Sherry Shealy Martschink, 57, is a former state legislator, state senator and workers' compensation commissioner for South Carolina. She's a recent law school graduate and has experience in journalism, marketing and education. For the past few years during her job search, she's been told -- in not so many words -- that she's overqualified.
"Sometimes the opposition is in the tone of voice rather than the actual wording of the questions and comments," Martschink says. "An employer may say something like, 'We are hoping to find someone who will make a career here' or 'Why would you want this job after doing such-and-such?' Another type of question has to do with whether I could be a team player after being in such leadership positions."
How does Martschink respond to such opposition? Plain and simple:
"If I weren't willing to do the work, I wouldn't be applying for the job," she says.
Geoff Tucker, who has a college degree and six years of experience in his field, has faced opposition more than once during his job search. In one interview, the hiring manager started with, "We both know you're overqualified," but went on to say she wanted to do a "gut check " to determine if Tucker would be OK with the tasks he'd be handling.
"In other words, she wanted to see if I was OK with being versatile to the point of helping clean around the office and refilling the toilet paper in the bathroom," Tucker says. "I affirmed that I do not have an issue with doing tasks that maybe I haven't had to do in awhile. I am not that egocentric and I don't regard these tasks as 'below me.'"
Many job seekers wonder how being qualified can be a bad thing, but it's a Catch-22 that many job seekers face today. They can't get hired for positions relevant to their experience so they apply for jobs at lower levels. The problem is that they can't get hired for those positions, either, because they're overqualified.
"Employers are in the catbird seat," says Kathryn Sollmann, co-founder and managing partner of the Women@Work Network. "The high volume of job seekers makes it possible for employers to hold out for their ideal candidates. You're not an ideal candidate if you have held a more senior position in the past; employers assume you will leave as soon as you find something at your normal level."
What's the deal?
Assuming you'll jump ship when the economy turns around is only one of the many objections employers have to hiring overqualified candidates. For one thing, many job seekers assume that their high credentials automatically mean they are skilled for a more junior job. But, Sollmann says, just because a position is less senior than the one you previously held does not mean that you have the appropriate skills to succeed in that role.
"Take an administrative position, for example. Many mid- to senior-level job seekers haven't done anything remotely administrative for years," she says.
Right or wrong, other assumptions hiring managers might have about hiring overqualified candidates include:
· You'll be bored and unmotivated
· The salary will be too low for you
· You'll be unhappy
· You'll leave the minute something better comes along
· You could possibly steal his/her job
· You won't be able to step down from a leadership role
Hiring managers take overqualified candidates seriously only if they are convincing about a valid reason they want to take a more junior-level job, Sollmann says.
The best reason is saying you have decided that you don't want to work crazy schedules and are interested in a better work/life balance, she says. If that's the truth and you're truly not looking over your shoulder for a senior-level job, employers will consider you for a more junior job.
Tucker says the doubt he gets from hiring managers regarding his experience is unfair.
"They should consider my above-par qualifications as a way to gain additional capabilities on their staff and team. I will bring just as much passion to this role as I would any other," he says. "I would not apply for a job if it weren't a fit for me. It's about the work I'm doing and the contributions I'm making that matter."
If you're being told you're overqualified during your job search, here are seven ways to convince your interviewer otherwise:
1. Admit that you're worried, too
Tell the hiring manager that you are also concerned that it might not be a fit, suggests Duncan Mathison, co-author of "The Truth about the Hidden Job Market." Promise that if at any point during the hiring process you think the job appears too low or not one where you will bring the full engagement needed to excel in the position, you will withdraw your candidacy. Your willingness to walk away tells them you are motivated if you stay in the game.
2. Take salary off the table
Make it clear that you're flexible about salary and that your previous earnings are not relevant to your current job search.
"Tell the hiring manager that you work for both green dollars and personal satisfaction dollars," Sollmann says. "Lately you've had a deficit in personal satisfaction dollars and you want a chance to try something new."
3. Put the issue out there
Ask the interviewer if he or she sees any positives or negatives to your candidacy based on your higher qualifications. Get the issue on the table so it can be addressed, Mathison suggests.
4. Use your accomplishments
"Tell the hiring manager that you're proud of your accomplishments and you have proven to yourself that you can perform at a more senior level," Sollmann says. "Now you're not interested in chasing titles and promotions. You want to make a contribution at a compelling company."
5. Distance yourself from your higher qualifications
Be empathetic to those parts of the hiring manager's job -- indicate that you have a clearer understanding of what a manager needs from his people.
"For example, say you were a manager and are applying to an individual contributor job," Mathison says. "Tell the hiring manager that you are looking for a job that would give you more hands-on technical work and give you a break from the people management and corporate politics."
6. You want to learn
If you've held more senior positions at a different kind of company or in a different industry, tell the hiring manager that the best way to really learn about a new industry is from the bottom up, Sollmann says.
7. Make a commitment
"Tell the employer that you know that job hopping is a major don't in the business world. Say that barring unforeseen circumstances, you are ready to make at least a two-year commitment to the company," Sollmann suggests.
Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.