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Over 50: Are You "Overqualified"?

By Phyllis Mufson

Are you getting passed over for jobs and told it’s because you’re overqualified? Are you wondering if that’s "polite" wording for "too old"?

Or, are you one of the Baby Boomers looking to cut back and have a job with less stress and responsibility? Are you concerned because you’ve heard you won’t be considered because you are overqualified?

To a job seeker, the idea that you wouldn’t be chosen for a job because you have more education or experience than the job requires just doesn’t make sense. Why not hire the most experienced person?

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Hiring Manager Concerns About "Overqualified" Job Candidates

But hiring managers or recruiters often look at candidates with more education and experience differently. When they see higher level qualifications than the job demands what they’re concerned about is:

  • You won’t be challenged and will quickly become bored by the job.
  • You’re going to expect a higher salary than is budgeted.
  • You're only considering the job because the job market is tight. As the recession eases you will leave for a job that is a better fit.
  • Your manager, who may be younger or less experienced than you, will have a difficult time supervising you.
  • You’ve been a manager or executive, and you won’t adapt well to taking orders.

Hiring Manager Concerns About "Old" Job Candidates

Or, you may be correct in thinking "overqualified" is code for "’you are too old for the job." Fortunately, you can proactively address the major concerns employers may have about hiring older workers.

They wonder if:

  • Your skills may not be up to date, particularly your technical skills.
  • You may not have the physical and mental fitness to keep up with the stresses and hours needed to do the job successfully.
  • You may not have the flexibility to adapt to working with others who may be as young as your children.

If you’ve been reading this column, particularly the Beating Boomer Bias and Beating Boomer Stereotypes articles, you already know strategies to disarm these employer biases. You can find these articles in the directory to the right of this post in "More on Boomer Job Search."

Neutralize the Concerns
If you are, in reality, overqualified, here’s how to neutralize employer concerns:

1.  Research

Research the opening and company thoroughly, and then tailor your resume to the position. Elaborate on roles that are relevant to the job you are applying for, and deemphasize the rest. This is particularly important if the experience was linked to greater authority and responsibility than the position you are now applying for.

2.  Explain

In your cover letter be sure to present the reasons why you are interested in a job that requires a lower level of education or experience than you possess.

If you don’t explain in the cover letter, the employer may make the assumption that you just didn’t read the job description carefully and don’t understand what they are looking for. You may not get the opportunity to interview.

Possible explanations to include in your cover letter -

  • I’m interested in moving back into providing direct service to clients because that is the position I found most gratifying.
  • I’m comfortable with accepting a lower salary if it means doing work that is meaningful to me.
  • While I’ll still give 100% when I’m on the job, I’ve decided that at this stage of life I want the flexibility to be able to spend more time with my family. Therefore I’m interested in a part-time role such as ___________.

3.  Address the Issue

In the interview take the initiative to expand on your reasons why you are interested in a job where you have more skills and experience than are required.

Don’t wait for the employer to raise the question. Even if they don’t say "you appear to be overqualified," they may be thinking it.

It is your job to reassure the hiring manager that you will not be bored, that you have the curiosity and drive to keep learning new skills, that you are comfortable being supervised by someone younger, and that you will not become dissatisfied with a lower salary.

4.  Stress the Advantages

Once you’ve allayed employers’ doubts, stress the advantages you bring. Will your experience allow you to "hit the ground running"? Do you have the good judgment and superior interpersonal skills of a seasoned professional? Have you amassed a rich network of connections in your field? Do your qualifications enable you to perform additional functions that someone without your background could not? Have you informally mentored younger workers? Tell the interviewer, and illustrate your answers with personal anecdotes.

Follow these steps and you may be pleasantly surprised by the positive reception you receive from employers.

For More Information:

  • Managing the Age Issue with Recruiters
    Managing the “age issue” is a matter of perspective during the job search. For older job seekers, the goal is to turn your age into an asset so that recruiters and hiring managers view you as a seasoned veteran, not as overqualified.  Article by recruiter Jeff Lipschultz, Job-Hunt's Working with Recruiters Columnist.
  • Resumes for the Unemployed and Overqualified
    How to manage the overqualified issue on your resume, particularly when you want to "down-size" your next job.
  • The Myth of the Overqualified Worker
    Article by Andrew O’Connell for Harvard Business Review.

About the author...

Phyllis Mufson is a career / business consultant and a certified life coach with over 25 years of experience. She has helped hundreds of clients successfully navigate career transitions. You can learn more about Phyllis and her practice at PhyllisMufson and follow Phyllis on Twitter @PhyllisMufson and Google+.


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Guide to Job Search for Boomers & Those Over 50:

Over 50 / Boomer Job Search Concerns:

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Figuring Out What's Next for Over 50 / Boomers:

Developing Your Personal Success Plan for Over 50 / Boomers:

Making Your Best Impression for Over 50 / Boomers:

Over 50 / Boomer Career Pioneers:

Over 50 / Boomer Career Change:

Additional Resources:


Over 50? Want work?
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