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How can I show that I'm not overqualified?

If you're reading this then it's more than likely you've listened to the podcast I made on over-qualification (if not I recommend listening to it here first!). In the show, we discuss that over-qualification is perhaps more of a state of mind than a reason for employers to reject you. That's all very for us to say, but how is that reflected in reality? Surely, if you have a PhD, employers may be concerned about you leaving for the next better job that comes along?

Perhaps. But, if you can persuade the employer that you're the best person for the job and you're not going to leave then you can quash those concerns. How's best to do that?

1.       Spend time and energy getting skills and experience for the job.

If you're an employer and you're looking through the many, many CVs that come to you every day, one thing that will jump out at you is someone who has been spending their spare time and energy to try and get the experiences and skills for this career, beyond the minimum requirements. Sure, other applicants may meet all the criteria, but if you find someone who's put in that bit extra it immediately tells you that they're committed to it. Anyone can say they're committed to a job, but if you've got to the lengths to prove it then you will stand out.

2.      Get accreditation in your chosen career.

Again this is another way to show commitment. If you only have a passing interest in a job then you're unlikely to bother gaining accreditation for it. Why bother? On the other hand if you do it says to the employer that you're willing to put your money where your mouth is. Furthermore, this can help give you an insight into what will be involved in this career and may help you start with more confidence and progress more quickly.

3.      Explain the reasons for your career choices.

If you're concerned that employers are going to think you're just biding your time until the next post-doc opens up, then a good way to assuage their concerns is to beat them to their question. Tell them why you're moving in this direction, don't wait for them to ask. This can be done, succinctly, in your covering letter and can be subtly accomplished in your CV. Explaining your interest in a career path and why it developed or even why academia isn't for you can be useful. If you ever think there's a question that an employer is likely to ask, beat them to it.

4.      Don't consider yourself overqualified

This is probably something that came across strongest in the show: if you think you're overqualified, then the employer will treat you as such. Instead of thinking that you have unnecessary qualifications, think about what skills and experiences these qualifications have given you that will make you good at the job you're applying for. Tell the employer a story. Why do want this job? How did your extra qualifications teach you this? Rather than passing over those years think about how they got you to where you are now. Imagine you are the employer and think about what they would want to hear from you. If you were them, would you be happy if someone was a bit dismissive about a PhD or higher qualification, or if they couldn't adequately explain why that made them good for the job?

5.      Keep trying

I think that sometimes the reason people wonder if they're overqualified is if they're not being very successful with applications. The important thing to remember here is that you're not going to be successful every time at every thing. You can treat these knock-backs as a learning experience, think about what's going wrong, don't just throw your hands up in the air and curse your PhD. If you really are the best person for the job, why wouldn't someone hire you? It's unlikely to be because you have too many qualifications. I know it's hard and I don't mean to sound indifferent, but if you keep at it and keep trying you'll get there in the end. It's a hard world out there, but with the right mindset and ability to communicate your skills, you can be successful. 


I want to leave academia... but where should I go?