Help for overqualified job seekers in a difficult market

Today’s highly competitive job market presents challenges for everyone seeking employment. Recent graduates and seasoned professionals alike encounter limited opportunities. After submitting a resume and cover letter, these job seekers sometimes do not get a reply from prospective employers. This is discouraging, but not a surprise when employers often receive hundreds of resumes for every job posted, as reported by, a website that helps people find the right job, and companies find the right employees.

The tight job market can be especially hard on job seekers with 15 or more years of work experience. As they look through posted jobs, they often find entry-level openings that require less education or experience than they have accumulated. Sheryl Decker, director of Career Services at Brown Mackie College – South Bend, offers steps that can help overqualified job seekers find employment.

“An overqualified job candidate is someone who has too much education or experience, or can be too highly-paid for the position sought,” Decker says. “When employers review a resume, they first tend to weigh the level of education and a candidate’s past experience against the job opportunity. If the candidate possesses qualifications that are higher than the position requires, a manager may set the resume aside.”

An overqualified applicant can raise a red flag for a number of reasons. Employers generally attach a negative connotation to overqualified candidates because they feel the candidate:

* May leave as soon as he or she finds a job commensurate with the higher qualifications.

* May continue looking for employment with a higher salary.

* Has never been promoted by previous employers.

* Has not explained why he or she seeks a lower level position.

“The employer’s top priority is to make the right hiring decision. It costs money to hire and train a new employee, and it is beneficial to the organization when the employee comes on board for the long haul,” Decker says. “It can be scary for an overqualified person who isn’t finding job openings that match their credentials.” How can you overcome this negative perception?

Change the format of your resume

“If you have a lot of skills, it can be helpful to organize your resume into a functional resume format,” Decker says. “Rather than presenting information in chronological order under each position held, highlight your skills and accomplishments as they pertain to the position you are seeking.” You can include the companies you have worked for in the past without emphasizing titles that may raise concerns. Quintessential Careers, a website dedicated to empowering job seekers, supports this tactic for overqualified applicants.

Customize resume to each specific position

“Tailor each resume to include the attributes the prospective employer seeks,” says Decker. “Highlight the things that show you are qualified, not overqualified.” Be sure to include characteristics of your personality that show you are motivated, a team player and dedicated to performing the job effectively. Along with a positive attitude, these soft skills can help define you as an asset.

Call on your professional network

Never underestimate the importance of joining a professional association. “People who know you can vouch for your experience and value to the company, even though your qualifications may be higher,” Decker says. “This is one of the best ways to overcome negative perceptions.”

Honesty is the best policy

“Prospective employers call your references, check your background and criminal history, and speak with the company where you last worked. Be honest about the reasons you left, and make it known that you are flexible about salary in a new position,” Decker says. “Today’s economy makes this a reality.”

Above all, focus on how your learned skills can benefit the company. Employers want to provide good service to customers in a positive atmosphere for employees.