Priorities do change in life. A woman in her late forties, working as a lead editor of a popular lifestyle magazine, earning a small fortune, leaves her job suddenly, and applies for a position of a waiters in a small local cafeteria.

Software engineer with vast experience and amazing portfolio suddenly sells his computer, leaves for New Zealand, and enrolls for a fruit picking job, alongside students twenty years his juniors.

Ambitious guy with MBA, and red diploma (graduating with honors) from Economics, sends his job application for a position of a forklift driver in a local warehouse.

These things do happen. But why? And how to explain them in the interview? We will look at it in this article.

 

World isn’t black and white–but many interviewers don’t understand it

I experienced these situations, and countless more, both from a position of an interviewers, and of a friend. I led interviews and talked to people who were apparently overqualified for the jobs they tried to get. Sometimes it made sense, and sometimes it didn’t.

I have always been a sensitive interviewer, however, and tried to understand more than just the qualification of the job applicant. Their expectations, worldviews, inner life, emotions, things they experienced and how they perceived them–all of it had a smaller or bigger impact on their decision to apply for this or that job.

Most interviewers aren’t like that, however. World is black and white for them, and they won’t understand why someone like you would apply for their job offer, when with your qualification (and experience) you could earn much more somewhere else.

Hence they will ask you directly. And now I will try to help you find the right answer to their question.

employees are talking motivation in a modern office

Honest answer can be your best option

Interviewer: I feel like you are overqualified for this position. You: Yes, I am. But…

You must realize that you see each other for the first time. Interviewers know little about you, and you know little about them. They rely on the information on your resume, and the first impression, simply things that didn’t say much about who you really are, about your thoughts and dreams.

If you do not find it difficult to talk about these things, go ahead. Tell them that you are tired with huge responsibility of senior managerial jobs. Or tired of working alone at your computer for hours on end (though earning $10K a month doing so).

Clearly explain why you are looking for a job that seems way below your qualifications and experience.

 

Show humility and willingness to adapt

If you apply for some sort of entry level job, or in a company that relies on their own extensive training program, it’s crucial to show your willingness to learn and adapt. Many companies prefer to hire people without any experience–simply becasue they can shape them to their image. And that’s sometimes tough to do with someone with 10 years of experience (who went through other training programs before).

Ensure them that though you’ve done a lot in life, you do not feel like a king of the world. Oppositely, you remain humble, and ready to learn from them, and follow their way of doing things in work (if they expect such an attitude from their new hires)…

 

Situations when you can’t get a better job–and seek temporary solution

Your reasons for applying can be more prosaic. Maybe you can’t get a fitting job to your education and experience at the moment. Economy is in recession, companies aren’t advertising good jobs, or you somehow struggle with your interviewing skills and can’t succeed in the interviews for high-ticket positions.

Nevertheless, you need money to live (just like everyone else) and decided to apply for a “worse” position, simply because your chances to succeed are better, and you badly need any kind of a job.

Now mark my words: If this is your reason, you should never admit it in an interview. Because they will immediately know that you’d leave their company as soon as you get a chance to do a better work, a more fitting one for your qualification.

But what to do then in this scenario?

 

Turn their focus to another thing

You can always try to change the topic, or drive their attention to something else. Qualification is one thing only–many other factors play a role when you are choosing a job.

For example, you can say that you love their working environment, company culture, etc. Or their office is just ten minutes away from your apartment, and you won’t spend two hours in traffic each day (like you did in your previous job).

You can simply praise them for something, and say that this reason outweighs the fact that you’d earn less money or do less sophisticated work.

 

Career growth opportunities in big companies

If you apply in a big company, you can always refer to future possibilities. Say that you simply want to get in (on whatever position), learn and become better in what you do, and later prove yourself worthy of promotion, and move to a more fitting role.

In many big corporations, you have to start from the bottom. For all marketing and management positions (and most finance jobs), they typically advertise entry level roles only. Employees are later promoted internally, and new hires take their entry level roles.

That’s the way it works, and you can say that you understand the process, and don’t want to be an exception to the rule.

 

Personal and family reasons

Last but not least, you can refer to the change in your priorities. When we are young, we strive for growth. We want to get good jobs, earn more, get promoted, and earn more again. Spending entire days in work, we feel like doing the right thing.

But as we grow older, many of us start families and have children. Even if we do not start a family, however, our priorities do often change. We realize that life is more than just work.  And sometimes we prefer to earn less, but leave the office at 3pm with a clear mind.

No worries, no taking work home, no conflicts with other managers, no deadlines. We may opt for a different lifestyle, and readily sacrifice our excellent salary and fancy job title.

If your interviewers aren’t completely absorbed in their (corporate) illusions of the world, they will understand you. And they will agree, and won’t have a problem with your qualifications…

job applicant is heading a form to an owner of a real estate business

Sample answers to “Aren’t you overqualified?”

Each of us has a their own life story. In this article I tried to outline different scenarios you may face, and what you can refer to in your answer, trying to cast the doubts of the interviewers aside.

Logically, a universally great answer to this question doesn’t exist.

Now I will show you several sample answers, but please look at them only as a sort of an inspiration, and do not try to copy them word to word in your interview. Because you have your own story, and own reasons for applying. Following the suggestions from previous paragraphs, you should be able to formulate your own perfect answer.

Let’s move to the answers:

I am overqualified, but I grew tired with managerial jobs, and with everything that belongs to them. Needing a change, different kind of people around me, different sort of working duties, I do not mind earning less. Reading your job description, I believe this is exactly what I want to do right now, what I need.

I’ve done more senior jobs, true. But I really like your corporation and heard great things about your training program. I try to stay humble, I still feel there’s much to learn, and I also believe that in the future I’d be able to progress further from the entry level position I try to get with you right now.

It’s not about qualifications anymore. I had such a huge responsibility in my last job, took work home, in my dreams I was working–if I could fall asleep at all. Working on Saturdays, dealing with immense pressure–I just got tired of it all. Look, I have a nice wife and two children. I’d like to spend more time with them, be a better father. We do not need millions to enjoy a simple yet beautiful family life. But I need steady working hours and a clear head once I leave the office. That’s not possible with the kind of a job I had before. I am looking for something way more simple.

 

Conclusion and next questions

You can be overqualified for the job and still get it. It is just about explaining your reasons to the interviewers, in a most appropriate way. Sometimes you will succeed with being brutally honest, other times you’ll have to play a little game with the interviewers. You will try to convince them of something that’s not entirely true, but makes perfect sense.

One way or another, they should never get an impression that you apply with them only because you can’t get a better job at the moment. Read the article again, think a bit about our sample answers, and try to prepare your own answer. I am sure you’ll manage to come up with a great one eventually!

Once done, you can progress preparing for other tough interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw

Matthew has been working in international recruitment since 2008. He helps job seekers from all walks of life to pursue their career goals, and to prepare for their interviews. He is the founder of InterviewPenguin.com website.
Matthew Chulaw

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