What Do You Mean I’m “Overqualified”? 5 Tips for Positioning Yourself Better

I'm Overqualified - Age Discrimination

“We’re looking for someone more junior.”
“We think you’ll get bored.”
“You’ve already been there and done that. Why would you want to do it again?”

A week doesn’t go by without someone telling me he or she was told one of these lines. Yet, when I look at the job description and compare it to the person’s resume, there are obvious matches and few big gaps. So, what does this mean and how do you combat it?

The truth is, it means the company wants to hire someone who’s younger than you. They won’t say it, and you can’t prove it, but that’s what they’re saying. They have a vision of what their ideal hire will look like, and it’s someone with less experience – and younger – than you.

I wrote about age discrimination in my last article, Age Discrimination is Alive and Well and Living in the Bay Area.  Here I’ll give you five tips on what you can do about it.

1. Revise your resume to better match the position. The fact is, most people put too much on their resume. They include things that are irrelevant for the specific position they’re applying for and show experience well beyond the scope of the job.

If you want to apply to a variety of positions with different skill requirements, create a resume template that can easily be amended to showcase the skills and experience that match the job. I’m not suggesting that you alter your career history to make you look like a whole different person, but you don’t have to put every single thing you’ve ever done on your resume.

Before applying to a position, carefully read through the job posting and make a copy of your resume template. In the copy, remove the items that don’t match the skills, qualifications, or responsibilities listed in the job posting. If the posting asks for things you can legitimately claim, but didn’t include in your resume template, add them to the resume copy you’ll apply with. If you want, add those things to the resume template as well.

2. Update your LinkedIn Summary section. Use the openness of the summary section in LinkedIn to explain who you are, what you do best, and what you want to be doing. Don’t be too stiff (like most resumes). Instead show warmth, energy, relatability, and your talents. As much as you can, let your personality show through. Doing so will help filter out employers you don’t want and attract employers you do want to consider you.

3. Update your LinkedIn picture. If your LinkedIn picture shows you in a suit and you want a position in a tech company, you’ll probably be seen as someone who’s “old school.” Get a new picture with good lighting, more casual clothes that fit well, and with a pose and smile that makes you look confident and approachable. Job hunting is like dating. You want to look like someone your potential employers will want to be with and as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Don’t let your LinkedIn picture be a thousand words telling potential employers to look at other people.

4. Practice your interviewing skills. Many times, people are passed up for roles because they simply didn’t interview well. This could even be in an initial phone interview. If you really want the job, there are things to say and not to say. For example, don’t come across as judgemental or sarcastic.

Use your empathy and look for things you have in common with the interviewer. Emphasize those things to make it easier for the interviewer to relate to you. Think about how you could make the interview work for you. Show your real side. Most older people don’t think of themselves as having the characteristics they assumed someone their biological age would have. Let your younger, inside self show through to the interviewer.

How you answer interview questions can be a problem regardless of your age. Phrases like “I’d rather” and “I would think” can make interviewers wonder how committed you would be to the position. Work with someone who’s an expert in interviewing and practice delivering your answers until the other person believes every word you’re saying, and so do you.

One important tip – no one wants to hire the person who says, “I want to find a job that I can stay at until I retire”. This screams, I’m tired, I don’t want to work that hard, and I just need a paycheck and benefits. Companies want to hire people with energy, stamina, perseverance, and commitment to doing whatever it takes. Be prepared to work as hard as you ever did, but this time around, you can add a few years of work and life experience to the team.

5. Show your youthful side. This can be tricky, but if you go to an interview and immediately see that your future boss is the same age as your kids, find a way to make light of it. If you have a sense of humor or can show your ability to connect with people younger than you, let everyone you encounter during the interview process see that you can fit in with them. Don’t let age differences intimidate you, and don’t automatically assume the person thinks your age makes you a bad choice. Take the higher road and show people you can work well with all ages.

The reality is that it’s often hard to recover or change the mind of someone who thinks you’re overqualified. The best approach is to do what you can by following the tips above to take “age” off the table as an issue and to let your young-at-heart internal self shine through for others to see.


Julia is a Career Strategist, Leadership Coach, and Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach based in the Bay Area. She helps career-focused professionals showcase their unique abilities and talents in order to amplify their presence in their chosen fields and when re-entering the job market. Julia uses her extensive leadership experience in executive management, business development, team building and recruiting to help her clients have the career they always wanted. Learn more about Julia at www.JuliaHolian.com, www.LinkedIn.com/in/JuliaHolian, https://Twitter.com/JuliaHolian (@JuliaHolian)  and www.Facebook.com/JuliaHolian.