Say you buy a bunch of avocados.
You bring them home so you can make guacamole.
But they’re too hard to cut into. Not yet ripe.
And you have to wait.
You leave them for a bit. Maybe you put them in a paper bag to hasten the process (who does this and does it actually work?)
When you check again they are soft to the touch. Maybe a little… too soft.
The avocado innards are now mushy and browned.
You’ve missed the teeny, tiny window of opportunity in the life cycle of the avocado.
You toss the guacamole idea. You drink the margarita anyway.
This article is for all the avocados out there, the job applicants who have “ripened” in the workforce a little too long.
No one calls you “overripe.” (that would be weird)
But they do call you: “overqualified.”
I’m talking to all of you “don’t-have-enough-experience-now-you-have-too-much-experience” job candidates out there.
You were told for years you weren’t yet ready.
And now you’re feeling like you’re past your prime.
You’re all a bunch of avocados!
Here’s the dilemma:
You want the job. You need the job. You’d be great at the job!
But you can’t get the job because… you’re too qualified for the job.
It’s the pits.
In an unofficial poll during a webinar, I asked a group of mid-career and seasoned professionals what it means to be “overqualified.” The answers came scrolling in about what they think employers are saying when they use the word:
“They can’t afford you.”
“You’re a flight risk.”
“You’ll question the boss – you’re a threat.”
“You’ll leave as soon as you get a better offer.”
“You’ll be bored with the job.”
Each, facing a challenging job market, was interested in the role to which they were applying, only to not even be granted an interview due to their overqualifications.
So, what does it actually mean to be “overqualified”?
The dictionary definition of the word is “having qualifications that exceed the requirements of a particular job.”
Dictionary.com suggests the following sentence for use of the word:
“An overqualified person will quickly become dissatisfied.”
Holy guacamole! That’s a bit of a subjective statement!
What if we rewrite that sentence from the opposite perspective? Might I suggest:
“An overqualified person can easily meet the needs and goals of the role while elevating those around her/him.”
“An overqualified person will rock this job, earning the company unprecedented success and opening up new pathways for progress”
“An overqualified candidate thinks being called ‘overqualified’ is a bunch of B.S…”
Semantics, aside, what can you do when you have… too much experience?
What can you do when you’re just a bit too… ripe?
For answers, I turned to Maggie Peters, a writer, course creator, speaker, and the founder of the Florida-based HR Options, LLC. With nearly three decades in corporate human resources, she’s no stranger to the term, having encountered it in previous job interviews.
“I know I’m overqualified,” Peters says. “But I have a reason for why I’m applying. They don’t give you the opportunity to explain it.”
Peters consults with companies and trains human resource professionals. She urges employers to hear out candidates and spend more than the typical six seconds looking at a resume. (That’s less time than it takes to safely pit an avocado!)
“Recruiters spend maybe six or seven seconds looking at a resume before dividing them into piles for consideration,” Peters explains. “Unfortunately, many are too eager to sort and dismiss. They might think, ‘What is the fastest way I can eliminate the most people?’ Anyone well over the requisite experience levels might get tossed.”
Peters says employers often won’t let highly experienced candidates in the door because they assume they will demand a higher salary, not stay long or become bored and leave. But she debunks the myth that an overqualified candidate is a flight risk.
“That’s a false worry,” she says. “The typical length of service for anyone in the workforce right now is 2-3 years. Younger people will have 15-20 jobs between now and the end of their careers. The younger generations for good reason are looking for development and if they don’t get it, they’re out of here. Older workers tend to be more loyal.” She adds, “Some of my best hires have been so-called ‘over-qualified.’”
Peters says companies are not only missing out on valuable experience from seasoned contributors but potentially setting themselves up for accusations of ageism.
“Ageism in the workforce is real,” Peters says. “It shouldn’t be the employer making the call. It should be up to the candidate who wants the job.”
Peters says both employers and candidates play a role in battling ageism and allowing a wider variety of workers the opportunity to interview for and gain employment. She offers the following suggestions:
- Open the candidate funnel by removing automated systems that block out talent.
- Do your due diligence! Look into the candidates. Why do they want this role and what value can they bring to it?
- Remove restrictive barriers of education (change “degrees required” to “degrees preferred”).
- Acknowledge transferable skills in lieu of direct industry experience.
- Don’t assume a candidate is overqualified. (“So what if they are?” Peters asks).
- Check your ageism. Why be unwilling to hire someone more than qualified for the role if they’re agreeable to the compensation?
Peters says the onus is on the candidate to influence the employer. “Tell them your story. Why do you want this role?”
In short, don’t assume your experience speaks for itself. YOU speak for yourself.
- Target your cover letter for the job and ask for a conversation to get in the door.
- Focus on functional skills and align your resume with keywords in the job posting.
- Don’t lie but consider omitting information from your resume such as early jobs, graduation dates, or advanced degrees unnecessary for the role. Peters tells a story of a colleague who received more interview requests after removing her Master’s degree from her resume for jobs that did not require it.
- Acknowledge skill gaps and be future-focused. Critical thinking, communication, and technology skills are what employers are looking for.
- Be agreeable to salary expectations. “Compensation range is about the job, not the person. This is what the job range/role pays,” says Peters. She questions why employers wouldn’t hire someone more than qualified if they are willing to accept the compensation.
For candidates who worry if the risk of rejection is worth it, Peters says you’ve got to take a shot.
“Don’t not apply. Then it’s always going to be no. If you have a legitimately good reason for wanting the job that you can articulate clearly, then do it. Overqualified is still qualified!”
Most importantly, she recommends being a lifelong learner. “Don’t let moss grow on your career.”
That would be like stuffing your career in a paper bag and forgetting about it.
Stay fresh. Stay relevant. Grow your value.
There are many ways to slice an avocado. Don’t leave yours unattended.
Valerie Gordon is a longtime storyteller, award-winning television producer, and the founder of career and communications strategy firm, Commander-in-She. She helps high-achievers with the storytelling skills necessary to land the job, seal the deal, nail the presentation, and create a successful next career chapter.