Are You Overqualified or Underqualified

Posted by Bob Wheeler

Vicki Gearhart, Semper Fortis SolutionsEarlier this year, we asked recruiters to identify some of the top mistakes that cleared job seekers make during the hiring process. Since we’ve already addressed the number one issue of Salary Requirements, it’s time to move on down to the number two issue: understanding and applying for the right job.

To understand the challenges faced by recruiters, job seekers need to remember that all hiring is essentially a risk management decision from the company’s perspective. It doesn’t matter if a person leaves a job because they couldn’t perform the functions, or if they leave simply because another company offered them more money. A hiring manager’s concern is always turnover.

This fear is especially evident if an organization has recently experienced the loss of a new hire that can be traced back to being either unqualified or overqualified for the position. Job seekers need to proactively address these concerns to help mitigate the risk.

The problems of being either over or underqualified both pose their own unique challenges for job seeker as well as employers. 2016 Best Recruiter Award winner Vicki Gearhart of Semper Fortis Solutions gives us her take.


Job seekers need to understand that job requirements are generally a combination of education and experience. The higher up the ladder you go, the more experience becomes the primary factor in selection. Oftentimes job seekers are under the mistaken impression that an advanced degree or a resume full of certifications can overcome their lack of experience. This is not the case. Vicki tells us that she generally sees candidates make this mistake when they’re trying to change careers.

She recalls a recent job seeker applying for an InfoSec position who had very solid IT experience in general, but all of his Cyber Security experience was from schools and training, not in a real-world setting. “It was obvious that he was transferring from one IT field to another and he was very good in his previous role. The problem was he was applying for a senior level position.”

Had he been seeking a middle- or junior-level position things may have been different. “If the goal is to move into a new role that typically means looking for a lateral move in terms of responsibility or perhaps even taking a step back,” Vicki shares.

If a job seeker wants to increase their chances of making a jump to another field, Vicki recommends they try to get as much experience as they can before applying for the new role. This could mean volunteering either inside or even outside their present organization. This information should be included in your resume to help mitigate the perception of risk in terms of your abilities. “It doesn’t have to be overly detailed,” she says, “but you do want to be able show that you’ve sought out opportunities to successfully do the work.”

Semper Fortis SolutionsOverqualified

Perhaps nothing generates more frustration on the part of job seekers than to hear the word overqualified. It seems inconceivable that a company wouldn’t want someone that could bring more to the table in terms of skill, especially if you can do the job for less money. But, unfortunately, this isn’t that simple.

Since the real concern in terms of hiring an overqualified candidate is that they might leave for greener pastures, Vicki recommends job seekers proactively address the issue of being overqualified. You’ll want to let the recruiter and hiring manager know that you not only understand the nature of the job, but can also explain why this job is a good fit.

Vicki tells us about a job seeker she worked with who was in this situation. The job seeker’s resume clearly indicated that she was overqualified for the position, but Vicki was able to convince her hiring manager to meet with her anyway. During the interview the job seeker relayed to the team that she understood that this was a step back professionally, but she also explained that her personal life had changed to the point that quality of life had become the most important factor to her. She made it clear that she was prepared to go from being a leader back to being an individual contributor. “She really clicked in the interview,” Vicki shares, “and she’s still in the position today doing very well.”

The hiring process has many moving parts, so job seekers shouldn’t expect all recruiters and hiring managers to take a chance on every under or overqualified candidate, Vicki shares some general tips to help job seekers get to the interview stage.

Leverage your network. Non-traditional job seekers have a much better chance of getting interviewed when they come recommended. If you’re underqualified it will be important for someone to vouch for the fact that you’ll be able to do the job. If you’re overqualified having someone on the inside who can explain the reasons you’re looking at a position that may be considered a step backwards can help alleviate the concern that you’re just looking at this job as temporary gig.

Attend job fairs. Hiring events allow job seekers to interface with recruiters and hiring managers. Assuming you’ve done your homework on the company and the jobs, this is a great chance to tell your story. “Some people I meet at job fairs really stand out to me, which causes me to go back and take an even closer look at their resume,” Vicki says.

HINT: job seeker traffic tends to be highest in the first hour of a job fair. Showing up or hanging around until the second half of an event typically allows for longer conversations with the employers.

Use a cover letter. While cover letters may no longer be considered required by all organizations, in special circumstances they can be critical. “You can only fit so much on a resume,” Vicki shares. “Address the facts that you understand the true nature of the position. Even though you’re not the typical candidate, articulate why you’re applying for the position. This really helps since it’s exactly the kind of information recruiters need to be able to convince a hiring manager to bring you in for an interview.

In the end, landing a position as either an underqualified or an overqualified candidate will always be difficult, but it’s not impossible. The most important thing is to find ways to tell your story. Even if it doesn’t help in the short term, it’s still expanding your network. Good recruiters like Vicki are always on the lookout for good talent, even if they can’t place them right away. Vicki concludes, “I always have a pile of people in my head that might not have been right for one position, but may be a good fit for something in the future.”


This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 7:39 am

One thought on “Are You Overqualified or Underqualified”

  1. Good article, it helps with gathering information for the hireing manager; very much appreciated.

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