‘You’re overqualified’: Job rejection feedback explained

When you get polite but woolly feedback from your job application, what does it really mean?

When you get polite but woolly feedback about your job application or curriculum vitae (CV), how do you interpret what this really means as well as then try to recover the situation?

Companies and recruiters can be frustratingly opaque when they’re delivering bad news, and this is largely down to human nature. None of us enjoys rejection or saying anything that sounds overly critical, so feedback is often cloaked in generic phrases. Worse still, you often need a translator to interpret the feedback, so let’s take a look at the stock phrases beloved of recruiters and what they truly mean. We’ll also examine the possibility of talking the employer or recruiter around to your point of view – it’s a long shot, but at this point you’ve nothing to lose.

‘You’re overqualified’

What you hear: "We'd rather find someone we can pay less to do the same job."
What the recruiter means: "We don't want you leaving after six months because you're bored."

You have to take their point, don’t you? But if you genuinely feel that you’re not overqualified for the role, or if you don’t see it as an issue, talk about what interests you in the company and show that you’ve done your research. Explain that while you may be highly qualified, you’re also enthusiastic and have a lot to offer.

‘You’re underqualified’

What you hear: "We expect you to have gained experience without any experience."
What the recruiter means: "Prove to us that it's not an issue."

This is the phrase that everyone hates to hear, but luckily it’s also a chance to prove the hiring manager wrong. Do this by talking about your best qualities (the ones that suit the role). Showing confidence in your ability to do the job can make all the difference. Never be tempted to apologise, either – if you feel the word ‘sorry’ is about to come out of your mouth, zip it up quick.

‘We’ll keep your CV on record for the future’

What you hear: "We're never going to look at your CV again."
What the recruiter means: "We'll get back in touch if a suitable vacancy comes up, but we can't guarantee it."

After hearing this, you’re probably left wondering if they’re telling the truth or just trying to spare your feelings. In reality, it could be a bit of both. And although they probably will keep your CV for future reference this doesn’t mean that another relevant job will ever come up. Don’t despair, though. It’s not unknown for employers to approach unsuccessful applicants if the first round of interviews is disappointing, and you’ve nothing to lose by saying thank you and hoping for the best.

‘We have a few more CVs to look at’

What you hear: "We've already thrown you onto the reject pile."
What the recruiter means: "We have a few more CVs to look at."

Sometimes, just sometimes, people do say what they mean. When you hear this, the best advice is to chill out and wait for them to come back to you. If you’ve still not heard anything after another couple of weeks, that’s the time to follow up.

James Reed is the chairman of Reed, Britain’s biggest and best-known recruitment brand. He is a best-selling author of two books, Why You? 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again and Put Your Mindset to Work (co-authored with Dr Paul Stoltz). His new book, The 7 Second CV: How to Land the Interview, is published by Virgin Books

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