Overqualified! Is this a real concern or a convenient excuse?


Many companies do not give interview feedback to external candidates? But, when feedback is delivered, many of the applicants will hear these dreaded words, “You are an excellent candidate, but I am afraid you are overqualified for the position.” These words, intended to placate the candidate, often leave them frustrated and disillusioned.

There are a tremendous number of talented people in search of a new job. In many instances they are willing to work in jobs that are below their educational level, income history or experience. They want to work. They want to take care of their families, pay their bills and be productive contributors to society.

There are two attitudes about people that come into play in workplace scenarios. First, everybody likes to get added value, purchase something on sale or receive a bonus and a gift that is unexpected. They want to consider themselves lucky. This also applies to personal relationships. If a potential mate is interested in them and they are more attractive, with assets beyond their imagination, they consider themselves very fortunate. They are ecstatic when they gain something that exceeds their needs and expectations.

Second, no one likes to be tricked, used, manipulated, taken advantage of, fooled or exploited. If they hire someone and before they can give them a satisfactory return on investment, they leave the organization, people are left feeling they wasted their time and resources. If people invest time in a relationship and it is severed prematurely, they are disappointed and possibly angry.

Both of these philosophical dynamics come into play when companies are interviewing to fill vacant positions.

Overqualified people

There are facts that are known prior to the interview. Interviewers know whether or not a person’s qualifications match the needs of their assignment. If the person is overqualified, they know it before the interview. If being overqualified is a knockout factor for the assignment, the person should not be invited to the interview. It is wasting their time and company time. If they are brought to the interview, the assumption is that the organization is open-minded to consider them as a temporary or permanent fit for the job.

If they are invited to the interview and rejected, here are some of the potential real concerns and convenient excuses.

Real concerns

  • They have too much experience, but it is the wrong experience for today and for the future
  • They wanted them to perform well, but they bombed the interview
  • They did not convince the interviewer that they really wanted to work for their organization
  • They could not transfer their skills and experience to the job
  • The amount of time necessary to train them would slow down the work teams
  • They told the interviewer, in so many words, they would leave the company if something else became available With real concerns, interviewers have serious doubts about the person’s interest in the assignment. The organization knows, they are only available because a job that matches their background is not ready. They want the person to be happy and productive, but they are skeptical. They do not believe the candidate is ready for the lower paying job. They don’t want to take the risk to see if they could handle it. The interviewer wanted to be sold on the fact that they were capable of making the adjustment to the new job.

Convenient excuses

  •  The interviewer is reluctant or prohibited from giving the candidate the real reason for not selecting them
  • The overqualified line was given because it is the easiest explanation.
  • The candidate was so impressive in the interview that they were seen as a potential threat to vulnerable careers in the organization.
  • They like the candidate, but are afraid they would be frustrated and unhappy

Convenient excuses are used to hide the real reason for not giving someone a job. The excuses could indicate that someone was interviewed to meet a federal regulation to include certain individuals in a candidate pool. Company personnel have to be consistent when offering this explanation to candidates after the interview. When a candidate finds out that they were rejected as overqualified and other individuals with similar experiences were hired, they could cause problems.

Candidate – Overqualified Mindset

The candidate must understand the current predicament of the hiring manager. They are wrestling with the two dynamics discussed earlier; the struggle between obtaining extra value and the risk of being used by a desperate job seeker. They must recognize that the hiring manager has the following issues;

  • They are gauging seriousness as to whether the person really wants the job and would really stick around for a while.
  • The company feels the overqualified person is only interested in them because their real interests is not available.
  • Ask, “What do they need to hear from me, to make them comfortable enough to give me the job?”
  • They want to know that the job will be stimulating enough. They want them engaged and not disruptive to the team.
  • How can they make them feel that it is their lucky day that they are available to benefit the organization?
  • Convince them that they are hopeful that this opportunity will lead to something to benefit their career.
  • They may wonder if they are patient enough to stay with them and learn the job and contribute at a very high level.
  • Show them how they can add value to the organization, while broadening their skills
  • Demonstrate that this is a calculated move to strengthen their portfolio
  • Display belief in their ability to make it work, that they have thought it through and it is more than a desperate ploy, but an opportunity to show their humility while using their skills and work ethic to make a difference.

