10 Reasons Being Overqualified For a Job Gets You Rejected

Man in Business Suit

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Being rejected is not fun.

But being overqualified for a job and still being rejected… well, that’s a special kind of frustration.

You can obviously do the job, you’re available and ready to start, and yet…they still turn you down.

What gives?

After all, having more experience, education, or skills should be a good thing, right?

To most of us, hearing we’re overqualified feels like we went on a date and got told we’re too funny or good-looking. And it leaves you wondering why it was a dealbreaker. 

But here’s the thing:

There could be many reasons why you got rejected. And usually, they actually don’t have anything to do with you.

But is being overqualified actually possible?

two business men shaking hands

The reality is: probably not.

Sure, you can have education, skills, and experience that surpass what the job actually requires.

But, that extra level of qualification is impressive. Besides, there’s really no such thing as having too much knowledge or experience. 

If there was, we’d all stop learning and evolving once we became experts in our fields.

At some jobs, you’ll have plenty of experience and they’ll welcome you with open arms. And at others, not so much.

So here’s why:

1. You’re Expensive 

woman using cellphone at desk

Aka, the employer is concerned about being able to pay you ‘fairly’ for the work you’re doing.

This reason is based entirely on the bottom line.

Salaries link directly to experience and skills. The amount you get paid will be calculated based on the number of years, education, and/or training you’ve had.

So in this case, it means the employer isn’t willing (or able to afford) to pay more for extra skills that aren’t actually needed for the job.

So before they start hiring, they come up with an estimate of how much they’re willing to pay you.

For experienced employees, this can be a problem. Sometimes you just need a job, and you’re fine with the pay.

Being overqualified for a job means the recruiter might assume your salary expectations are too high.

And they usually won’t tell you that, so you might get rejected based on their assumptions. 

2. “Why am I not being promoted?”

man shaking womans hand

Let’s face it:

Not all positions are upwardly mobile.

Some companies are too small. Others are family owned – and unless you’re in the family, your growth options will be limited.

And then others might just be highly competitive.

But here’s the bottom line:

People stay around longer if they know they’ll get rewarded for good performance.

Higher pay, better benefits, a promotion – you get the picture. So if you’re applying for a job with little to no room for growth, and the employer knows it, then you might be rejected.

But I want you to think of it like this:

They’re essentially telling you that you’re going to be worth a promotion at some point. They know they can’t give you what you deserve.

Take it as a compliment. That’s not something you want to realize a year later.

3. They Won’t be able to Keep You Long Enough

man and woman shaking hands

Employers often don’t know why you’d choose a lower position when you could clearly do better.

They might assume you’re only interested in the position because you’re desperate. And as a result, they’re afraid you’ll accept the job, then dip out as soon as a better opportunity knocks at the door. 

A real-life example of this was when my employer hired someone for a management position.

It was a mid-level supervisor role but she was qualified to run the entire business herself. And to be honest, she could’ve probably run it better than the man who hired her.

But she was in limbo.

So she kept applying for better positions. With her experience, she landed an upper-level regional management position somewhere else. It only took her six weeks.

“Is there even a need for me to stay 2 more weeks or can I leave now?” she asked the boss.

It sounds harsh, but she handled it very well, and there was no real reason for her to stay any longer than she had to.

It’s the nature of business, but employers don’t always see it this way.

You mean I spent six weeks investing and training someone for our company and they leave?

And it usually only has to happen once for them to never want it to happen again.

So they try to prevent it. And who could blame them?

4. They’re Concerned About Younger People Managing Older People

business people looking at laptop

This comes with the territory of being overqualified for a job. And this concern usually stems from one of two things:

1. The manager might have less experience than you

2. They don’t think you’ll be happy working for someone with less experience

So let’s break it down:

It’s a sticky situation that depends on the manager’s own level of security and confidence.

Will you be happy taking direction from them?

Will you try to undermine their decisions?

Will you cause trouble on the team by talking about them behind their back?

Insecurity causes people to do a lot of things. Again this has more to do with THEM rather than you.

A friend once told me she knew someone who filtered out resumes with better qualifications than him. He didn’t want his boss hiring anyone that could threaten his position.

It’s ridiculous, I know. But there ARE some people out there who are that way.

Granted, they usually don’t last very long in their positions, but it still happens.

