When a Hiring Manager Says “You’re Over Qualified”

job hunting job interviews Jan 06, 2023
Robots at the end of an Olympic competition on the winners podium. First, second, and third place.

In the context of a job search, it can be difficult to understand the ominous message, "We can't hire you because you're over qualified." After all, shouldn't being well-qualified be a good thing?

The job search process is often unfair. This "over qualified" message is one more example of how and why the job search process is unfair. For mid- and late-career professionals this message suggests added lack of fairness for multiple reasons.

Unfortunately, in the job market, there can be such a thing as being too qualified. Here are some possible explanations for why a hiring manager might say this to a job seeker.

A Traditional View Of This Message

In many cases it is possible that the employer is concerned that a so-called over qualified candidate will leave the role for a better fit within a short period of time. A recent time I heard this message was from a candidate who heard it shortly after having lost his job. The candidate was highly intelligent and competent. He interviewed well.

Moreover, the candidate had a wealth of experience and could do the employer's job quite well. But, the employer was concerned that the candidate would quickly become bored with the position and move on to something else.

Over on LinkedIn on comment I read, in gist, was about as follows:

When I am hiring or helping someone with that process my 'you're over qualified' thoughts are more equivalent to 'I don't like training people.' 'If I hire you and you leave I'll have to train a new replacement much sooner than I'd rather.'

The Potential For Discrimination

The potential for discrimination is an important point. Because of having worked longer, older candidates may be more likely to hear “over qualified” when the employer might really be thinking “too old.” If an employer passes on a candidate merely because of age, that employer would potentially be responsible for illegal discrimination.

For Folks Looking To Transition To Data Science

A related concern is specific to professionals who are looking to transition from one field to another. Unfortunately, screening for “over qualification” may prevent sincere and thoughtful career transitioners from doing well in the process.

If you are looking to transition, and/or if you are a mid- or late-career professional here are two important bits of advice for you:

Proactively explain why you want the job. Most interviews will include a question that asks what interests you in the position. As someone making to look a transition later in your career it becomes more important for you to anticipate this question and plan your answer.

Focus on what you can do for the employer. Mid- and late-career professionals bring assets as candidates that others earlier in their career do not offer. These assets are topics that I write about often. The assets include, but are note limited to, administrative experience, management experience, supervisory experience, strategic experience, leadership experience, professional network and credibility.

Don't get defensive if you are accused of being overqualified. Some of the best advice is to offer to keep the conversation open. Be thankful to the recruiter or hiring manager who has recognized your advanced skills and knowledge. Ask if you can keep the conversation open to discuss other open positions. Also, consider asking how you can make sure that you might be considered for other more advanced or senior positions the employer may list later.


Here is the bottom line. The "you're over qualified" message is one more example of how and why the job search process is unfair. Like this article's photo implies... An employer's decision doesn't have to make sense (to you) - it isn't a ranked result.

It's important to understand that this message may be given for a variety of reasons - some legitimate and others that may be less legitimate. If you are on the receiving end of this message, it's important not to get defensive. Instead, take a step back and try to understand the logic behind the message. From there you can decide how best to respond.

The best advice is to take the message as a compliment and also find ways to keep the conversation open. Ask to remain in contact with the hiring manager and the recruiter - all in anticipation of other more senior positions the employer may later list.

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