Responding to “You’re Overqualified”

It’s not uncommon to be faced with a question or comment from an interviewer that seems confrontational or intended to put you off. Consider the infamous “you’re overqualified” comment. While your initial (and quite natural) reaction may be to defend yourself – wait! Starting off your response with outright disagreement may appear defensive or aggressive.  That doesn’t mean your only option is to meekly accept the interviewer’s point of view.  Consider the following:

What are they really saying?

The interviewer may not be intending to provoke you; he or she may have a legitimate concern. While most job seekers chafe at such a statement, the employer has an entirely different view, based upon a real-life business concern – will you be truly satisfied with work at a level lower than your previous job?  If not, employers will rightfully be concerned that you will jump ship at the first opportunity or will simply be a chronically under-utilized and unhappy employee.

See it as an opportunity!

Rather than assume they brought it up because they don’t want to hire you, remind yourself that they wouldn’t be wasting their time interviewing you if they weren’t interested.  Realize that rather than dismissing you as a candidate, they are actually crying out for reassurance.  This is your open invitation to address and overcome their concern.  If they seriously thought you were overqualified, they wouldn’t have offered you an interview!

Disagree without being disagreeable.

A defensive response can erode the positive rapport you were building, especially if your tone communicates irritation.  So, watch your body language and other non-verbals. Though you may be feeling frustrated, refocus on the employer’s underlying concern and respond to that in a calm and professional way.

Acknowledge their underlying concern.

When you immediately disagree with someone’s viewpoint, the result is that they feel unheard or misunderstood and you can come across as having something to hide.  If you glibly disagree, the employer will likely think you just don’t “get it” or that you do get it and are simply being insincere in your desperate effort to get a job, any job.

Instead, start by acknowledging the underlying business issue at hand, then move to explaining your alternative view of the situation. For example, you may say something like, “I understand why you might be concerned about that, given my previous position. However, let me share with you why I believe this position is a good fit with my career plans.”  This demonstrates that you understand their concern and that you aren’t faulting them for raising a difficult issue – in other words, you can tolerate opposing views and handle conflict without creating additional tension.  Certainly, these are desirable traits in a new team member!

Why is it the right job, anyway?

Yes, of course you need the income!  But you could do lots of other jobs just to make money – why are you considering this one?  Think back to what led you to respond to the posting or initiate contact with the employer.  Perhaps this role uses your favorite skills in ways your previous position didn’t.  Maybe it will allow you more creativity, autonomy, or the chance to control your time to maximize your professional and personal effectiveness.  In short, there is not one “right” answer, but there is your own authentic, well-reasoned answer.

If you simply don’t want the same level of responsibility (read: headaches!) be careful how you present this.  You may sound like you want to ease up and take it easy – not a positive message for the employer and probably not what you really mean either.  Instead, you might focus on how this job refocuses your priorities, for example, less emphasis on empire building and more on what you enjoy or do best.


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