Dear J.T. & Dale: I recently went through a series of interviews and thought I had the job till I got a voice mail stating that while I was wonderful, the department had decided to go with someone they'd worked with previously. She also said that perhaps I was a little overqualified. OK, I'm out of college less than a year - how could I be overqualified? During the interviews, I did stress I like to work hard and feel a sense of accomplishment. Did I overdo it? - Michelle
Dale: Overqualified is nothing but a weak, generic excuse. I'm so frustrated by managers relying on such a lame excuse that here's a new formula: Anyone who rejects an employee for being overqualified is underqualified to be a manager. Great bosses hire the best people they can find, and are good enough managers to know that they can keep them engaged and involved and, as the economy improves, help them move up.
J.T.: A bit of an overstatement, perhaps, but Michelle, just so you know, one of the reasons companies start worrying about overqualified candidates is because of bad experiences - they've chosen candidates with too-good qualifications, only to have those people leave them shortly thereafter. The result becomes a fixation on hiring someone who'll be satisfied with what he or she has got.
Dale: Which is another way of saying they develop a fixation on high-level mediocrity.
J.T.: Well ... more like Goldilocks and the Three Bears - just right.
Dale: So, Michelle, what can you do to be just right? You can search for a great boss who wants ambitious people, but the great ones are hard to find, and rarely use the traditional job market. Meanwhile, here's what you do: In interviews, don't just sell yourself on how terrific you are - by doing that, you can come across as cocky and overly ambitious. Instead, sell your skills as a team player, emphasizing ways in which you helped your previous managers and made them look good. And also emphasize that you're eager to learn. What I'm about to say is corny but useful: Instead of coming across as a know-it-all, come across as a learn-it-all.
J.T.: And, during the interview, mention that you hope to find a company and manager to work with long term. If all goes well, you'll find a great boss, and you'll work together for many years, moving up together.