5. They’re Not Sure That You Really Understand What the Job is

two coworkers collaborating

Employer’s sometimes worry that in your pursuit to get hired, you’re being a little too optimistic about what the job is actually like.

For example, if you think you’re going to be doing high-level administrative tasks when all they really need is someone to run the front desk. 

And if you don’t understand what the job is, who’s to say you won’t step on someone’s toes?

Or get bored with the position? Maybe you’ll find the job too easy or dull and they’re concerned it’ll cause problems later down the road.

Here’s the thing:

Engaged employees boost productivity. 

Employment engagement increases customer satisfaction and enhances company culture.

People who engage in what they do – are in general – easier to work with.

And while you actually may not be the type of person to put a damper on things – they still might not want to take the chance.

6. They View You as an Internal Competitor

woman using laptop

I’ve seen several times where an employer consciously chooses to not go with the most qualified candidate.

Why? Because in an environment where hierarchy is very important or there’s a lot of internal politics, the employer might be resistant to hire a visionary or leader.

Being overqualified for a job means you’re sometimes seen as a threat.

In that case, the employer might want to engage with you as a consultant instead of an employee:

Share your opinion, in private, and then leave.

Here’s why:

The company culture is very conservative.

The position requires a high level of conformity.

The manager has fragile self-esteem.

Here’s what one job seeker said about their experience:

 “I once had 2 interviews – One with a guy who told me I was overqualified (because he wasn’t comfortable when I asked why they were doing everything manually instead of creating a database and queries to process hundreds of applications per day) and the other offered me the job before the end of the day.”

Despite their positions of authority, many managers and leaders simply lack confidence.

7. Recruiter Laziness

coworkers brainstorming

There’s a lot that can be done in a job interview to address the issue of having too much experience or skills.

But only if recruiters take the time to address it with you.

More often, the reality is this:

For an overwhelmed, lazy, or maybe even extremely reserved recruiter, – it’s just much easier to dismiss you than to give you a chance to respond to any concerns.

8. They Wanted Someone Internally From the Start

business meeting

You never had a chance, even before you came through the door.

The employer already knew who they were going to hire, but they had to meet an interview quota. So the decision was made before you even submitted your resume.

And basically, consideration of your application was just a formality.

Your overqualified resume made you easy to spot as a candidate who could meet the quota and ‘legitimately’ be rejected without raising eyebrows.

Some companies have internal policies that require a thorough job search. And as unfair as it might seem, those managers go through the motions to fulfill their duty.

9. Are you qualified?

man typing on laptop

Some people decide that being overqualified for a job was the reason they weren’t hired.

I was the director of finance. Now I’ve applied to be a sales manager at several car dealerships, but no one is wanting to hire me. They must think I’m overqualified. 

That actually isn’t a situation of being overqualified – rather, simply not qualified.  If it came down to a finance director or an actual sales manager – who would you pick?

Here’s my point:

Sometimes we mistakenly think because we have good experience and skills, we assume we’ll automatically excel at other jobs.

That’s not always the case.

Sometimes employers just want someone who is good for the job at hand. Not overqualified or underqualified – just qualified. 

You were an admin assistant for a year at your last job? Great, you’ll fit our admin assistance position perfectly.

10. You Didn’t Show Your Best Side During the Interview

job interview

Job interviews can be intimidating.

You’re supposed to say the right things, look the part, come prepared, and put your best foot forward.

Easier said than done, right?

Maybe your nerves made you fumble the interview. Or you came across as overly confident or arrogant when you didn’t mean to. Or you just struggle with interviews.

The Solution

notebook on desk

You didn’t think I was going to give you all this information without telling you how to fix it, did you?

I know I addressed a lot of things in this article. But I don’t want you to get discouraged.

Here’s what to do instead:

Monster and The Balance recently published very helpful articles about what to do when you’re overqualified: 

Resume dilemma: I’m overqualified

Tips for Applying for a Job When You’re Overqualified

If you use the tips and tricks outlined in those articles, you’ll lessen your chances of being rejected.

And the best part?

You don’t have to misrepresent yourself by hiding or withholding important information from your resume. I don’t want you to feel like you have to hide every accomplishment you’ve had in your career.

Being overqualified is not the end of the world (and many people would say it’s a good problem to have).

You’ve achieved a lot. 

Thanks for reading.