As discussed earlier, people like it when they can obtain greater value. If an organization can bring someone in the workforce that has skills above and beyond what is expected of the job and they are willing to accept the money offered and can hire them on a trial basis and groom them for greater things, it may be a risk worth taking. The hiring decision can be fraught with risk. Many times hiring a candidate who is not overqualified, can result in, them leaving shortly after being hired.

There isn’t a problem getting someone or being someone that is overqualified. The company, under the right circumstances, could use the person’s skills and experiences to enhance their organization. They could use their leadership to develop their peers. They could ideally be someone they would like to groom to fill other positions in the company down the road.

In this competitive work environment, people who are overqualified are constantly being hired, while others are being turned away. It is important for candidates to continue interviewing for the right job, and to be strategic and look at other positions to determine and how they can add value broaden their portfolio.

When individuals are told they were overqualified, this may mean they were unable to address the real concerns potentially posed by their resume. It could also be an indication that the interviewer took the easy way out and resorted to a convenient excuse.

Copyright © 2015 Orlando Ceaser


Tie breakers – Beating the crowd in a photo finish

Think_for_Myself[1]Similarity is everywhere. Parity is another word used to describe sameness that exists among sports teams. A commodity is a perception by customers that there is little difference between the items portrayed. The common view is that all of the products under review or investigation are interchangeable and can be substituted for each other. When this occurs with your career, something must be done to give you an edge. A slight variation can be seen as an advantage. If candidates are seen as equal, something must be done to break the tie.

There are so many talented candidates applying for jobs and many have equivalent academic and professional skill sets and expertise. College admission officers receive applications from a large number of straight “A” students and others with high grade point averages. Employment offices receive resumes from people with indistinguishable backgrounds. You have to devise a strategy to stand out or “differentiate” yourself from the crowd. Some people have accomplished this in the form of a short term and long term strategy of more education. This can be achieved in the form of an advanced degree or certificate of specialization in an area of need. This can be in the form of skills and experience gained in volunteer activities on the job, in school or in your community.

Leaders are needed in great numbers. Great leadership is desperately needed. Individuals with the emotional and intellectual fortitude to inspire and lead others to complete projects, exceed sales goals and solve problems will find employment. People with the technical, social skills and emotional intelligence will always be in demand.

Old School relatives always spoke of the value of a strong work ethic. It meant working a job to the best of your ability. It meant pride in the quality of your effort. Sometimes it meant working long hours, where the pay was not worth it in the short term, but there were significant long term benefits. There were occasions when a low paying job was used as a stepping stone to a higher paying job.

What would you use as a tie breaker if you were making a decision between several comparable people? This thought process will help you imagine what the interviewer is going through. Examples of potential tie breakers may include the following.

• Unique or various experiences which sets you apart from others
• Interests, hobbies and attributes which could add to the skills of your team. What are your interests that grow you in other areas? Volunteer opportunities and hobbies in art and music can portray an interesting person. You can develop techniques of creativity which can apply to other areas of life when examined for other tangible benefits
• Sports can be a tie breaker if you reached a high level of competency and can demonstrate valuable skills acquired during your playing days. Leadership positions such as the captain of the team and how this enhanced your character.
Some people look for points of identification with the interviewer as a potential tie breaker. I worked for a manager who loved to play racquetball. In a competitive interview when all else was equal I could see him leaning toward the candidate who was an avid racquetball player.

• Working to pay for your college education. Dave was a manager who worked his way through college and paid for 100% of his education. He therefore, had a bias for anyone who demonstrated these attributes. In an interview if he discovered this information, he immediately connected with the candidate. This plays into the decision-making process. He would use this information to break a tie. Granted this information is often impossible to gather, but I want you to think about acquiring extracurricular activities and education which could prove instrumental in your career development. The more well rounded you are, the greater the possibility of breaking the tie with other candidates.

Tony Alessandra, PhD. said years ago that people should work on their breath and depth of knowledge. The depth of knowledge referred to the information in your chosen area of interest; the data, experiences and connections that formed your expertise in your area of specialization. Your breath of knowledge is all of the other things you know outside of your business, which make you well rounded and hopefully more interesting.

