Tech & Work

When being overpaid and overqualified becomes a liability

Many companies are reluctant to hire overqualified people because they fear they won't be challenged enough to stay for the long-term. Here are some ways to get over this hump if you're overqualified.

You would think if you were very qualified in your line of work and pulled down a great salary, that looking for another job would be easy. After all, those facts show that you're recognized and appreciated at your current company, so why wouldn't another company jump at the chance to hire you?

I recently received emails from two TechRepublic members that demonstrate this is not necessarily true. The first email said:

I am getting a salary which is higher than the industry standards.

However, the job is not giving me professional and personal satisfaction.

When I apply, the HR executive is the first person to call me. When he or she asks my current salary, that person states that the salary is higher than their standards. However, they promise to get back to me after asking their technical manager. Then they never get back to me. This is really putting me off.

How should I handle this? What should I tell the HR executive?

The second email:

For the second time in a matter of months, I've been told that I'm overqualified for a job that I applied to. I don't understand why being overqualified would be a problem. Don't companies want to get the most bang for their buck, i.e., the most qualified person for the salary they're offering?

It sucks, but the fact is candidates with high salaries and too many qualifications are often daunting to hiring managers. Hiring managers worry that if they hire an overqualified candidate, he or she will grow bored with the job or unhappy with the salary and will leave the company in a few months, leaving them to repeat the time and cost of the hiring process. In their minds, you're thinking of their job as simply a way station until you find something better.

Also, some hiring managers can feel threatened if your qualifications are on a par with or are better than theirs. They may think your first line of business would be to get their job.

So how do the well-compensated and over-qualified get their feet in the doors?

Be honest.

Particularly in your cover letter, where you'll be introducing yourself for the first time, you should be able to explain why you're seeking a job for which you seem to be overqualified. Mention how the position you're applying for aligns with your longer-term career goals, offers you more work-life balance, or offers you a chance to do work that is more meaningful than what you are currently doing.

If it's a money issue, explain that even though you are currently pulling down a salary higher than the one offered, you are not fulfilled by your job duties. Say that you will willingly give up some compensation to do something that makes you want to come to work everyday.

Make it clear you're not a threat to the boss's position.

A lot of managers shy away from hiring folks who may be more qualified than they are. In their minds, you could be gunning for their job. Make it clear in your cover letter and in an interview that you understand the parameters of the position being offered, and that you wouldn't step out of it unless you were called upon to do so by the manager.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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