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Career Tips

Overcoming overqualification

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
September 30, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 39


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You're not overqualified; you're perfectly qualified.

When job hunting, you would typically apply for positions that are a step beyond the role you’re currently in, with more responsibilities, more complex tasks, or more leadership potential. In the interview, you would present yourself with as much experience as possible, showing the hiring manager that you are ready for this expanded role.

But sometimes, you find you have significantly more experience than the position requests. What do you do then?

Address the issue head-on. Don’t omit your degree or part of your experience, hoping that hiring managers won’t notice. They will, and they will wonder about two things: Will you get bored, and will you be too expensive?

Will you get bored? Think about why you want this position. Does it come with a responsibility that’s new and exciting to you? Will you be exploring a new business area or applying what you know to a new technology? Every position should allow you to acquire something to propel your career forward. Think about how this position may be a step sideways or backward in the short term but will help you move forward in the long term, ideally with that organization. Include that information in your cover letter or in the executive summary section of your résumé.

Will you be too expensive? Agreeing on compensation is always tricky. The organization will have an amount budgeted for this position. Hiring managers may be reluctant to even interview someone with significantly more experience than needed because they assume the candidate’s salary expectations will be too high. If you think this may be an issue, don’t be afraid to let them know that you are flexible on salary, and talk about the other advantages that will come with this position. For example, if you are relocating to that area for family reasons, the trade-off may be worth it to you, especially if the new area has a lower cost of living.

Network. When seeking a position that’s not an obvious fit, it’s especially important to have someone at the company on your side. It’s much easier to explain your rationale and show your passion in person, so seek out ways to meet people in that organization. These conversations may help you identify other expertise you have that they may not have realized they need. But tread carefully; you don’t want to sound like you know more than they do about their organization.

Do the job you were hired to do. Don’t start out by doing the job you thought you should have or the job you used to have. Don’t be the know-it-all who tells other people what to do and how to do it. Over time, you can take on more responsibility, if your boss agrees.

Hiring managers are looking for potential hires who can do the job and are excited about doing the job. Being overqualified means you have the first part covered. You just need to convince them of the second part.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (



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