Strategies to Beat the Overqualified Label

Tuerk, L. (2017) Successfully fighting the ‘overqualified’ label. Retrieved from

There is no argument that ageism is rampant in the US, and many are finding themselves in the most difficult searches of their lives. Why is this happening? The short version is this: the Internet means 700 people apply, and it used to be 37. Also the pace of business has never been faster. Everyone is overworked, always on, and exhausted. Hiring plans change every few weeks in many public companies. Add to that, the amount of information everybody is expected to handle has grown exponentially and no one has the time for thoughtful and contextual analysis of your email, cover letter, resume or LinkedIn profile. Don’t make them think! They don’t have time, and it’s not their fault.

24 Strategies to Beat the Overqualified Label

These are the strategies used successfully to be identified as a current contributor:

  1. First impressions happen once.
    Your profile and followup resume can have a much bigger and lasting impression than anything you say in a phone conversation or over lunch. However, there is simply no point in letting all your friends know you are looking if they can’t immediately see all the ways you might fit in.
  2. Skip the common “Over 20+ years general experience.”
    It reinforces your age, and it can scare people off who think you might be too expensive. Focus on specific and current skills.
  3. If they say they want 5+ years Project Management experience, and you have 17, use 5+. 
    It will help you in the algorithm, and it’s true.
  4. Don’t look so senior that they are afraid you will be bored.
    Keep it streamlined, and keep it specific. Concentrate on the last 5-15 years.
  5. Don’t emphasis a VP title if you are open to Director roles, and don’t use Manager if you are open to an individual contributor role.
    Use “Leader,” “Head of,” or “Expert.”
  6. Name your resume “YourNameSpecialty.”
    For example, use ” MarkJonesMarketing,” not “MarkJonesVPMarketingCMO” unless you will not consider any other title. Name it to make it easy for the employer.
  7. Appear relevant.
    Make it obviously and subliminally clear that you are a potential fit. Editing for relevance shows that you “get it.”
  8. Drop details that age you. 
    Keep your technical skills to what you have used in the last 10-15 years, and don’t continue to remind them of how far back you go. Keep them focused on your last 10 years of experience.
  9. If you do not have the technology skills they want, give examples of being a fast learner with something similar.
    If common technologies like MS Office are required by many, consider taking a low cost community college course in it.
  10. It is perfectly okay to trim your resume and LinkedIn Profile by not including your early years. 
    Starting anytime around around 1990-2005. If your early career was in highly desirable companies, keep it. Otherwise trim it. 
  11. Highlight your physical fitness.
    Mention it if you run marathons, play basketball, climb mountains, or some other activity requiring (and demonstrating) physical fitness. Find a way to mention these activities that require high energy at the bottom of page 1 on your resume. Increase your cool factor, and emphasize your energy.
  12. Fight their objection before they can even think it.
    Tell them when you are high energy, with a strong competitive spirit or if you thrive in fast-paced business/sales/tech/office environments. If you are accustomed to long hours and global travel, tell them above the fold page 1 in one of your descriptive bullets.
  13. Get a great LinkedIn photo that shows you as fitting in to your industry and their “culture.” 
    In many urban areas, no tie, maybe no jacket. In the midwest, and a conservative sector, maybe a suit and tie is warranted. A casual shot outdoors, with a winning expression (think World Series) is good for many, a more formal one can be obtained for little money at a local mall.
  14. Get a basic Gmail address for job search.
    It makes you look more current. Do NOT use Hotmail, or Yahoo.
  15. Make sure your phone number has the area code you want to work in.
    Make sure your LinkedIn locale is the largest metro area near you, not just one city.
  16. We are living in a specialist era. 
    This means you must appear to be a specialist with regard to the job description in order to get traction. So tweak your resume for each opportunity. Keep a master resume or spreadsheet of bullets and tech summaries to be used in different cases.
  17. Don’t spend 8-10 hours per day on your job search.
    You will actually get more done in 3 hours and be less stressed when you do have an interview.
  18. Don’t spend too much time on any one opportunity.
    Consider all opportunities have less than a 5% chance of turning into the winner. Spend a little time tweaking, but not hours. In the past, you would thoughtfully apply for 10 positions, speak with 6 or 7, interview for 3-4 and receive 1-2 offers. Executive turnover was lower, corporate and product direction didn’t change every few months, and hiring plans were solid.
  19. Make sure your resume opens cleanly and clearly on all platforms, including a smartphone.
    PDF is best. Keep keywords and phrases on the left margin when you can. Keep formatting very simple. No headers, footers, tables, or font changes.
  20. long cover letter ages you, and 95% of cover letters are not opened.
    Those that are read, are rarely seen by more than one person. Often the original screener is the only one who sees it. But, send one any way if you can (because 5-15% might knock you for not doing it). Make it very brief. A few sentences maximum, including best times/day/way to reach you and why you are excited about this opportunity and a fit. 
  21. Make sure any important facts are in both your cover letter and your resume.
    Make sure that any important conclusions or insights in a cover letter get expressed correctly on your LinkedIn profile, too.
  22. Be prepared and composed! 
    Don’t take a call from a colleague, a recruiter or an employer unless you are ready to accept it! If you come across as disorganized, scattered, or even hard to hear, you just shot yourself down. Have a professional SHORT voicemail, and be organized and distraction-free when you do take the call, from a quiet place with a clear connection.
  23. Radio silence is common. 
    Don’t take it personally; it is not personal rejection. Your resume was not seen in many cases. That’s not fair, but that’s the world today. You are in a pool of 700 possibly, and it used to be 35. And they might have put the job on hold (nothing to do with you). Check back in twice. If no response, move on.
  24. Eat well. Get lots of sleep. Take breaks. Breathe. Exercise.
    Join groups if they give you a sense of camaraderie, but leave groups if they depress you. But know that you are not alone. It’s a difficult time. It’s not just you.

Bottom Line

If you are an experienced job seeker, over 45, managing these assumptions can make all the difference in the open job market. Changing just a few things can have a big — and positive — impact.


Post Author: Peter Jackson