Dodge the Overqualified or Underqualified Job Search Curse

Published: Aug 22, 2013

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August 22, 2013

Are You Underqualified or Overqualified? Here are Steps to Tackle Credential Problems in Your Job Search


Every job seeker dreads being told that they’re not a good fit for a particular position. In fact, according to Orville Pierson, career coach and author of The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search, many men and women in the market for a new job strictly limit the positions they apply for in order to avoid this kind of rejection.

But in truth, most successful job seekers aren’t a perfect match with the stated qualifications for the jobs they’ve landed. And by writing off large numbers of positions just because you feel you might not be fully qualified for them, you may be severely curtailing the professional opportunities that are available to you.

Of course, employers outline minimum qualifications for a reason. You can’t expect to land a Sr. Scientist position if the sum total of your research experience is one summer as an intern in a large biopharmaceutical company. On the other hand, if you’ve got years of experience under your belt, it’s probably safe to expect that applying for an entry-level position is going to raise a few eyebrows.

In the Middle? Make the Leap!

In short, if you're vastly under- or overqualified for a particular position, it's probably not worth your time to apply for it. But if you, like the majority of your fellow job seekers, fall into the grey middle area of the qualification matrix, it may be well worth it to take a risk and apply anyway. Maybe the help-wanted ad calls for 3 years of experience and you only have 2, but you also earned straight A’s in related college coursework. Or perhaps you’ve got an advanced degree when the job posting calls for an associate’s.

These are the type of qualification discrepancies that can easily be overcome with a bit of planning and strategic thinking. Apply these tips to increase your chances of coming across as the perfect match in your next interview.
    Customize Your Cover Letter and Resume for Each Position.

    This is important for all job seekers, but it’s especially vital if there may be concerns about your qualifications. By tailoring your application materials to each position, you can take the time to frame your experience, education, and other assets in the best possible light. If you’re underqualified, list volunteer experiences or coursework that pertains to the position. If you’re overqualified, focus only on the most relevant parts of your career.

    Make Your Salary Expectations Part of the Discussion from the Outset.

    In many cases, the labels “underqualified” and “overqualified” have to do with the employer’s concerns about compensation. If you don’t have the experience to completely fit the qualifications for a position, make it known that you’re willing to pay your dues and start out with a salary commensurate with your experience. On the other hand, if you have a great deal of experience, but want to change careers or enter a new area of specialization, clearly define your level of salary flexibility at the beginning of the discussion. If the hiring manager’s salary concerns can be satisfied, the importance of qualification concerns will likely diminish.

    Emphasize Your Unique Potential.

    Whether you’re underqualified or overqualified for a position, be sure to underscore the fact that you’re in it for the long haul and that you offer great long-term potential to the organization. What you lack in experience with other employers, you can make up for in on-the-job training, growing into the role over time. If you have a lot of prior experience, point out the ways that you will be able to leverage your accumulated skills and abilities in the new role, improving the organization as a whole in the process.

    Project a Winning Attitude.

    Many employers’ concerns about underqualified or overqualified candidates center on whether your experience (or lack thereof) will alienate you from the rest of the team. If you are a bit lacking in experience, take special care to convey an air of poise, maturity, and professionalism. If you’re overqualified for the position, make sure your interview demeanor is consistent with a humble team player who is eager to learn and fit in. You just might find that having the right attitude is much more important to your future employer than having the perfect qualifications.
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