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"Overqualified?" How to Deal with the O-Word in Your Job Search

Posted Friday, October 28, 2011, at 10:10 AM

By Deborah Russell, Director, Workforce Issues, AARP Education and Outreach

"Aren't you overqualified?" Some older workers say this question is code for "You're too old." But it's not as simple as that.

Sometimes you will have more qualifications than the job requires. Perhaps you're applying because you want more flexibility, or to return to work that you miss. At other times your qualifications will be exactly right, but you sense underlying concerns about your age. Whatever the case, it's your job to anticipate the "overqualified" issue and to sell yourself as a strong candidate.

Adapt Your Resume

If you're applying for jobs at a lower level than those you've held in the past, you can adapt your resume in several ways:

*Shorten your work history, selecting only the most relevant skills
*Downplay high-level qualifications that aren't required for the job
*Omit degrees and certifications that make you look too educated for the job
*Stress teamwork rather than leadership, using words like "coordinated" or "collaborated"

Be Prepared for the Interview

The job interview is often the place where the "overqualified" question comes up. In a recent AARP webinar on job interviews, career professional Camille Grabowski pointed out that the employer may be worried about one of five things:

*You will be bored
*Pay may be too low
*You will leave for a better opportunity
*You may want a quick promotion
*You may want the interviewer's job

If asked about being overqualified, start by asking the interviewer, "Can you tell me more about your concern?" Have an answer prepared for each of the points listed above, and practice until you know you can answer convincingly.

Grabowski offers this example: "It's true that I have held higher level positions and have experience managing people. I truly enjoyed that part of my career. However, I am at a different stage in my career now, and would like to return to the hands-on part of the job I have always loved. That is why this position appeals to me so much."

Use statements like this even if the word "overqualified" is not used directly. You'll appear stronger if you address unspoken concerns rather than ignore them.

Sell Yourself--but Don't Overwhelm

Another tactic is to turn your qualifications into reasons to hire you. For example, if hired you would be able to get up to speed quickly because of your well-developed skills. Other advantages might be your proven ability to solve problems, work without close supervision, or mentor others.

When you bring up these qualities, do so in a non-threatening way. For example, instead of trumpeting your high-level management skills, talk about times when you successfully collaborated with other team members.

Dealing with the "O-word" comes down to showing you are the right "fit" for the job. With preparation and confidence, you'll help the employer see you not as overqualified but as the best-qualified applicant.

For more about the overqualified label and other topics, see AARP's Job Tips for 50+ Workers www.aarp.org/jobtips.


Deborah Russell, Director of Workforce Issues at AARP, leads the educational and outreach efforts aimed at improving employment options and the economic security of individuals 50+. This includes working with the business community to create employment opportunities that are fair, flexible, and that capitalize on the wealth of knowledge and expertise mature workers bring to today's workplace.

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AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership that helps people age 50 and over have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole, ways that help people 50 and over improve their lives. Since 1958, AARP has been leading a revolution in the way people view and live life.