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Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Dear Evil HR Lady,

I recently contacted you to ask about interview delays. I am in the process of a career change and I am seeking my first paralegal position. Well the firm that I told you about finally interviewed me last week. I received a call from HR explaining that the attorneys who interviewed me thought I was overqualified!! I have a BS and a MS degree.I explained that I am trying to gain experience as a paralegal and I feel like their firm would be a good starting place. The HR manager said that they are in the middle of a crunch and that they would not hire until after August 17 and that they are willing to reconsider my application. In the mean time I will keep applying with other firms. What do you think? Is there a chance they could still hire me? Are they politely rejecting me?

Thanks for your time.

There is always a chance for everything, so it doesn't hurt to keep that stick in the fire, but most likely they are politely rejecting you. Maybe not, though, so don't give up hope--just don't count on this.

The problem is as they told you--you are overqualified for the job. This can be about them most frustrating thing a job seeker can be told. You want the job. You need the job. You're qualified for the job. And they don't hire you because you are too smart or too experienced.

I will tell you why I am afraid of hiring "overqualified" people.

1. You'll get bored. If you have a PhD in astro-physics and you tell me that you want to be my admin, I'm pretty sure that you'll be bored to tears. This doesn't mean you aren't capable of doing the job, just that you'll be so bored you'll be miserable. And miserable people are no fun to work with.

2. You'll be constantly looking for a new job. Job hunting, as we all know, is a huge pain and it takes time. And the time it takes is usually during business hours. This means you'll be calling in "sick" or taking "personal days" with short notice so you can go on interviews. This leaves me short handed and worse leads to problem 3.

3. You'll quit. Eventually, everyone quits (or gets fired), but an overqualified person has more incentives to quit, and is more likely to find a better job sooner rather than later. Then I've got to go through the whole hassle and expense of hiring a replacement.

So, now you know why, let me help you overcome this. You want to change careers, not just jobs, so you may appear to be overqualified, but you really do want the job you are looking for. This, you have to convey.

You said, "I explained that I am trying to gain experience as a paralegal and I feel like their firm would be a good starting place." This screams flags 2 and 3 to me. What you need to say is, "I really want to be a paralegal. I've done X and I've done Y and I've now been certified as a paralegal (is there such a thing? I don't know) and I'm ready to jump in and go to work. Your firm has a great reputation and I'd love to be a part of the Begge, Borrow and Steel team."

You need to convince the interviewer that you want this job at this company. Not that you want a job at a company. You also don't want to fall into the "I only want to gain experience from your firm and then write my tell-all book about how lawyers really operate" trap. Remember, in a job search, it's all about the company until the offer is made. Then it becomes all about you and your needs.

Good luck, and this law firm may be salvageable. August 17 is coming up, so make sure to follow up.


Lisa said...

Great post. I have deemed people "overqualified" before and did not hire or select. Why, for exactly the reasons you so very well stated - way better than I did at the time. This one is a keeper for me!

Anonymous said...

Some people view "overqualified" as a smoke screen. In other words they do not want to state the real reason you did not get the position. The reasons include your salary is too high, you will not fit in, etc. Some people think it means you are too old. Of course age discrimination is illegal. Any thoughts on this?

Evil HR Lady said...

The problem with age discrimination and being overqualified is that the older you get, the more qualified you get, which can lead to being over qualified.

The key is convincing the potential manager that you want THIS job, not just A job.

Hopefully, that distinction makes sense.

There will always be people who will make decisions based on illegal criteria (age, sex, race) but will state another reason. But, in my experience, those people are few and far between.