The following is a guest post from careers writer, Brendan Cruickshank.
The idea is such a joke that there is now a book out by this name, Overqualified by Joey Comeau. Comeau writes cover letters to send with resumes, but they are not your run of the mill cover letters. Instead, they are outrageous, over the top cover letters. Comeau writes cover letters that say things like “It sounds like the sort of job that I don’t even need to think about while I’m doing it,” and “I have been programming Perl for eight years, on every business appropriate platform there is, and I’ve been around long enough to understand that there are no human beings reading this.” Comeau writes his letters as a joke, but as with all jokes, there is a kernel of truth here.
And the truth is, people who are overqualified for a job get cynical and jaded. Please don’t apply for or take a job for which you are overqualified. Even if you are hired (and most employers know better than to hire someone who is grossly overqualified), that job will not only make you unhappy, but make everyone around you, at work and at home, utterly miserable.
Good human resources managers know this already: an underqualified and inexperienced candidate is preferable to an overqualified one any day. Why? If you are underqualified, but enthusiastic about a job, you can and will learn how to do it. Learning the job will give you a challenge – and employees who are appropriately challenged are a joy to be around. They approach their work with creative, open minds. They don’t bring with them any preconceived notions or entrenched bad habits that they learned from previous coworkers or managers. Most importantly, they are not burned out.
If you lack experience for the work that you are applying for, don’t try to hide that fact. Instead, play up the advantages: you are enthusiastic, eager to learn, bright, open, full of energy and ideas. Once you get to the interview stage, it will be relatively easy for you to show your enthusiasm for the job. But in your resume, it is harder. If you want a potential employer to notice your energy and enthusiasm, and ask you in for an interview, use your resume to highlight the experience that you do have, and to point out areas of your life in which you show tremendous energy and motivation, even if those areas come from volunteer work, internships, extracurricular activities, or sports that you participate in.
Then, write a compelling cover letter – not a Comeau-esque letter like the ones I’ve quoted above, but a letter that shows your personality and the ways in which you are personally a good fit for this kind of work. Take a humble approach. Write about what you think you can learn from the job you are applying for – what you can learn from your supervisors, from your colleagues, from the company itself. This might sound like a risk. It might sound as though you are highlighting your own lack of experience. In a sense, you are, but that’s okay. What you are really doing is showing that you are ready for something new – and that you are smart enough to recognize a good opportunity when you see it. Have you ever heard the expression, “flattery will get you everywhere?” Flattery may not get you everywhere, but in a good cover letter, it will get you in the door for an interview – and that’s exactly what you need it to do.
In his 8 years in the job search and recruiting industry, Brendan has served in senior client services roles with major sites like Juju.com and JobsInTheMoney.com. He has been regularly quoted on topics such as employment as well as jobs. His opinions have appeared in the Wall Street Journal and US News & World Report as well as other major publications.