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How to Answer Key Interview Questions When You’re Overqualified

How to Answer Key Interview Questions When You’re Overqualified

Especially in times of high unemployment and financial distress, many candidates will apply for jobs for which they are, by conventional standards, overqualified. Does being overqualified mean you’ll be disqualified if you’re lucky enough to face an interviewer? Not if you handle the interview wisely. 

First, calm yourself with the thought that it’s normal for candidates who are something more or less than a 100 percent match to be considered as finalists. “You never find the perfect candidate,” says Paul Falcone, an HR executive and author of 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire. “Everyone’s too heavy or too light in qualifications.”

If you’re lucky, you may even find that your prospective employer is pleased that your wealth of skills and experience exceeds the position at hand. “Sometimes my clients like to hire an overqualified candidate,” says Greg Gary, managing director of Technisource, an IT recruiter. “The theory is that a great manager surrounds himself with people who know what he doesn’t know.”

Next, acknowledge that the depth of experience you may have glossed over in your resume cannot be denied in the interview. “You’re not going to sell yourself if you’re misrepresenting yourself,” says Sylvia Lafair, a consultant and author of Don’t Bring It to Work: Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success.

Indeed, “it’s better for the candidate to take the objection of overqualification and hold it up under the light from the beginning of the interview,” says Falcone. In that spirit, take a look at some interview questions the overqualified candidate is likely to encounter and suggestions for how you can respond effectively.

What will motivate you in a job that won’t make use of many of your qualifications?

The first thing an HR or hiring manager has to worry about is that the open position won’t stimulate you enough to keep you motivated. Since you can’t successfully argue that the job requirements will offer a healthy stretch of your capabilities, try a different approach.

“You can never be overqualified in your enthusiasm, your thirst for learning and desire to mentor,” says Lafair. “You’re selling you, not your skills.”

Given our company’s sluggish near-term outlook, you can’t expect a promotion anytime soon. Is that OK with you? Why is it OK?

Clearly you don’t want to say, “It’s OK. I’m happy to languish in a job that rarely challenges me, for however long.” Better to say: “I’m excited to learn as much as possible about your organization while I do my job every day. I’m confident that after the economy turns around, your company will offer further opportunities for me.”

Frankly, I’m concerned with this organization’s ability to keep you here. Aren’t you going to get bored or frustrated?

Interviewers’ next concern about overqualified candidates is that they’ll leave for greener pastures at the economy’s first uptick. “The hiring manager has to recognize that if the hire is overqualified, [he] will continue to look,” says Gary. Counter this fear by offering examples of how you found opportunities for professional growth in previous positions you held for considerable periods.
Why should I believe that you’re going to stay with our company?

Savvy interviewers are likely to challenge you on your contention that you’ll stick with the company even if you’re “underemployed” for an extended time. The trick, again, is to demonstrate you have a professional work history of sticking with it. “If your resume is tenured rather than choppy, point this out to the interviewer,” says Gary. “Point out how long you were at your last job, and say that what matters to you is fitting in.”

Starting out at the level of this position, what future do you see for yourself with our company?

When you talk about the future, keep talking about yourself and your prospective employer as business partners. “Emphasize that you are excited about the company and see good opportunities that can keep you there for a long time,” says Rodney Capron, CEO of Pongo Resume. The trick here is convince the interviewer that you’re looking for steady advancement in the long run, not a rapid series of promotions.

What would you tell an employer in five years about why you took this job? How would you justify it?

This is a tough interview question, 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, and that you’re confident that after five years you will have notched substantial achievements with the company.

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