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Executive Assessment

Harvard Business Review – How to Apply for a Job You're Overqualified For

  • October 2017

There are many reasons why candidates apply for jobs that don’t match their level of experience. These include switching industries, trying to get into a particular company, relocating to a new city, or looking to maximize personal flexibility. But even an impressive résumé doesn’t guarantee an offer. There is a prejudice, and hiring managers are not always eager to bring on someone who is overqualified. “They might be concerned you’ll get bored in the position,“ says Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a senior adviser at Egon Zehnder and author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Who. “The manager might think you’re not going to stay, so it is a waste of time and effort. Or the hiring manager might look at you as a threat.” Your goal, therefore, is “to make sure the interviewers don’t shy away from you.” Harvard Business Review offered some tips to get hiring managers on your side. This begins with checking your attitude and being transparent (to a point). “Think hard about how you will answer questions about why you want the position and why you want to work in the sector,” Fernández-Aráoz says. “Nothing convinces more than conviction,” he adds. “Show integrity.” The next step is to counter common assumptions. If there are still doubts about your fit for the job, Fernández-Aráoz’s advice is to take “a problem-solving point of view,” and “be strategic” about showing how the organization could benefit from having you in the job. Here are some strategies to demonstrate your value to the hiring manager:

Think Big
“Visionary leaders do not hire for their currents needs; they hire for the future,” Fernández-Aráoz says. You can nudge the hiring manager to think more broadly about the role by “enthusiastically sharing your ideas for how big the job can be,” he adds. True, you may be overqualified for the particular position on offer, but with expanded responsibilities, new projects, or additional territories and geographies, it could be a perfect match for you. “Be proactive in highlighting the possibilities,” he says. “Prove to the interviewer that he needs to hire a big fish, not a minnow.”

Tailor the Job
Another strategy would be to “talk to the hiring manager about possible ways to tailor the current opening to your skills and interests,” Fernández-Aráoz says. “This approach is a bit tricky because it shows you are looking for more,” but it can be a good opportunity to mold the job into one that’s more compelling and better suited to your specific experience. The objective is to “look for ways you can add value.”

Offer Temporary Help
Another approach, according to Fernández-Aráoz, is to talk about the job as a singular “tour of duty.” In other words, you’ll “offer a specific expertise” to help the company “achieve a goal or objective” for a certain period of time, with the understanding that eventually you will move on to a bigger and better role either within that organization or at another one. You might offer to link this work to a “special form of compensation — either a significant bonus, retainer, or a success fee” after you reach a certain target. That way, the hiring manager will feel better about the likelihood of your staying “because you want the money,” he says.
With these strategies in mind, it important to not ask for too much, and if the job goes to another qualified candidate, don’t take it personally.

Full Story: How to Apply for a Job You’re Overqualified For in Harvard Business Review (26 October 2017).

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