You don’t want to be among the less impressive resumes. But even if among the best you must have sufficient skills to set yourself apart from others. Your leadership, risk taking, charisma and communication skills and leadership practices may be exactly what the organization or institution is looking to bring on board. Your hunger, sense of urgency and a track record of achieving goals are attractive to potential employers.

People may overlook the value of communication skills in breaking a tie and distinguishing yourself from others. Many people use their communication skills to enhance their profile. Students and adults join Toastmasters and look for opportunities to make presentations in front of large groups. People take acting classes to improve their ability to communicate. Their involvement has little to do with pursuing an acting career, but everything to do with building their network and improving their skills to communicate with different people.

Your career plan should contain elements or characteristics to set you apart from others. Or you should look at your interests and skills and ask, “Who would be interested in this array of talent? Am I competitive enough? What is missing? What do I need to do short term and long term? If interviewing was compared to a horse race, there would be people scattered all over the track. However, many would cross the line in a photo finish. It is up to the interviewers to find tangible ways to separate the candidates with equivalent skills. They find a way to break the tie. Illustrating and demonstrating your diverse skills, talents, background and connections will hopefully break the tie in your favor.

Copyright © 2013 Orlando Ceaser

Interviews: Honesty Is the Best Policy

I attended a career workshop sponsored by my church and one of the attendees asked, “How do you answer the question, what is your greatest weakness? Should I answer honestly or tell a lie?” She wanted to know if it was a trick question or did they really want to know the information. If she told the truth and it was not good, it could cost her a job? My experience confirms that the question is usually asked with the proper motivation. However you should always keep the following thoughts in mind:

• There are so many applicants for jobs that interviewers look for knockout factors
• They may want to know if you have given serious thought to self examination and self-awareness
• They may want to know if you have experiences or attributes that may not mesh with their values, beliefs and expectations
• They may use the question to confirm their intentions to hire or not to hire

There are several views circulating on the correct answer to this question.

Some experts feel the best way to handle the question of your greatest weakness is to identify an area of needed growth that is not terminal. For example, someone told me they were a stickler for details and was told they were over organized. Another responded that they were a perfectionist and their high standards were a problem for some people. The technique looks upon a weakness as a strength that’s overdone. They also phrased it in such a way that the perspective employer would love to hire someone with that problem. My personal favorite response is to present a truthful area of weakness and tell what you have done to correct it. It is no longer a problem or it has been significantly minimized. This takes guts and confidence.

You were taught from birth that honesty is the best policy. You should never discard the wisdom behind this phrase. However, you should look at your level of disclosure to ensure that you are not unintentionally sabotaging your chances at landing a job. Employers by law cannot ask you certain questions. Illegal areas include:

• Age
• Race
• National Origin
• Religion
• Marital status
• Dependents
• Child care problems
• Arrest records
• Health status

Since these areas are off limits, it would also not be appropriate for you to volunteer this information. Their questions must be limited to those areas that affect your ability to do the job.

People are imperfect and will say the most unbelievable things in the hot lights or perceived hot seat of an interview. Here are a few samples of honest comments from my archives of information collected from actual interviews, which you should avoid.

I asked a very competent graduate from a prominent university about her greatest weakness. She responded that she was a procrastinator. She would get things done, but it would take her some time to get around to it. If you are a work in progress, correct your issues so that they are not a problem. She was hired and became an outstanding employee and procrastination was not a problem.

A candidate at a job fair told me he wanted to get into sales. I asked why and he responded because friends said he had the gift to gab. I asked if he based his career objectives on everything his friends said, which startled him. After regaining his composure he said, he wanted to work for a corporation for a year and then go off and pursue his first love which was music. I translated his comments back to him saying, “You just told me that we will invest $100,000 to train you in the first year. Before we can recoup our investment, you are going to leave us to go off and blow your horn.” My advice to him was to collect his thoughts before taking that message to the other 100 exhibitors at the job fair. He took my advice and pulled himself out of the interviews to develop a better approach.

I received a request to talk to a relative of an employee. During a one hour exploratory interview I found her to be intelligent, a hard worker with a strong background and strong communication skills. I recommended her for the next interview. The next interviewer was disturbed by his interview with her, based on one comment. She disclosed that she had been a child alcoholic when she was 12 years old. She was 35 years old and he saw no reason for her to volunteer this information.

