What to Do If You Are Overqualified for a Job

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn what it means to be overqualified for a job and how to counter negative assumptions that come with it.

[Featured Image] A woman hands her resume to a potential employer during a job interview and wonders if she is overqualified for a job.

Job postings contain a list of requirements the company desires in a candidate to ensure both the candidate and hiring manager know them. Sometimes, your qualifications will exceed the position you want to apply for, making you overqualified. It might be years of experience, previous experience in supervising roles, or a large skill set with more than the job requires. Whatever makes you overqualified, it is something to be aware of when applying for jobs.

This article will examine what makes someone overqualified, what that means, why employers might not want to hire overqualified applicants and ways to address your overqualification in applications and interviews. 

What does it mean to be overqualified for a job?

Various factors make you overqualified for a job, such as years of experience, more skills than required, or previous experience in a senior-level position with a higher salary. However, that does not mean you should not apply to jobs that consider you overqualified, as you may need to relocate, want to switch industries, get in with a specific company, or just need to find a different job. It just means you need to know why employers might hesitate to interview or hire highly overqualified applicants during your job search. 

Why employers might not want overqualified applicants

Three reasons hiring managers are trepidacious of overqualified applicants are:

  • High turnover

  • Boredom

  • High salary expectations

Let’s take a closer look at each assumption and how you can prepare for it. 

High turnover

The hiring manager might think you'll waste their time by hopping to the next best opportunity that comes your way during your job search. This means they would have to begin the hiring process again, which takes time and is costly for businesses. To counter this, you can use your cover letter to explain why you applied to this job and how it fits into your career goals, showing them you plan to stay. 


The hiring manager might think you already know everything about a job and will master it quickly, thus becoming bored and unsatisfied with the job, potentially leaving. They worry the job is not challenging enough to your experience level. One way to combat this is to show your specific interest in the company and why you want to work there, demonstrating your conviction in their principles and mission. 

High salary expectations

Hiring managers may think you had a higher salary in the past with your experience, anticipating you would not accept a lower salary. To quel this fear, it’s best to open salary negotiations during the hiring process, expecting you will most likely have to take a salary cut for a job.

How to address over qualifications in your job applications

It’s best to show you know you’re overqualified for the position to address over qualifications in your job applications, leveraging your experience. Let’s examine some key ways to address overqualification in job applications:

  • Show awareness of your overqualification.

  • Explain your motivation.

  • Speak simply and dress appropriately.

  • Do your research about the organization.

  • Leverage your network.

  • Sell your strengths.

  • Tailor your resume to the job.

Let’s take a closer look at each way to address overqualification. 

Show awareness of your overqualification.

Starting with a cover letter, one of the first things you can do is show awareness of your overqualifications. Using the word “overqualified” may make you look self-important to a hiring manager. Allow them to determine if you’re overqualified. However, it is okay to acknowledge that your experience is more than they were asking for in the job description.

Explain your motivation.

You want to be transparent and honest, but certain facts may have a hiring manager question your motivations or think you are unreliable. Phrase your reasons for wanting the lower position as positives for yourself and your career goals.

If you’ve been out of work for some time, explain your desire for something more predictable and steady. You might be looking for a shorter commute or a position that gives you more time with your family, but it’s best to focus your cover letter on the company and how your experience can impact the position you applied for. Leverage your cover letter as a way to explain your motivation. 

Speak simply and dress appropriately.

As with any interview, enunciate clearly and dress the part. If you’re applying to a professional position, ensure your neat and orderly appearance. Research the company culture to know what it deems appropriate in its industry. Corporate dress typically includes a dark suit or dress with simple accessories and dark, closed-toe shoes. Khakis, dress pants, and skirts with a nice button-down or blouse are acceptable in a business casual workplace. Additionally, speak simply by concisely listing your expertise, skills, and experience without leaning on complex language.  

Do your research about the organization.

Hiring managers want to know that you’ve researched the organization because it shows your interest in the position and the company regardless of your qualifications. If the job is in an industry you want to get experience in, this is a perfect place to show your interest in learning how a new industry operates and gaining new skills.

Stay current on company news and news in the industry at large. Have a thorough understanding of the organization you’re applying for and how it fits in its respective industry. 

Leverage your network. 

Use your network to your advantage. If you know someone in the company, let them vouch for you and the value you add to the organization. If the hiring manager has negative assumptions about your overqualification, a reference from a peer or previous place of work gives the hiring manager confidence in you as a person.  

Sell your strengths.

Once you’ve gained lots of experience, your worth becomes amplified, giving you your own unique set of credentials in the workplace. Use your experience to sell your strengths. Leverage your experience to the interviewer or hiring manager and how it makes you efficient and valuable to the organization. In an interview, ask questions that show your understanding of the company and its problem, using those questions to sell yourself and your experience.

Tailor your resume to the job.

Tailoring your resume to the job is useful for any job applicant, especially those with overqualifications. If you are currently a supervisor, your resume will no longer list the skills you had when you were in entry-level positions, but it’s useful to put some of those lower-level skills back on your resume to show a hiring manager that you’re comfortable doing them, even with your previous leadership position.

Depending on the role and your previous experience, you can show them what they need as an organization and how much this role could impact their company. However, it’s important to be careful as you don’t want to put off the hiring manager, but show how you add value to the company.

Getting started with Coursera

While being overqualified for a job may come with negative assumptions from hiring managers, there are various ways to counter the assumptions of overqualification and use it to your advantage to land your next career. If you’re seeking help with resume and interviewing skills, try the Interviewing and Resume Writing in English Specialization offered by The University of Maryland, College Park, on Coursera. 

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