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Out of work and overqualified for a job? Tips to help avoid rejection

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Written by: Louise Deverell-Smith
22/10/2020
Unemployment is rising and many people will be forced to take on alternative or junior roles to help pay the bills. But what can you do if you keep being rejected for roles because you’re overqualified?

Almost all of us have applied for jobs and faced rejection at some point in our lives. And of course, that feeling can be disappointing and hard to take. However, this can be amplified for those jobseekers who are turned away from a role on the basis that they’re ‘overqualified’.

It seems unfair and difficult to understand that an employer might decide not to hire you despite your abundance of experience and qualifications. Why should you be penalised for being too good? But sadly, this is a fate more and more jobseekers in the current labour market are facing.

The unemployment count has reached the highest level in three years, with the pandemic continuing to hit jobs and leading to a rise in the rate to 4.5% in the three months to August – up to 13.4% among 16-24 year olds. This makes it a particularly challenging market for jobseekers to navigate with competition increasing significantly for each role.

As a result, lots of people are re-assessing their options and applying for roles that are different to the perceived ‘norms’ of what a job should be. Perhaps they are applying for roles or sectors they wouldn’t ordinarily consider, including jobs they’re overqualified for or part-time roles as opposed to the typical 9-5.

For example, at Daisy Chain, we’ve seen a 3,000% year-on-year increase in jobseekers visiting the website for flexible or part-time roles and a 70% increase in employers offering such jobs between March to October 2019 – 2020.

But this practice of employers rejecting overqualified applicants has been happening long before Covid-19 even existed. Regardless of how impressive your credentials may be, employers still harbour doubts about overqualified candidates.

And these may range from sceptical employers believing you’re merely using the job as a temporary role before pushing for a move to a more senior position elsewhere; or that you could be agitating for a promotion soon and might consequently be a disruptive influence.

Or they believe you’ll expect to earn a salary that matches your experience; they may be worried you’ll be unable to take direction from a senior team member; or that you might suffer from a lack of motivation if you feel the job is beneath your pay grade; or a combination of some or all of these factors.

But what about the benefits of placing an overqualified candidate in a role?

The benefits for employers and employees

Of course, the benefits for an employer are obvious. Hiring an overqualified worker would mean gaining a great employee who would be capable of doing an excellent job for a fraction of the salary they would otherwise expect. And this is certainly true if the employer can keep the staff member motivated and leverage their experience and qualifications effectively.

The benefits for employees might not be so immediately apparent but are nonetheless equally important. Perhaps the job may help them to achieve a better work-life balance and reduce stress; perhaps it might allow them to change industry or profession; or relocate to a new area; or allow them to work remotely or more flexibly. Whatever the motivating factor, the question remains: how can you secure the role you’re after if you’re overqualified?

Tips for securing a role if you’re overqualified

First things first, it’s important to be honest with yourself. Are you overqualified? And if so, consider carefully why you’re applying for the role. Clearly communicate this in your CV or interview when the question is inevitably raised.

Addressing the elephant in the room, by being honest and transparent with your prospective employer is important to gain trust and show self-awareness, while also demonstrating that the role is a good fit contrary to any lingering doubts.

Using your CV and cover letter, clearly explain your interest in the job and company and your motivations for joining. If you can show a genuine desire to take on the role, employers will be more likely to have faith that you are a good candidate with a passion for the job rather than that you simply want a less stressful role, for example.

You can also tweak your CV to allay concerns that you might not be motivated to do certain tasks which are considered more menial. For example, adapting experiences from a previous senior role to include tasks that you might have otherwise assigned to others.

Once in the interview, don’t be afraid to draw on your years of experience and the skills you can bring to the position, and frame yourself as someone who is highly qualified rather than ‘overqualified’. This goes hand-in-hand with discussion around your salary. Be prepared to be questioned about a potential pay cut and approach it openly by again explaining the reasons behind your interest in the role.

And finally, be careful to highlight any past roles you held for a long time. Bringing attention to a job you were in for several years can show your ability to commit to a position and stay loyal to that business. This is a valuable attribute for any employer, but especially if you’re approaching a recruiter as someone who is considered overqualified.

Stressing your ability to stay at a company for a long time and your desire to stay at your prospective employer will quell fears that you’re just in it for the short-haul.

Louise Deverell-Smith is founder of flexible working recruitment platform, Daisy Chain

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