What to do when you're over-qualified

Because good jobs are hard to find

Updated: 
ABG82T Businessman interviewing a femal job applicant
For well over a decade, successive governments have focused on getting as many people as possible into higher education, with the result that the UK has more graduates than ever before.

However, just because somebody's qualified to do a job, that doesn't mean they'll necessarily get the chance. Last spring, a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) revealed that more than one in five jobs in the UK requires no more than a primary school education, compared with less than 5% in countries like Germany and Sweden. Three in ten UK workers are over-qualified for their jobs.

"We've been down the road of simply increasing the supply of skills without increasing UK productivity or the number of skilled jobs in the economy," commented CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese. "We now need to improve skills utilisation and stimulate demand for higher level skills through increasing the number of higher skilled roles available."

This, though, is easier said than done; and, in the meantime, people are struggling to compete for an inadequate number of skilled positions. Many are finding they're regularly turned down for jobs, not for being too weak - but too good.

If you find yourself in this situation, though, the first thing to do is to take a long, hard look at yourself. Are you really sure you're over-qualified for the job?

Employers often struggle to find a tactful reason for rejecting a candidate who looks good on paper but simply doesn't feel right. Suggesting that a candidate is 'over-qualified' can make a compliment out of a rejection.

Meanwhile, your belief that you're over-qualified may not be shared - and there's nothing more irritating than a job applicant who appears to think they're doing you a favour.

The uncomfortable truth is that, with the recent expansion of further education, well-qualified candidates may be ten a penny. That list of A levels and first-class degree may well make you capable of more than this trainee post, but the fact remains that you could be competing with a PhD.

However, the fact remains that there are a lot more graduates than there are graduate jobs, and there's no denying that many well-qualified individuals are being forced to try and persuade employers that they're perfect for a shelf-stacking job.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), only around 40% of all those who graduated in the summer of 2013 were on a permanent or open-ended contract six months later. And some universities have a particularly poor record: 54% of students from London Metropolitan University, for example, aren't in any sort of professional post six months after graduation.

So what do you do if you're genuinely over-qualified compared with the competition?

In this sort of scenario, the best thing to do is to play down your academic qualifications in favour of other attributes. In your covering letter, emphasise any holiday jobs or voluntary work that you may have had, stressing skills such as customer service or IT literacy. Try and give the impression that you're in this for the long term, and would like to progress your career within the company.

The problems are slightly different for older workers who for some reason aren't aiming all that high. Such people often experience serious discrimination from interviewers convinced that they'll be slow, set in their ways or inclined to try and take over. There's also the fear that people taking a step down will soon become dissatisfied, and leave for something better as soon as they get the chance.

In your application and interview, therefore, you'll need to counter these perceptions, even if they're not put to you directly. This can be done quite neatly by mentioning the new opportunities you might get from the job.

Does it involve a charitable or educational element, for example, that allows you to give something back? Or can you explain that you'd like to get away from paper-pushing and back to the coalface, where you're at your best?

You'd be daft not to stress that your experience makes you a safe pair of hands, and the ability to point to previous long-term jobs should help counter the perception that you'll quickly jump ship. But it's worth showing that you're keen to learn; it implies you're happy to take direction. And discuss any recent training or really cutting-edge knowledge to show you're up-to-date and willing to adapt.

The good news is that employers say they're now starting to suffer a shortage of well-qualified people - in some areas, at least. A survey of recruiters by KPMG and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) recently found that the availability of skilled workers was falling.

"We have acute shortages in the public sector, with recruiters reporting that teachers and healthcare workers are hard to find, both for permanent and temporary vacancies," says REC chief executive Kevin Green.

Read more on AOL Money:

Is a degree worth the money?

Skilled worker shortage 'a problem'

Aldi's bumper pay packet for graduates

Budget 2015: The 'Graduate Employability Crisis'