Can you really be overqualified for a job?
As a recent college graduate with two degrees, I’ve applied to over 75 jobs in my field with only three interviews to show for it. A few months ago, I reached the final round of the hiring process and was feeling optimistic. I knew the editors at this publication and had even written for them a handful of times. When I found out a few weeks after my interview that they had given the job to someone with considerably less writing experience than me, I was confused. Why would they hire someone less qualified?
I immediately took to Facebook to ask my older and more professionally experienced friends a desperate question: “WHY DID I NOT GET THIS JOB THAT I WAS SO QUALIFIED FOR?!” I received a range of answers from: “It’s possible you were overqualified” to “It’s not just about your resume; employers hire for personality too!”
Do I have a terrible personality then? How am I supposed to get my first entry level job if I’m already overqualified especially when I’m underqualified for bigger companies?
A 2018 study found that more than 40% of recent college graduates are working jobs in which they do not utilize their college degree. It’s clear that getting a perfect post-college job is no walk in the park. With such a competitive job market, how is a recent college graduate supposed to snag that dream job?
Is being overqualified actually a thing? The experts say yes.
Logan Aguirre, President of Whitaker Publishing, has interviewed and hired hundreds of employees during her career. She spoke to HelloGiggles about why she might not hire someone who appears overqualified. Aguirre says she might pass on an applicant “if you know the position is going to be a lot of down in the details and this person is used to having a support team. You can just get a sense that they’re not in a position where they’re willing to do the grunt work.”
Salary might also be a leading factor on why a hiring manager might pass on an applicant. “If we see someone that’s overqualified and we pass on them, it’s probably because their salary expectations are not in line with the position,” Aguirre says.
Lastly, hiring managers take into account whether you’ll be there long-term. Joseph Mercadante, the Senior Assistant Director of the Wasserman Center for Career Development at NYU, tells HelloGiggles, “The things that come to mind are longevity and commitment to the position and organization. They may be worried that if you’re overqualified, you’re just taking this position as a stepping stone and you might not stay as long. They may want someone who is committed to staying two years or longer, and they may be worried that you’re just going to come and leave quickly.”
How then to negate these preconceived ideas that the hiring manager already has about you? How can you appear committed to the position you’re applying for?
Mercadante offers crucial advice. “In the interview, you really have to be extra above and beyond about conveying your excitement about the role,” Mercadante says.
“It’s important to say, ‘I’m really excited to jump in and learn more about the organization. I can see myself really growing in this position.’ Name the ways you want to grow and the ways you want to be challenged.”
If hiring managers are afraid to hire you because they think you’ll ask for too much money, how can you put their minds at ease? “Research,” Mercadante says. “See what jobs in your industry pay. When they ask you for expected salary, know what the range is for that industry and be on target.”
And it’s not just about your on-paper accomplishments. While you may think you’re overqualified for a position, there are many other factors that employers consider when interviewing candidates. Logan Aguirre confirms exactly what I’d thought might be true–personality matters. “We have to consider our brand and we consider everyone who works for us to be a brand ambassador,” Aguirre says. “Culture fit is also huge for us. A lot of times we will hire character over competence. We have a lot of questions we ask that really draw out what kind of person they are, if they are going to be a good fit for our culture, and how we work as a team.”
Mercadante confirms this. “They’re definitely looking for a fit within the team and if you’d be a good fit for the culture.” He also adds that employers value passion and excitement. Employers love when “they can sense that you really want to hit the ground running and you’re innovative,” he says.
For college graduates like myself who have applied to so many jobs with so little luck, the whole process can be exhausting and frustrating.
Mercadante says to remember that you might not immediately land your dream job. “We want our first job to be great and our dream job,” Mercadante says. “But sometimes your first job is a stepping stone to your next job to a next job to a next job.” He says that you should think of your first job as an opportunity to learn valuable skills and to grow as a professional.
Until you land that dream job, how can you become the strongest applicant possible? Logan Aguirre says the thing that matters most in an interview is how well you tell your story. Aguirre explains to HelloGiggles that the most impressive applicants are the ones that are “very self-aware, are learning, and are seeing where their weaknesses are and are working to compensate for those. Do we get a sense that you are humble? And that you know you aren’t coming with all the answers and that you’re there to learn?”
Mercadante offers several key insights. “Tailor everything,” he says. “Utilize keywords. If they’re talking about branding and you’re talking about marketing on your resume, talk about branding. Make sure your resume matches the job description. The job description is a cheat sheet for what they’re looking for.”
He also says that flexibility is key. “If you notice you aren’t hitting it, look at your resume, your application materials, and look at your approach to figure out: ‘Do I need to expand a little bit? Do I need to look at more regions, more types of roles, more types of companies? Where can I expand and flex a little bit where I haven’t been?’”
I understand firsthand how frustrating it is to spend four years and thousands of dollars on a degree (or two) only to enter a job market that is less than welcoming. It’s tricky to find the balance between being underqualified and overqualified, between underselling yourself in interviews and bragging so much that you seem arrogant. As Mercadante tells HelloGiggles, applying for jobs can be job in and of itself. He even says it’s common to apply to as many as 200 jobs before finally getting hired.
Eventually, hopefully, and all appendages crossed, those numerous applications will pay off. But until then, in the words of Queen Beyoncé, “I’ma keep running. Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.”