How to Answer Interview Questions About Being Overqualified for a Job

Woman conducting job interview with applicant in office.
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Interviewers will sometimes ask applicants if they feel they are overqualified for the job for which they are applying. When you have more experience than the job requires, the interview will want to know if the position is a fit for your qualifications and expertise.

Answering can be tricky. Think of your response as an opportunity to explain why you're interested in the position, even if it's a potential step down from previous roles. Plus, look to sell yourself as a candidate, showing how your qualifications will benefit the company.

Here's what you need to know to give a strong response to questions about being overqualified. 

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know 

Interviewers ask this question because they want to make sure the candidate they decide upon will stay in the position and not hop quickly to a job that better suits their experience, skills, and abilities.

They want to distinguish between candidates who are genuinely interested in the role at hand (versus ones who are just eager for any type of employment, and will quickly move on if they find a role more in line with their experience). 

This is also an opportunity for interviewers to confirm your qualifications, and to find out what's making you interested in the role. 

How to Answer “Are You Overqualified for This Job?”

In your response, you'll want to show that while you have higher qualifications than the job calls for, it's still a role that you want. There are a few different potential strategies you can use. 

For example, you can refute the premise, and note that you think you have the precise qualifications the job calls for. Or, you can talk about other motivations—such as an improved work-life balance or the ability to mentor others—that make this role a good fit for you. 

Examples of the Best Answers 

These examples may help you craft your own answers to this question. Keep in mind that you can customize these answers to fit your particular circumstances and the job you’re applying for.

Answers Emphasizing Quality of Work

Example Answer #1

Fortunately, I've lived enough years to have developed a judgment that allows me to focus on the future. Before we speak of past years, past titles, and past salaries, can we look at my strengths and abilities and how I've stayed on the cutting edge of my career field, including its technology?

Why It Works: In this response, the candidate reframes the question, and pivots to a conversation about their strengths. 

Example Answer #2

I was proud to be a charge nurse, but I really like getting back to working with patients.

Why It Works: This response shows that the candidate has a good motivation for taking a position that might be perceived as lower-level. 

Answers Emphasizing Flexibility

Example Answer

As you note, I've worked at a higher level, but this position is exactly what I'm looking for. You offer the opportunity to achieve the magic word: balance. I'm scouting for something challenging but a little less intense, so I can spend more time with my family.

Why It Works: This candidate provides a clear reason—work-life balance—for why they're willing to take a position that they're overqualified for. 

Answers Emphasizing Loyalty

Example Answer #1

I'm here because this is a company on the move, and I want to move up with you. With more than the minimal experience to just skim by, I offer immediate returns on your investment. Don't you want a winner with the skill sets and attitudes to do just that?

Why It Works: This response shows that the candidate will be motivated on the job. Plus, the candidate is able to pivot to talking about what they'll offer the company if hired. 

Example Answer #2

My family has grown. And I am no longer concerned with title and salary—I like to keep busy. A reference check will show I do my work on time and do it well as a team member. I'm sure we can agree on a salary that fits your budget. When can we make my time your time?

Why It Works: In this response, the candidate shows that they have other work-related motivations besides salary and title, and emphasizes their loyalty. 

Answers Emphasizing Experience as an Asset

Example Answer #1

Downsizings have left generational memory gaps in the workforce, and knowledge doesn't always get passed on to the people coming up. I could be an anchor or mentor—calm, stable, reliable, and providing day-to-day continuity to the younger team. For my last employer, I provided the history of a failed product launch to a new marketing manager, who then avoided making the same mistakes.

Why It Works: Here, the candidate shows how their experience will be beneficial to the company. It's particularly helpful that they provide an example of how their experience and mentorship has been helpful in the past.

Example Answer #2

My maturity, along with my experience, will enable me to do a terrific job for the company.

Why It Works: Here, the candidate owns their maturity and experience, rather than trying to downplay it. This response shows that far from being detrimental, the candidate's experience will be a good thing for the company. 

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

  • Be honest. It may feel tempting to play down your qualifications, but you should be proud of them. Own your qualifications, even if they're beyond what's strictly called for in the role.
  • Talk about how you'll help the company. Remember, interviewers are always most interested in the benefits you'll offer as an employee. So one option is to frame your response by showing that your experience is advantageous. 
  • Share why you're taking a step-down. If you are taking a job that you're overqualified for, it can be helpful to share why you're doing this. For instance, maybe you want less stress or crave a better work-life balance. Sometimes a lower-level position offers someone the ability to do more engaging work. Of course, if you fundamentally do not believe you're overqualified you can say so, noting how your current qualifications are a good match for the role at hand. 

What Not to Say 

  • Don't appear lazy. Avoid responses that'll make it seem like you're looking for a position where you don't have to do much, or any responses that'll make you seem like a clock-watcher. Interviewers are looking for engaged and motivated employees. 
  • Or desperate. Maybe you've searched so long for a job that you'll take just about anything. That's never what you want to convey in an interview, however. Acting willing to take any job, regardless of fit, will make interviewers nervous that you'll continue your job hunt even if you're offered a role. 

Possible Follow-Up Questions

  • Why do you want to work here? - Best Answers
  • Why are you the best person for the job? -Best Answers
  • What are your career goals? - Best Answers
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? 
  • How long do you plan on working here? - Best Answers

Key Takeaways

PREPARE IN ADVANCE: If you have a sense that you may be perceived as overqualified for a role, plan your answer in advance. 

TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER: Look for ways to talk about your skills and experience, and what you'll be able to offer the company if hired. 

SHOW YOU'LL BE AN ENGAGED, LONG-TERM EMPLOYEE: Often, interviewers ask this question out of concern that the role won't be a good long-term fit, leading you to look for a new role shortly after being hired. Aim to reassure interviewers that this is not the case.