Overqualified or Under-Targeted

Recruiters and hiring managers are practiced artists in giving reasons why candidates weren’t selected. They have to be because they say “sorry, you were not selected” much more often than “congratulations, you want to make an offer”. They are human, too, and they know that their messages of non-selection are bad news for candidates who had high hopes. Just as no one likes to be rejected, hiring managers don’t like being the bearer of rejection notices. I think that is one reason why many hiring managers never respond to resumes or rely solely on the auto-response that is generated by the HRIS system.


Job seekers receive different responses when not selected for the interview process or not selected to be hired. These responses range from “We will keep your resume on file” to “Your qualifications do not match our requirements”. One of the most frustrating responses is the “You are overqualified” response. How can someone be TOO good to do a job? Possibly a more accurate response would be “We can’t afford you” or “You’d be bored stiff in this job”.


Getting an “overqualified” response once in your job search is not unusual. It’s considered a “nice” way to let a candidate down by recruiters. If you are receiving consistent responses that you are overqualified, you need to consider your job search goals. It is possible you are aiming too low in your search for positions or you may be seeking a salary that is out of range for your background.


It is often difficult to ascertain the level of a job that is advertised simply from the posting. What is a director level job at one company may only be a section manager at another. Salary ranges will vary wildly, too, according to lots of factors ranging from industry to geographic location. To help determine if you are targeting positions at the correct level, ask the following questions either of yourself or the recruiter.


What is the main challenge that will be faced in this position?

What is the scope of this position in terms of authority?

How many direct reports does this position have and is it consistent with my experience?

What is new about this position that I’ve never done before?

Is the compensation within 20% of my current salary?

What new knowledge would I be required to learn for this position?


If you answers show that nothing would need to be learned, that the job has less responsibility than your current position, or if all the challenges of the position are challenges that you have faced before, you might well be overqualified for the position. The position might also be a lateral move for you. Lateral moves are fine as long as they are made for good reasons and done so only occasionally. If you find yourself making successive lateral moves, you need to stop and do an evaluation of your goals and situation. You may be tending toward job-hopping and you want to avoid that.


Consistent responses that you are overqualified might mean you need to set your goals higher. Many people have trouble seeing their true worth and therefore aim low. Try shooting for a higher position if you are being told consistently that you are overqualified, even if the position seems way out of reach. You might surprise yourself and find that you are perfectly qualified for the higher position.


  1. Mauricio Tortolero on August 26, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Dear Sirs,

    I would like to ask you something, currently I have submitted a job application and a covering letter to an human resources area (responding to an advertised job opening), but I would like to know if it would be convenient now to contact to the person head of the area for that position to express my deep interest for that job, or perhaps it would be a bad idea, something that could be considered annoying.

    I appreciate your attention and feedback.


  2. Allen Voivod on August 30, 2008 at 7:54 am

    Hi Mauricio,

    The additional contact would show interest and initiative – always a good thing. Some companies, however, advertise their positions with a “NO CALLS PLEASE” clause, so double-check to make sure that you don’t give them a reason to round-file you for not paying attention to their instructions.

    That said, I wouldn’t contact them just to ask what’s up. Instead, I’d try to offer them something that 1) might be useful to their day-to-day business, and 2) demonstrates (rather than you just saying so) how passionate you are about the work, the industry, etc. New articles, secret resources, something that shows you can make a difference if they hired you for the position.

    My $0.02. Good luck!

Leave a Comment