reasons people apply for jobs that they are overqualified for, including:

  • New graduates with a lot of education, but limited experience;
  • Recent immigrants who need Canadian work experience or need to support themselves while they earn their Canadian credentials;
  • Changes in your personal life, including child care, elder care and family relocation;
  • Desire for less responsibility/overtime and a better work-life balance;
  • Desire to change careers or work after retirement.

Reassuring employers

Here are some tips to help you reassure employers and get them excited about hiring you:

  • Target your resumé to the position and company’s needs – keep it to two pages or less.
  • Use your cover letter to talk about how this position fits into your long term career plans.
  • Focus on how your experience or education will benefit the organization.
  • Be ready for the question, “Aren’t you overqualified for this job?” Explain why you want this job, e.g., new career direction, new industry, new skills, excited about the company, attracted by the job duties, need Canadian work experience, or you are looking for better work-life balance, etc.
  • Show your excitement for the job, how you can contribute, and how this move makes sense in your career path.
  • Ask the interviewer(s) if they have any remaining doubts that you are the perfect person for this job. Use this opportunity to address any outstanding concerns that they might have and reassure them that you plan to make this appointment a long-term success.

If you want any other job search tips or advice on being overqualified, check out the tip sheets on the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) web site at

Good luck!

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at Charles Strachey is a regional manager with Alberta Human Services. This column is provided for general information.