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Skirt the 'overqualified' stamp

Skirt the 'overqualified' stamp
By Denise Kersten,

You scan the job description. You have everything they want - skills, education, experience. You've even got a couple extra years on the job or an advanced degree.   They'd be lucky to get you. So you start planning how to spend the first paycheck.  But then you hear it, the dreaded 'O' word: overqualified.
Yes, too much of a good thing is possible in the job hunt. Many candidates are running into this problem as the market dries up and high-level positions are increasingly difficult to find, forcing them to take a step back in their career.   The overqualified hurdle is a tricky one. While it's nice the employer recognizes your value, it still leaves you scrambling for a new job. To combat the 'O' word, begin by arming yourself with a thorough understanding of what it means.
Employers don't want to feel like they're using a hammer to tap in a thumbtack. They're worried:
You didn't do your homework and won't be interested once you learn the details of the position
You'll quit as soon as something else opens up The work won't challenge or motivate you
You won't be a good team player or fit in with other employees
You're too expensive
Your job, if you want the job, is to convince the employer that none of these are true, or at least that they can be overcome.  Take the employer's concerns seriously. Before you try to sway them, evaluate your situation and goals to determine whether these fears are legitimate. Will the type of work captivate your interest? Would you treat co-workers as peers? Is a lower salary going to satisfy you, at least temporarily?
If you can persuade yourself that you are a good fit for this position, try these 10 strategies to curb employers' potential reservations.
1. Know what you're applying for.
Pare down your chances of encountering the overqualified label by researching both the position and the company before you apply so you know exactly what you're trying to get into. Talk to people who work in the field or, if possible, within the company to gather details on the employers' expectations and the type of work involved.
2. Show genuine interest.
"No employer is going to hire someone who comes in and says 'This is not what I want to do, but I'm willing to do it because I really need a job,'" says Chris Moody, Chief Operating Officer of Aquent, a staffing agency for creative professionals based in Boston. Even if the position is a far cry from your dream job, there should be some aspects that mesh with your skills, interests and ambitions. Make a list of reasons why you want this particular job as opposed to, say, flipping burgers.
3. Get in the door.
If the employer tells you over the phone that you're overqualified, see if you can get an in-person interview anyway. In a face-to-face meeting there may be some room to shape the position to your skills.
"Companies have to look at people as assets that can contribute to the overall business even though they may not have all the prerequisite skills of a particular job," says Steve LaMotta, Managing Partner of HR Alliance, a human resources consulting firm in Dallas. "It should be more about hiring stars" and carving out a job for them than filling structured positions.
Landing an interview is also a savvy networking maneuver. If there is another position within the company, or if something opens up down the road, you will already be on the manager's radar.
4. Exude flexibility.
Help the employer see you in a new role by showing you can adjust to the company's needs. Stress your ability to shift gears as new challenges arise. "Point to places on your resume where you have proven to work in a flexible environment," Moody says. "Even within a single position, show how you wore many hats."
5. Find the middle ground.
Offset the areas of your background that make you overqualified with those that are less developed, advises Beverley Hamilton-Chandler, Director of Career Services at Princeton University. If you have a PhD but are applying for an entry-level position, for example, talk about how the job would help you acquire new skills and experience. "There's a balance there. It's not like you're overqualified totally across the board," says Hamilton-Chandler.
6. Be a team player.
One of the hiring manager's concerns may be that you won't accept input from other employees.  To get around this, Hamilton-Chandler recommends pointing out collaborative efforts on your resume and talk about what you've learned from others.
7. Emphasize skills, not titles.
In your resume, cover letter and interviews, highlight the kind of work you do best rather than the specific titles you've held. This may mean creating a skills-based resume, rather than chronological, or at least changing the language in your resume to focus on skills.  Instead of presenting yourself as an office manager, for example, promote your strong organizational skills and ability to act as a liaison between management and employees.
8. Make the price right.
If the company feels they can't afford you, demonstrate ways in which you would save or earn them money. Use examples from past experiences and ideas for innovation or streamlining in the new position to make them see they can't afford not to hire you.  But also keep in mind that you may not be able to reach your target salary if the company budgeted the position for someone less experienced, so determine your minimum salary requirement and try to arrange a six-month performance review.
9. Admire the organization.
Circumvent an employer's concern that you'll jump ship as soon as another opportunity opens up, explain that while the position may be a step down, you're willing to take it because of your interest in working for this particular company.  "If you're going to take a step back, or be overqualified in terms of the position, then it better be with an organization that you think you can really work with, and that there might be some additional growth," advises Steve LaMotta, Managing Partner of HR Alliance, a human resources consulting company in Dallas.  Discuss possibilities for future growth and how this position could serve as a stepping stone toward your ultimate goal.
10. Don't scare the manager.
Sometimes a little modesty pays. Try not to come off as someone attempting a hostile takeover. If you offer suggestions for improvement, also mention some areas where the company shines.  Be discreet in listing your accomplishments. If you hold an advanced degree, mention it on your resume, but don't scare off the employer by including an intimidating dissertation title. Also demonstrate your capacity to take direction. Talk about a successful relationship with a previous boss or professor.