Discriminated against for being over qualified?

Over the last three months I’ve applied for 3 roles, been thanked for my application, but told they won’t be going any further as I am ‘overqualified for the role’. One was for a charity with whom I have a personal connection, the other two were small - but growing - companies who I felt I could really help. I am now wondering how many others there have been who agreed with but didn’t voice this opinion.

I made it clear - or thought I’d made it clear - that I wanted to work locally, that I understood the role’s requirements and salary, and that I wanted to feel I was making a difference rather than just being a small cog in a big machine, but no joy. I’m now feeling, to be honest, discriminated against big-time!

I don’t want to have to have long commutes for the foreseeable future - yes there’s the pay and associated benefits but my wellbeing and quality of life is worth more to me. Any ideas on how to sell ‘being overqualified’ as a benefit to the employer?


  • There may well be many reasons you haven’t got these roles and it may just be convenient to say you are over qualified. As it's easy and quick.

    The only thing you can really do is have a cv very tailored to these roles that casts your experience in the style and light they are looking for. Dumbing down possibly but maybe necessary.

    Ultimately however it’s a buyers market. With multiple people applying for every role it’s probably just a question of reviewing every application and keep trying.

    On a personal note I would steer away from thinking in discrimination terms. It’s not a good headspace to occupy and is unlikely to see you approach these jobs in the right frame of mind.

    Good luck.
  • Hi Teresa although Keith's advice is very sound, I do understand how you feel as its hard not to take it personally sometimes.And there is considerable discrimination out there.I wonder if you are finding that agencies are the worst culprits - I have found, in recent years, that the more positive responses come from direct applications. Good luck with your search.
  • Hi Teresa
    I think I would agree with Keith here, it is probably just an easy thing to do to say that you are overqualified. Dare I say it, but imo it is about the age sometimes too, not that I am saying that you are old! I agree too with Julie, it is very hard not to take it personally. From my experience, I have had most luck with direct applications too, and an application form so you can tailor your experience to the job spec, with as much or as little detail as you like. I am sure you will find something, and with you on the commuting, it is exhausting.
  • It must be really frustrating and i hope you find a role that gives you the quality of life you are after soon.

    I do agree with Keith that getting into the mindset of being 'discriminated against'. probably isn't helpful. You don't say what type of roles you have been applying for, but an organisation is always going to have to go for the people who have the best match in terms of the skills, qualifications and experience relevant to the role. People who match less well, whether they be over or under qualified are always going to be less likely to be successful. An employer can only interview/appoint a finite amount of people for a role unfortunately.

    You may want to look at how you are approaching your application - are you being clear that you want that job (rather than just understand the requirements of it), or are you focusing on how you could use your skills and experience to help the organisation succeed (which is how your bio and post comes across)? If you are focusing on how your higher level skills and experience could help the organisation, you aren't really applying for the role on offer - you are applying for the job you think you could do for them.

    It is possible that with your skills and experience, the senior managers in the organisation are concerned that if you were to be appointed to a lower role, you would find it frustrating to not be in a role that is driving the direction and strategy of the organisation (i have worked with someone who did make the step down to get a better worklife balance, but then did find it incredibly frustrating and difficult that she did not have the influence she had previously).

    Good luck with your search
  • Just as an aside. I wonder if anyone has ever worked out what the success factor is for a suitably qualified candidate applying for a job.

    Total guess work but 1:10 1:20? ( for suitably fully qualified)

    It may be simply a factor that applying for a job a month simply is not stacking the odds in your favour ( and I appreciate these jobs won’t come up very often)
  • In reply to Keith:

    My wife has a success factor of 1:1. She's never not been offered a job she applied for. Sickening, isn't it?

    As far as being told you're "over qualified"... I would be inclined to push back for more information. We have numerous examples of people on this forum who complain they can't get an entry level role in HR after completing their MA in HRM, but that makes sense: they're over-qualified, but under-experienced. But in Teresa's case, she has both the qualifications and experience to perform the role, isn't expecting more money and understands the limits of expectations.

    In such cases "you're over-qualified" simply isn't a good reason to reject a candidate.

    Scratch a little deeper and you may find that they are terrified of challenge and change: they just want someone to keep the personnel files organized and the tea caddy full - they don't want an HR expert pointing out all the things they're not doing but ought to be or doing but ought not to be.

    It's short-sighted, but in many cases you may be better off not working for such organizations.
  • Hi Teresa

    Have you tried being pretty blunt in your covering letter? I experienced similar and was getting fed up so was very upfront and acknowledged I was too experienced and qualified for the role on paper and I'd reject me too, but I'd served my time in a full on stressful role and wanted to still be challenged but in a different way, and i also wanted to be able to leave work at work, so give me a chance to prove I was exactly right for the company (I think those were my actual words, nothing to lose and all that!).
  • In reply to Robey:

    Yes, ‘overqualified for the role’ can often really mean ‘you can probably do my own job far better than I am able to, so you’d be a potential threat if I hired you....’
  • Maybe more effective to draw on your professional networks to find your next role - the personal touch will allow you to fully articulate your motivations and underline your commitment. Could you get involved in local business events or CIPD branch to build new connections?

    Good luck!
  • In reply to Fiona Mary Palmer:

    I sincerely hope it isn't that! We can't win as women; we're either too young and there's a risk we'll go off and have babies or we're too old!!
  • In reply to Samantha:

    Hi Samantha just to make a point about covering letters, we have been recruiting recently and specified that a covering letter was essential. I worked out that less that 5% of applicants bothered. It does make selection easier I suppose.