How to Respond to 'Aren't You Overqualified?'

Business executive discussing with her client

You have your eye on a job that is below your current career or education level. There could be a myriad of reasons for it. Perhaps you are moving, re-entering the workforce or just trying out a new industry or type of job.

It can be hard to get through the résumé review stage. And if you do manage it – pat yourself on the back! – how do you convince employers during a phone screen or interview that you are the right person for the job, despite being perceived as overqualified?

Below are potential interview questions you may be asked and how to respond to them."Why did you apply to a job that you are overqualified for?"

You must convince the interviewer that this is what you've determined you want to do. You are either not satisfied or unable to continue along the path you were on (maybe due to a family relocation or a sincere desire to change career paths). It is important to be transparent here, although you don't need to go into explicit detail on personal matters.

"You have been in roles where you've managed people. You will not be doing that in this role. How do you feel about that?"

This can be tricky, so choose your wording wisely. Acknowledge that is true instead of trying to minimize your current or previous responsibilities. At the same time, you need a good answer for why it's OK with you not to be exercising those skills in your next job.

Maybe you discovered that personnel management is not for you, and you are content to stay in a backseat position – that's perfectly acceptable. Maybe you are fully committed to making a career switch, are prepared to start at a lower level and are excited to learn from those who've been on this career path longer.

"We can't match your current salary."

Hopefully you are already aware that this is bound to be the case, since you are considered overqualified for what you're applying for. You can be prepared to respond diplomatically with something like: "Yes, I am fully aware of that and expected that. The reason I am interested in this job is because I want to switch into a role that I find fulfilling. Money is not my primary motivator." To be realistic, you can also add something along the lines of: "Naturally, once I gain more experience, I would hope to be considered for a raise but only at the appropriate time."

"In this role, your boss would be younger than you. Does that bother you?"

Here you'll want to acknowledge that this can be an uncomfortable situation, because it certainly is for many people. Don't try to immediately slough it off as easy to handle. You may feel that a person experienced in this type of work – no matter what age – will be a resource from whom you're excited to learn. If you've had bosses younger than you before, that is also worth mentioning.

"Why should we choose you over a candidate right out of school?"

This is a tough one, because it implies many things: The entry-level candidate won't expect a high salary, might not be as demanding as an experienced hire and may be less ambitious at first. This is when you need to emphasize what makes you unique and stay positive. Don't badmouth millennials. Talk about yourself and what you offer. Name the skills you possess from years in a work environment that translate well to this job – it could be anything from negotiating to writing to resolving conflicts.

When you're viewed from the outset of an interview as overqualified, it can be tough to overcome and persuade the interviewer otherwise. With a bit of anticipation and planning, you can confidently respond to any curve ball that the employer throws your way.

Most importantly, acknowledge that the potential issue they present indeed exists. Then focus on your skills and personal experience, and avoid talking poorly about others. If you take this approach, the next time you're faced with "aren't you overqualified for this position?" you'll be able to convince an employer that you are determined to make this career move and are both willing and excited to learn.

Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services, and founder of ServingTalent, a recruitment and placement firm that matches military and government spouses with employers. She worked for over 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.
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