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How To Counter The Dreaded O-Word

March 26, 2010 3:08 PM

Jobseekers over 40 hear it all the time: the dreaded O-word. “You’re overqualified.” Instead of screaming or crying, tackle it with confidence. These are the four most common questions and comments that jobseekers on Facebook and Twitter told me they’re faced with around the topic of being overqualified.

“When a recruiter says, “Sorry, you’re overqualified,” how should I respond?”

Keep talking! The biggest mistake is to assume the conversation ends there. Probe. Ask, with genuine curiosity, not defensively, "What exactly do you mean by that? Please tell me what your specific concerns on." The goal is to engage in conversation to get the recruiter or hiring manager to reveal the real meaning behind the label. It's important for you to understand what the employer is truly concerned about that's causing them to dismiss you as overqualified. And most likely, you’ll be able to answer or address it from there.

“I’ve been told, “You'll be bored.” Even though I know I won’t be, I’m not sure how to convey that.”

You can say, "One of the benefits of a solid work history is the wisdom and experience of avoiding a situation where I'd be bored or where I'd be an awkward fit. That's not good for either of us." Add that you thought seriously about that very issue before applying for the position, and then move into explanation why exactly you're a great match. Turn “overqualified” into “exceptionally qualified.”

“Because of my age, a couple of employers have expressed concern that I might resist direction from a younger or less experienced manager. Truth is, I’d be fine with that, but I don’t know how to say so.”

There’s no doubt that age bias exists, and generational diversity is a challenge for many people. A few things: One of the common unspoken stereotypes among younger managers is the idea that they couldn’t possibly manage mom. So you can smile and joke, “You don’t need a parent and you’re not looking to be one!” You’re looking to be an employee and a collaborator.

If you’ve had a younger manager in a previous position, mention that and emphasize all of the positive attributes of that relationship. “My best boss happened to be younger than me—and I did some of my best work under her direction.”

Don't refer to the "good ol’ days" or "The way we've always done it" -- it may seem familiar and friendly, but it fuels the stereotypes of older workers.

Keep up with technology and be sure you can talk about your technical skills, including use of online social networks. (Even including the URL for your LinkedIn profile or your Twitter account—assuming both are professional—on your resume can emphasize your comfort level with technology.)

“I’ve been told several times by a staffing firm that hiring managers are worried that I’ll leave when something better comes along.”

What I'd love to answer to that is, "Ah, wouldn't you? Don't most people bolt when something much better comes along?" But of course you can't say that. You should point to loyalty to a previous employer—show a long-term prior commitment to break the notion that you're a job hopper.

You can also say, “I have every intention of diving in and making a great impact on this organization—and I'll do everything in my power to make this a mutually-rewarding long-term relationship. Leaving is the last thing on my mind.” Asked and answered!

Comments (7)

I see a lot of good articles here, what template do you use ?

Question, should we respond in email (I received this 'concern' from potential employer that I would need more than par training and may bolt if get a better offer and my can do attitude, aka, can work individually and scared to be run over?) Also can we bring or should we bring the 'interview agenda/notes' into an interview? I know memorizing is good, but there are those days...or interviews at awkward times when all are sleepy or other...

I have over ten years of recruiting experience and I have never seen an over-qualified hire work out, long-term.

Helpful if you are interviewing, but is there anything you can recommend when submitting resume/cover letter that one can write ( knowing that the "O" word will be on the mind of the person receiving your info once they see your background)?

I have found at times that when a prospetive employers says "you're overqualified" what they REALLY mean is "we can't afford you."

Tory's right on with her advice to "tackle it with confidence." You have to respond to these short-sighted folk by educating them on the facts about you. But if you're frequently running into o-word conversations like these, your job hunt strategy might be your problem.

  • Are you inadvertently targeting employers that are short on vision (and high on idiots)?
  • Have you considered targeting your search at organizations that appreciate what an over qualified person can do for them?
  • Are you just not targeting at all?

I see a lot of job hunters that fail to plan. They are too rushed, panicked or anxious. Their job hunt ends up running them instead of the other way around.

Consider the list of reseources mentioned at http://www.CareerJockey.org/pocket-resumes. They can help you define your plan in order to bypass the idiots and jump right to the smart people. Those are the people you want as your future employers anyway.

Hope this helps.

Outstanding suggestions! Job-seekers can put them to best use by thinking through the answers they'll craft personally following these guidelines. A practiced answer that you've thought through in advance and rolls off the tongue in the moment makes a great impression and gives the best chance of your point getting across. Candidates who also have their own interview agenda -- specific points they want to emphasize -- can also impact the discussion even on these sensitive issues in a positive way with what they say.

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