Many people are extremely honest and naive in interviews. They want to bear their souls unnecessarily in front of the interviewer. This phenomenon seems to be exacerbated when they are interviewing with a person in whom they have a lot in common.

The interview is not a confessional. It is however a witness stand and what you say can and will be held against you. Your answers to questions should be honest and truthful. However, you must evaluate the tactic of throwing ourselves at the mercy of the court, looking for forgiveness for your noble act of unnecessary disclosure. Remember, just the facts and provide information related to the job. Honesty is still the best policy, but revealing every pimple when it’s not relevant is a questionable strategy.

Copyright © 20013 Orlando Ceaser

How was the interview? How do you know? Just in time internal feedback

I spoke to Leslie in spin class. Her daughter had just completed an interview. I asked how the interview went. She said, “The interview went well.” How did she know? What information did she use to support her opinion? Candidates strive hard to interview well and look for signs during the interview to gauge their progress. When the interview is over they walk out with a sinking feeling of regret, exhilaration because they think it went well or a numb, not so sure how it went, sensation. What can they look for during the interview to gauge progress in time to insert a course correction? What can they do to reach a desired outcome, whether it is the next interview or an actual job offer?

The Interviewers Lens

The interviewer knows what they are looking for in a candidate. They have a job description and a set of behaviorally based questions that sort out attributes to match traits, characteristics, competencies or skills required for the job. They also have their interviewing style. When I began interviewing I wanted to make the candidates feel comfortable. My approach was professional and light hearted, designed to put the candidate at ease. They in turn were relaxed and gave me all the information I needed. It dawned on me one day that the candidates were so comfortable they probably felt they nailed the interview and were waiting for the job offer. They were probably confused and devastated when they received the “no interest” letter indicating they would not get the job. I decided to change my style. I became more serious, intense and reduced eye contact. I became more of an interrogator and less of a friend. However, I was still professional and gracious in answering questions. The approach still gave me the information I needed, but left the candidates guessing and less sure of the outcome of the interview.

I interviewed an Emmy award winning producer, who was trying to convince me he wanted a career change for an entry level sales representative position. In the middle of the interview, with my new style, he interrupted my note taking. “How am I doing?” he asked. “Excuse me,” I responded. “I usually can tell how I am doing in an interview. But I have absolutely no clue with you,” he asked in earnest. “That is by design,” I said. “Rather than give you something that you think I like and then get more of that from you; I act in the middle of the road so that I can see the real you, which is actually fairer to you in the long run.” I had landed on a style that worked for me and gave me the opportunity to get the most from the candidate’s background. This also reinforced the notion that candidates were evaluating their progress during the interviews, looking for positive signs of performance.

“Interview in Progress”

Here are a few clues that candidates have used to assess their status in an interview.

• Follow up questions – The interviewer asked for clarification or more detail while seeming interested in their background – If the line of questioning is intense and prolonged the interviewers may not understand their answers or are not getting the information they are looking for.
• Laughter – The candidates may receive laughter or a smile to show they are genuinely pleased with their responses
• Challenging remarks – “You mean to tell me that…. Or are you trying to say………I thought you said…These statements suggest the interviewer wants clarity and consistency.
• Body language – The interviewer may lean forward showing interest, a pleasant look as they write notes after a particular comment
• A short interview – The interviewee can tell if the interviewer is under whelmed when they are given less time than in earlier interviews, less time than the earlier candidate or less time than they were told to expect
• Volunteering information on the next steps in the interviewing process , as well as pointers on how to improve performance in the next round with their company
• Additional rapport building questions and conversations at the end of the interview.
• Introducing prospective employees to other people in their company is often a good sign, especially if accompanied by glowing recommendations

The candidates go through many hours of self-study, organization research and mental preparation for the interview. It is reasonable to seek instant feedback by personally monitoring the interview.” How am I doing?” was a favorite question from Ed Koch, the former Mayor of New York City. The comments above may provide some data on progress, but the following words should also be considered.

• Be true to their interview plan and give it the most factual information possible to answer the questions
• If they are not sure about the question or their response, it is okay to ask for clarification or to ask if their answer addressed the question
• Present a consistent view of who they are and their background
• Be poised and confident, so that when they leave the interview, they will have an accurate picture of them (what they choose to do with that picture is up then)
• Do not take the results of the interview personally. They may have many more interviews before they land a job. They need to be in the right frame of mind for the long haul. Sometimes a strong interview may not land the job. It may take a while to get the right job.

