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Overqualified for the Job You Want?

Jane had just moved to Austin and was working in retail while hunting for a position in her field of marketing communications. She had been out of school for only two years but had already been promoted twice and was making an impressive salary before she moved. After five drawn-out interviews at an Austin ad agency, the agency’s owner finally confessed she had reservations about hiring Jane because of her previous experience and salary history. The position was back to square one, with an entry-level title and salary. Jane desperately assured her, “I’m working retail right now, and they’re about to make me a manager. Please rescue me! You won’t regret it.”

This story has a happy ending. Jane was hired and gratefully worked for the agency for five years with no regrets. However, for every success story like Jane’s, there are dozens of job candidates who are passed up for the jobs they want because they couldn’t convince the hiring manager to take a chance on someone who seemed overqualified.

With the job market being so tight, you may soon find yourself in a similar position. How do you convince the organization to take a chance on you?

First, you need to really want the job.

Before you try to convince someone else you should be hired, have you convinced yourself? If you do want the job only as a temporary fix, it may not only be hard to convince the hiring manager to hire you, but the move could hurt your chances of hopscotching into a better role soon after. A University of Texas study found that workers employed below their skill level appeared to future employers as being less committed and less competent than they actually are.

Be honest with yourself. Why are you attracted to the position? If it’s because it allows you to be in an industry you love or to focus on work you find meaningful, or it offers better benefits like health insurance or flexibility, that’s great. Those are legitimate reasons. In fact, 32% of workers would take a pay cut for those same reasons.

“If there is nothing that excites you and you are only there because you feel you need any job, it probably isn’t going to work out,” explains Donald Hatter, a best-selling author and expert on teaching professionals and businesses how to maximize their influence. “There has to be something that you like about the opportunity that can fuel your enthusiasm. Concentrate on those things.”

Then, you need to communicate your feelings.

You can start with the cover letter and resume. For your cover letter, executive resume writer Kelly Donovan recommends very briefly addressing why you were drawn to the position by writing something like, “Although I’m proud of my work managing a marketing department, I’d like to be able to focus once again on my favorite aspect of this field – executing digital marketing campaigns.”

Then adjust your resume to highlight skills that match the position and eliminate points that over-emphasize your overqualifications. “If the position you’re seeking is an individual contributor role, don’t include a bullet in your summary talking about your leadership skills,” Donovan advises. “And don’t refer to yourself as an executive in the summary unless you’re going for an executive role.”

When interviews roll around, you’ll know when the issue is weighing on the hiring manager’s mind when you start to get questions like, “How will you keep yourself challenged here?” and “What future do you see for yourself with our organization?”

Questions like these are tough to answer, says Monster Senior Contributing Writer John Rossheim, “because you’ve got to portray yourself as ambitious and yet realistic about your prospects. Work to persuade the interviewer that you’ve got a talent for making the most of any professional opportunity.”

At this point you can directly address the elephant in the room: Will you miss the job title and pay? And will you bolt the moment you can get them back elsewhere? Whatever it is the drew you to the position—whether it’s better work/life balance, more meaningful work, a refreshing change of scenery, or any other reason—be honest and clear about how much you value it over what you had built up to previously. Passion and enthusiasm can outrank experience quite easily.

If you have a tenured work history that shows you’re a loyal employee, be sure to highlight that, too. Do whatever you can to ease the hiring manager’s fear that you’re bound to leave for a “better job” as soon as you get a chance. Convince them that this is the job you’ve been working toward—even if it doesn’t conventionally make sense on paper—and they’ll have a hard time passing you up.

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