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How do I deal with the "you're overqualified" for the job response from recruiters and hiring managers?

I am at a point in my CFO career where I have been told I am overqualified for the role. It is often the case but I am willing to "work down" in order to grow a company and be a part of a vibrant environment. How can I overcome this and what is the best way to message to hiring managers that I am willing to do all types of work in order to be a part of a company that I want to grow with?


Topic Expert
Moshe Kravitz
Title: Director of Finance
Company: IDT Telecom
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, IDT Telecom) |

As in every job search situation you want to know the objections in order to address and overcome them. In this case, if it is true that you are over-qualified, inquire to determine what exactly their objection(s) may be. If they do not answer you it might be because they themselves are not sure. At that point help them by suggesting several possibilities.

Are you concerned that I would:
“Jump ship” as soon as a “better” opportunity arises?
Be dissatisfied with the salary?
Become bored with the work?
Have my eye on the boss’s job?
Did you have a negative experience in the past by hiring an overqualified candidate?

Each hiring situation is unique, so think about the objections the employer may have in your case. Obviously, for each possible objection you mention, you need to have a compelling reason why in your case there’s no need for concern. Giving examples from your career to corroborate is very helpful, if not imperative.

They apparently respect your credentials and feel you are qualified. If they like you and you are a good fit, then you’re almost there. Try to discuss this issue of overqualification from the perspective that you are both on the same side – wanting to make this work – but working through the details to ensure it’s a good fit.

Respect their concerns. If you are truly overqualified and it’s not just an excuse, then it’s a valid concern that needs serious consideration, but it does not have to be a game-breaker. If, in the end, you do not overcome their objections, you will have demonstrated yourself as very qualified, interested in and capable of working with them towards meeting their needs. Trust and admiration for you will result. In short, you will be well positioned with the company to be considered when a more appropriate position is available.

Wishing you success in your search.

Carolyn Chin
Title: Accounting Mgr
Company: Nippon Sharyo Manufacturing
(Accounting Mgr, Nippon Sharyo Manufacturing) |

Great response!

E. Terry Jaramillo
Title: Managing Director
Company: Capital Interfunding, Inc.
(Managing Director, Capital Interfunding, Inc.) |

Well written and on point.

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP Operations and Finance
Company: VP / CFO - Private Company
(VP Operations and Finance, VP / CFO - Private Company) |

First, agree with Moshe - well written.

Second, having received this comment as well. My line of questioning focuses on what they see are the current needs.

Often these current needs are very pressing and usually require a very tactical solution. When one considers a typical CFO, while most can get into the detail, most have elevated their view to strategic view - so there is a mismatch with their current skill set.

Where I've turned the discussion is from the 'project' to 'long-term needs' of the firm, which takes you into where they want to grow the firm. This is where your 'over qualification' plays to your advantage - because you've driven the road before.

Some of these conversations have ended up in opportunities, but most were in the future once the company could really use my skills. I advised most of the firms to seek a 'project' solution first, then a long-term solution.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Unfortunately there are A LOT of overqualified candidates competing on the market today. And your question is a tough one because the outcome always rests with what the company wants ... or doesn’t want ... even with great messaging.

While you’ve asked how to “message” challenge, there are actually several underlying issues beyond “just” messaging.

First, job boards and most likely recruiters will probably not prove to be effective strategies. Those are both square peg, square hole strategies.

Second, companies have a real concern about hiring “overqualified” candidates ... the candidate will quickly be bored and move as soon as a better offer arrives. It’s a legitimate - and costly - issue. That, and the overqualified are competing for jobs with people who are more suitably qualified.

Finally, a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none is rarely strong positioning. If you aren’t clear about what you want to do, no company will figure it out for you. And, when you’re willing to do all types of work just for the chance to get in the door, it’s difficult to create a compelling message.

As with any other negative, a crystal clear message that is rooted in value - how you can take away a company’s problems, challenges, issues, situations - will mitigate that negative. Often times playing from your strengths, while seemingly counterintuitive, sends a stronger message than willing to do anything to get in the door. If you can take away a company’s pain - even in the short term - being overqualified may matter a whole lot less.

Once you have a clear and compelling value proposition, a solid network - people who know you, trust you, and are willing to take a chance on you despite the fact that you’re overqualified - will be your very best strategy.

Helen Rosen
Title: President
Company: Direct Approach Solutions
(President, Direct Approach Solutions) |

Your points are good ones.

Helen Rosen
Title: President
Company: Direct Approach Solutions
(President, Direct Approach Solutions) |

Overqualified for what? A person can be overqualified, underqualified, or just right. Just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears - there's gotta be something out there that's just right for you.

(CFO) |

Platitudes, platitudes.

"Overqualified" is also known as the code word for age discrimination. Any good HR person insists that hiring managers not use that term...ever! It's an age discrimination lawsuit just waiting to happen.

If you claim a policy of non-discrimination and, to hire "only the most qualified candidates", how on earth can anyone be "overqualified"?

Mitchell Cohen
Title: Advisor and Consultant
Company: Various
(Advisor and Consultant, Various) |

I agree and always wondered if overqualified meant you were too good for the position. Why wouldn't you want to hire someone who was too good?

Topic Expert
Linda Wright
Title: Consultant
Company: Wright Consulting
(Consultant, Wright Consulting) |

I agree with Anonymous. Once this term is used in hiring discussions, it is very difficult to surmount.

John P. Hart
Title: Vice Pres - CFO
Company: Nova Pressroom Products, LLC
(Vice Pres - CFO, Nova Pressroom Products, LLC) |

Maybe you're not qualified because of your grammar? ;:<)

David Tompos
Title: VP-Finance
Company: Fountain Industries, LLC
(VP-Finance, Fountain Industries, LLC) |

Moshe and Mark - great replies. CFO- how can you turn their comments from OVER-qualified into WELL-qualified? Maybe you can explain why this position appeals to you - you will not jump-ship when the first chance comes along because of 1,2,3. You are not looking at your boss' job - here are examples where I have helped elevate all my teammates. So on and so forth. Think about those situations you have faced in your career and use them as talking points to show you are happy being the WELL-qualified person in that role to help the company grow, improve processes, etc.
Good luck!

(Director of Accounting) |

Once you're pigeon-holed as over-qualified, it's game over in my opinion and time to move on. I agree with anonymous and Linda Wright. They want what they want and that is young, inexpensive, can be molded into the company culture.

Conversely, if they want a seasoned executive, it's game over for the younger applicant - they do not want someone learning on the job.

If they are still listening to you - really listening that is, not being nice because they don't want to hurt your feelings - identify key problem(s) needing to be solved, wrap your head around it, posit clear paths where experience is the best solution, be very specific so it is quite clear you are a hands-on type of executive. Toss out a free-bee (from a consulting perspective) that get them thinking outside the box.


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