Candidates must prepare extensively for the interview, execute their interview plan, answer the questions succinctly and prepare for the next interview. Invariably, their experiences will align with the right employer and they will be hired for the right assignment. How is the interview going? How do you know? Don’t worry about it. You will ultimately reach your goal. You are one interview closer to your goal. You should get the position, hopefully sooner than later.

Copyright © 2013 Orlando Ceaser

Job Search – Working without a paycheck


We are not comfortable with uncertainty or the unknown. Companies are faced with hiring people to the massive numbers shed from their payrolls. People employed are thinking about worst case scenarios in the event they lose their job. Some are changing their life styles to build a nest egg just in case they need a cushion or safety net.

Companies have a larger more diversified candidate pool to compete for any of their vacancies. There are exponentially more applicants than available positions. This makes it extremely daunting and competitive. Candidates feel as if they have lottery type odds to be selected. Unlike the lottery, they have to work harder than ever to win a position.

Companies are also demanding extensive preparation for the interview. These requests exceed what was expected a few years ago. They are requesting 100 day plans, marketing proposals and live or video presentations. These interview assignments require exhaustive amounts of time and research. Ironically, employers must bear in mind that the project may not have been researched or developed by the person being interviewed.

Some companies have gone as far as to have the applicants perform the companies’ job for them. They elicit information which should have been performed by a salaried employee. For example, my son interviewed for a job where he was assigned a project of prospecting and developing a potential client list. He researched the potential client base as if he were one of their sales representatives. These potential targets were collected at the beginning of the interview. He did not get the job, but they kept the list. The 100 day plans, marketing proposal and presentation also contain content useful to the interviewing organization.

Companies are making requests because they can.  Our companies were challenged about our educational requirements for hiring employees. It was an arbitrary standard which allowed us to hire top talent and to exclude those we did not want. These projects use to be within the realm of request for internal candidates vying for a promotion. It was an incentive to make more money and an opportunity to demonstrate and showcase skills and development.

When job seekers prepare a special assignment, it should immediately become a part of their brag file to show others the extent they will perform to land a job. What do they do with these projects if they don’t land the job? Learn from the research and grow their skills from the investigations, analysis and the practice and actual presentations and feedback. Ask the potential employer for feedback, because the audition will prepare them for the next job.

Many employment experts suggest candidate’s volunteer time to gain experience which could help them later. Suggest internships in organizations that may not be able to afford their services. They may be impressed with their ingenuity and initiative to bring them on board in an assignment that may grow from pro bono to fee for service.

When interviewing outside of their industry be aware of the challenge of going against inertia. People enjoy replicating the past. They are comfortable with the known quantities. They like the tried and true techniques. Therefore they hire people who are grounded in their profession

I often like to remind people of the value of diversity of skills and experiences as contributors to innovation. Joel Barker said much innovation and challenges to the status quo is initiated by outsiders. These persons are not confined by the same blinders and mental barriers as those who grew up in a system. He uses the example of the jet engine technology influencing advancement in the automobile engine.

Candidates should thank the company when they don’t land the job. Ask for feedback that is constructive, especially if they have put in an inordinate amount of preparation. Ask to be considered for other jobs down the road and to keep their information on file. “I would like to contact you in the future. Do you think that is a good idea?” How the company answers this question may give the applicant some insight into their prospects for future employment.

Since it is a buyer’s market many companies do not send out “rejection” or “no interest” letters. The mindset is, “If you don’t hear from us, we are probably not interested.” Granted, it would be costly, but the more professional companies continue to contact people directly, to inform them of their status in the recruitment pipeline. They achieve common courtesy by contacting all candidates electronically or through the mail.  

Companies are using their knowledge of human nature to extract as much from candidates as possible. They pit people against each other, gladiator style, to see who wants the job more. Some companies take advantage of the needs of applicants to help their organizations obtain vital services and much-needed information. Applicants should ensure that the interview process is beneficial for all parties involved. Since they may be working without a paycheck, they should gain valuable skills and feedback to pave the way for a productive future.

Copyright © 2012 Orlando Ceaser