Over time or through sheer personal ambition, you have gained increasing responsibility and higher earnings in return for the time and talent invested in your sales career. This makes you a prime candidate for lateral and even more prestigious roles. On the other hand, in today’s tight job market, you might feel your considerable experience can be a double-edged sword.

In your job search, have you applied for positions in which you knew you would excel, only to be told you are overqualified for the job?

As an executive search consultant specializing in sales for a national recruiting firm, sometimes I must say those words to highly accomplished candidates. It is difficult for some to understand why companies reject proven experience and exceptional skills. Although valid, it is short-sighted in several ways, especially regarding a candidate’s own career path and personal satisfaction.

Consider an employer’s perspective
If a hiring manager says you are overqualified for a job, it is important to not take it personally. Almost always, it is not a matter of, “We don’t think you can do it,” but rather, “How happy will you be and how long will you be here?” No company wants anyone to take a step back.

Some of you reading this have probably been in hiring roles. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes. Can you really see a skilled vice president out there working alongside your independent contributors? Hiring someone who is overqualified can make for an interesting team – or more likely, a speed bump that throws off the existing culture.

Companies must take a long-term view of candidates. They avoid bringing people on board with a major cut in compensation, only to have the employee end up feeling stuck in a job. For example, most employers will not hire a former director or vice president for an outside sales role because they recognize, and rightly so, that professionals with proven ability to manage people, divisions, and profit and loss, simply need more from a job to stay interested.

Employers are looking for enthusiasm and a long-term commitment, not candidates accustomed to earning six figures who will leave as soon as another six-figure job comes along. They onboard people they know are truly excited about the role and who will have plenty of room to grow and expand within the job.

Do companies make exceptions and hire overqualified candidates?
Yes, but not for jobs cutting a candidate’s salary in half. Companies will hire accomplished professionals for lateral sales roles representing a more reasonable compensation setback of $20k or less, which can quickly grow.

Employers also hire overqualified candidates who are very clear about wanting different scopes of responsibility than they have carried in the past. It is not uncommon for professionals to want to go back to being independent contributors, doing their own thing, not managing teams – even if it means less money.

For these and many other reasons, it is advantageous to work with a headhunter who has strong corporate connections and can market you and your goals to hiring employers, especially if your résumé portrays you as overqualified for your most desired roles.

Define and chase what you really want
The higher you climb in your career, the scope of available jobs requiring your level of expertise may become smaller. It’s true, there are fewer jobs at the top than in the middle, but this is a timeless reality, not a reason to compromise the next step in your career.

If you are a vice president applying for sales manager roles you really don’t want – stop applying for those jobs. Instead, network, make connections anywhere you can and partner with a recruiter who specializes in sales. If what you want is to take a step back, make sure that is your long-term goal – not what you are falling into because of a tight job market.

I recently had a conversation with a candidate who really wanted a job for which he was very much overqualified. After I reviewed his résumé and told him he was overqualified, he pushed back hard, explaining why he was the right person for the job. I asked what he likes best about his work, and several times he mentioned leading teams and watching people grow. When I cited how this job did not offer anything he loves to do, he let go and came to peace with it. Talking it out with a career and recruitment specialist was a light bulb for him.

Rather than become disillusioned in hearing, “You are overqualified,” remember the value of your experience, and that there are right-fit companies and positions calling for your leadership.


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