I got this email from a LinkedIn member last week after he read my post on how to handle job rejection:

Dear J.T.

What can I say to a company who reviews my resume, calls me in for an hour-long interview, only to declare at the end they think I’m “overqualified” for the job and not a fit. I know this company is hiring a lot of people. I would think they would love hiring someone with more experience. But, they turned me down flat. I didn’t know how to respond. I just thanked them and left. What a waste of my time.

Is there anything I could have done to convince them otherwise?

Ouch. That’s no fun. He’s not the first to experience the, ” you’re overqualified” rejection – and he definitely won’t be the last.

“Overqualified” = Often Code For Something Else

Many times, getting called overqualified is a general explanation employers use to avoid telling you the real reason they don’t want to hire you. I’ve written before about this excuse and it’s true meaning. Here are 9 possible reasons they really aren’t hiring you.

But, the question this reader is asking is what to do to fight back. Well, here’s something you can try…

Acknowledge First…Then, Ask (Don’t Tell!)

The secret to handling any objection about your candidacy is to ask some polite clarifying questions so you can better understand what’s really bothering the hiring manager. For example, when he says, “You’re overqualified,” you can try one of these:

  • “I can appreciate your concern. Can you share with me what makes you feel that way?”
  • “Oh, I’d hate to think you felt my experience would work against me. What concerns you about my qualifications being too much for the role?”
  • “Thank you for your honestly. May I ask, are you worried that my qualifications will work against me in this job? If so, how?”
  • “I”m so glad you shared your worries about my experience. What would it take to make you feel comfortable hiring me at my skill level?”

Notice how all of the above first take into account the hiring manager’s feelings related to hiring you. You must acknowledge and validate his feelings. Perception is reality. Right now, his reality is you aren’t a fit. You can’t change that…yet.

Next, you ask a question that allows him to explore what it would take to change his mind. Asking is very important. You must resist the urge to want to defend your experience. Instead, you need to give the hiring manager the opportunity to process his concerns and share them openly with you. It will ensure he knows you have heard him. Only then will you earn the right to respond and (hopefully) be able to shift his mindset.

Key to Success: Know How to Read Between the Lines

Let me be clear – the technique above won’t work every time. And, you need to pay attention to the communication style of the hiring manager to anticipate if it will work. Some employers don’t like to be challenged once they’ve made up their mind they don’t want to hire you. Again, just look at the list of reasons why they often use the “overqualified” excuse and you’ll see some of them can’t be fixed. The hiring manager’s response to your question will either be honest and open up the discussion so you can try to give him information and reassurance that changes his mind. Or, he’ll get uncomfortable with you calling him out on the response and shut the conversation down. You need to be able to read people well and take into account their voice tone, body language, and other cues to determine if they are truly open to working through their concerns around your level of experience.

That being said, you really have nothing to lose by trying this technique because you’re already being told you won’t get the job. So, as long as you are polite and positive when you try it, you just may be able to shift the hiring manager’s perception. It’s worth a shot, right?

Alternative: Accept the Compliment & Focus On Using it to Land A Job Down the Line

If the above doesn’t feel right to you, and it won’t for some people, the alternative is to accept the “overqualified” statement as a compliment. You have great skills and the hiring manager might sincerely be fearful he won’t be able to use them in this role. But, who’s to say the company might not be able to use you in a more senior position down the line? In that case, I suggest you read my article here on LinkedIn called, “Didn’t Get The Job? Do This…” and use the experience as a way to start to build a long-term relationship with this employer so you can possible work with them in the future.

Never Forget, Hiring Is Discrimination

I hope one of the takeaways for those reading this is a reminder that hiring IS discrimination. Employers choose candidates based on personality, aptitude, and experience. It’s never a clear-cut decision. As businesses-of-one trying to market ourselves to these employers, we must accept we are up against a lot of competition, including the discriminating mindset of the hiring manager. We can either A) get angry about it and cry foul (only to never get hired). Or, B) focus on improving our personal brand and who we market it to so we can find the right employer who wants what we are selling. The above techniques are for those folks who feel the latter is the right way to approach the job search.

What other things can you do to fight against the “overqualified” rejection? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

P.S. – First time reading my posts? Thanks for taking the time to stop by! Not only do I write for Linkedin, but I’m also founder of the career advice site,CAREEREALISM, and currently run the career coaching program, CareerHMO. I hope you’ll check them both out!