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Top Reasons Resumes Are Rejected – You’re Overqualified

It’s very discouraging to send countless resumes out into the world, and hear absolutely nothing back. It’s hard not to take it personally. Yet if you talk to hiring managers about why they reject most resumes, the reasons are pretty predictable. One of the most common is that the resume shows the applicant is overqualified. In other words, they’re too good for the job! (It sounds better put that way, doesn’t it?)

At the large school where my sister worked, they were looking for an office secretary. Among the applicants? A woman with a degree in marine biology! She wasn’t offered the job. My sister’s comment: “Wow, she must really have been desperate to apply for that!”

So why would someone apply for a job they were clearly overqualified for, by experience and/or education? A few of the most common:

Desperation: As my sister noted, people sometimes find themselves in positions where they really are desperate for a job, any job. It could be a high-level executive who’s been suddenly laid off in an unexpected downsizing, or blindsided when his/her company suddenly went under. It could be someone looking for work in a field glutted with other people looking for work. It could be a highly-educated woman suddenly thrown onto the crowded job market by divorce, with no recent experience. Desire for a less stressful job: Not all overqualified people are desperate. A successful doctor in my home town left his practice suddenly and amazed everyone by becoming a fishmonger. (A highly successful fishmonger.) Why? He wanted a life that was simpler and less stressful. From all accounts, he found it. Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon for people to want to scale down and simplify their lives, so you might have an ex-CEO applying for a job as a carpenter. Or a high school teacher trying to get hired on as an administrative assistant. Just moved to this country: It’s become a common joke on sitcoms: the scene plays out for awhile, with the foreign janitor in the background, ignored or patronized by the other characters, until it turns out the janitor was actually a neurosurgeon in his/her old country, or a leading cardiac specialist. This is one situation where it isn’t funny because it’s true. Many people from other countries are looking for work they’re vastly overqualified for, because they haven’t had the time, money or resources to go through the very complicated and difficult process of becoming recognized in their new country as a doctor, or whatever position they used to hold. Why do hiring managers reject the resumes of overqualified candidates? Usually it’s from the fear that:

They’ll get bored and leave. (And this is often a correct assessment.) They’re just marking time till something better comes along. (Also frequently correct.) They’re desperate. And desperation is not an attractive quality in a job seeker. Something bad happened at their last, more prestigious job that led to them having to leave that particular field. Maybe they were disbarred, or caught embezzling, or fired for incompetence. They’ll be impossible to direct since they’ll know so much more than everyone else at the job. (Or at least think they do.) If you send out a resume for a job you know you’re overqualified for, is there anything you can do to improve your chances? Here are some suggestions:

At the start of your resume, as well as in your cover letter, you must find a way to address the obvious: Say something briefly in your Profile explaining what’s going on. It won’t be easy to do, but a possible example could be: “Dedicated and hardworking professional, with many successful years in the medical field, with the goal of making the transition to a rewarding, long-term role in the hospitality industry.” The worst thing you can do is ignore the fact that you’re overqualified. Make sure your resume and cover letter stress that your goal is to stay in this job long-term. This will help allay the hiring manager’s fears that you’re taking it until something better shows up. It would help if your cover letter shows that you know a lot about their company and have a real desire to be part of it. Usually on resumes, we highlight professional achievements and education, but if you’re applying for something drastically lower down the employment ladder, it would be a very good idea to tone down your achievements and professional development. Don’t lie, but leave out information that would scream, “I’m too good for this job!” Make sure your resume highlights only the skills and education that are vital to the job you’re applying for. If you’re not up to the task, get your resume done professionally. Even with these suggestions, your chances of getting an interview when you’re overqualified are not as high as if you were a perfect match for the job, but a good resume and cover letter will go a long way to overcoming this obstacle. So don’t give up! With perseverance, it will happen.

Lorraine E. Wright is the owner of 21st Century Resumes, a company that designs technology-friendly, attention-grabbing resumes and cover letters. She customizes them uniquely for each job seeker, so they stand out in today’s crowded and competitive job market. To get a free assessment of your own resume, go to http://21stcenturyresumes.ca

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