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Job-Hunting Tactics for the Overqualified

June 2009 (SmartPros) There are certain labels in life that seem completely unfair and counterintuitive. One such term is "overqualified."

But this moniker isn’t reserved for well-tenured job seekers only. In the accounting world, even one or two years of experience could make some employers feel a candidate is overqualified for many positions. If you’ve been told by hiring managers that you’re too qualified for jobs you really wanted, you know how frustrating and confusing it can be.

It helps to understand a company’s reasoning. Their underlying concern is that you’d be bored, unfulfilled, difficult to manage or looking to jump ship the moment a better opportunity presents itself. And considering the significant costs associated with hiring and training new employees, many companies are simply unwilling to take a chance on accounting and finance professionals whom they feel are not a good long-term fit.

Following are job-search strategies you can use to dodge the dreaded overqualified label:

Get functional. Most people use the standard chronological resume. But a functional resume is organized around your top skills and abilities, allowing you to downplay previous job titles and dates of employment. If you were laid off and haven’t been able to find a job at your previous level, and hiring managers say you’re overqualified for less-senior roles, for instance, it can be helpful to revamp your resume and emphasize the key strengths you bring to the table.

Write highly targeted cover letters. Research the company to understand their unique needs. Then, use a customized cover letter to demonstrate your knowledge of the firm and zero in on the many skills you offer and your ability to hit the ground running. Mirror the language in the job ad by calling attention to your qualifications, attributes and professional achievements that are most germane to the position. You also can proactively allay potential overqualification fears by noting that you’re a highly motivated, adaptable and loyal team player seeking a long-term arrangement.

Be an enthusiastic interviewee. Displaying an upbeat attitude during the job interview can go a long way toward winning over a prospective employer. If an interviewer expresses concerns that you’re overqualified, it’s pointless to debate the topic. Instead, stay positive and outline specific points about why the job appeals to you. Smile often and enthusiastically speak of your sincere interest in both the position and the organization. As the saying goes, attitude is everything.

For more advice on management and career issues, listen to The Management Minute, Robert Half’s podcast series at

Accountemps is the world’s first and largest temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The company has more than 360 offices nationwide and offers online job search services at

2009 SmartPros Ltd. All rights reserved.

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