If you know (or suspect) that your target employers are looking for someone with a little less experience than you have, don't stride in the door expecting to blow them away. You might think that experience and skills are a simple commodity, like money: the more the better, and candidate with the most wins the day, period. But in the job marketplace, the equations that determine applicant value are little more complex than this, and overqualified candidates are often assumed to be expensive, threatening, unreliable, rigid, and non-compliant.
As you draft your resume for a lateral or lower-level position than you're used to, don't let over-qualification stand in your way. Keep these tips in mind.
1. Keep your document tailored to the job.
The most "qualified" candidates are not the most knowledgeable or the most experienced. They're the ones who are best suited to the responsibilities of the job at hand and the culture of the workplace. As Charles Darwin explained to us, survival does not go to the strongest—It goes to those best suited to the environment in which they live. You may be a powerful bear or a great white shark...but those traits won't help you thrive in a treetop community of songbirds.
2. Learn all you can about the job first.
If you don't know anything about the community you're stepping into, solve that problem with a little research. Visit the company website and find out all you can about this company's culture, its primary clientele, and its business model. Find out what the company needs and how you (and you alone) can meet those needs.
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3. Get over yourself.
Be humble and focus on your current mission. Do you want to impress your grandma, or do you want to land this job? Do you want to win a Nobel Prize, or do you want to land this job? Do you want to create mass envy at your high school reunion…or do you want to land this job? Yes, you worked hard to earn your PhD, but if a PhD might scare these employers and keep you from landing the job, remove it from your resume. If you simply can't bring yourself to do this because you see this act as a cruel form of self-betrayal, then forget this job and reset your sites on something else.
4. Choose relevance and fight the urge to generically impress.
As you remove your PhD, consider removing or reframing the other accomplishments from your past that might be generically "impressive", but irrelevant to this position. Put yourself in the shoes of this employer…you have a job to do and position to staff. What kind of candidate can best help you reach your specific goals?
5. Be personable.
All resumes and cover letters should come across as warm, cheerful and personable. But this is especially important for overqualified candidates. If you seem approachable, friendly, compliant and easy to work with, this can help allay many of the fears and concerns that come with over-qualification. Managers are skeptical of candidates who might be rude or presumptuous, or those who might feel entitled or try to walk in and take over. Make it clear from the start that you aren't this kind of person.
Keep Your Resume Tight, Relevant & Clear
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