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How to get through the "over qualified" issue


Scott Keller Fort Belvoir, VA

I've think I have done the correct things. Started with networking, began getting referrals, and getting many final interviews. Unfortunately, I am one of those retired military veterans that are still unemployed. After final interviews, I get the same feedback... they love me as a candidate but believe I would be a better fit at a lower level (even though those lower levels positions are never available). My dilemna is... I am trying to leave the govt sector and go into the private sector. Because of that, I have learned to ensure my resume does not look like I am over qualified, and I continue to apply for positions I definitely am over qualified for but continue getting recommended to a lower level (just a level above entry level). These lower levels pretty much are at a level I worked at 20 years ago in the military (which means I would get bored easily with if I were to take them). What am I missing??

19 July 2021 22 replies Military to Civilian Transition



Bruce Marks Lewes, DE

Hi Scott, Lot's of great input in the answers provided. I'd welcome the opportunity to have a conversation with you, review your resume and discuss the interviewing process. It is quite different, as you've experienced already, in the private sector. If interested, email me at: (strictly volunteering to assist you). Bruce

1 August 2021 Helpful answer


Art Perez Gonzales, CA

Mental shift! You have realize they are looking for the best qualified “person” they can work with. This means they have to like you, not just like your resume. The resume just gets you the interview. The resume does NOT get you the job. Here are basic rules you need to follow to get the interview;
- List your experience as “over 10 years” of XYZ experience. They don’t care that you have 20+ Years of experience. Indicating more than 10 years is intimidating and you will likely be skipped for an interview.
- They don’t want your life’s story in the resume. They are looking for specific KSA’s. Only list the KSA’s the they are looking for that specific job. Don’t know what KSA’s are; you better find out.
- Once you get the interview, charm their tails off. People WANT to work with people they like.
- Prepare for the interview by tailoring your experience to the needs of the position. You must be able to explain in civilian speak how your experience applies to the position. You can add some of you other experiences during this portion of the interview, but read the room. Nobody likes a show off.
- Lastly, relax. You are no longer in the military. Coming off to stiff or too serious works against being likeable.

Good luck!

25 July 2021 Helpful answer


Mario Lopez Sanchez Bakersfield, CA

Hello Scott,

I know exactly how you feel I was going through the same issues when I retired in December. My suggestion is take a lower position if available and work your way up. In May of this year I took a lower position with a construction company. Could not be happier you have responsibilities but not everything falls on you.
As a fellow senior NCO I think we need to think of our health first. Leaving one stressful job to enter a completely new one in the civilian sector is very difficult and I can tell you from experience civilians do not have our work ethic so you should shine faster than your peers. Also I understand getting denied so many times makes you wonder if you’re capable trust me you are in some cases you intimidate others on your vast experience so don’t sweat it. Check out Orion Talent they help me find my job. Good luck and keep your head up.


24 July 2021 Helpful answer


Jeff Martin Ashburn, VA

A different idea might be that you take one of those lower level jobs and show that company what you are capable of delivering and give them a chance to promote you up to a higher level. If they don’t promote you then you can search for a new role while you still have a paycheck coming in. It might not be the ideal solution but I’d prefer to be demonstrating my worth at a company versus trying to convince them in the interview process. Sometimes you need to step down or step sideways before you can start moving up again. Just putting another option on the table for you to consider. Good luck.

23 July 2021 Helpful answer


Robert Hollis Frisco, TX

Hi Scott - If you’ve had “many final interviews” then you might be missing a critical final step in the interview process - which is Asking for the job! You need to close them - say “give me 90 days to prove myself”…or “give me a shot, I won’t disappoint you”…In fact if it’s a job that you really want then do some research on the position and the company’s goals and come up with a written game plan about what you would do in that position for the first 3 - 6 months and share it with the hiring company, it doesn’t have to be accurate, it just has to show that you’ve got the initiative and put together plans. You can also take a lower position and while asking for a commitment in return from the hiring company that if you do well then they’ll consider you at a higher position. That’s the way works most of the time anyways.

Oh yeah, that “starting at the bottom” thing, well it stinks, we’ve all had to start there again and sometimes more than once. The US Army doesn’t put civilians coming in automatically at the top as a flag officer or as a senior NCO and neither do corporations, regardless of your rank / time in service. That won’t ever change. One last thing - give yourself a couple of years to make this transition and realize that at the end of those years you will hit your goal of what you want in employment. Most all transitions take time and that’s the reality of it. Stay positive & strong, your Army discipline will see you through this phase of life.

7 August 2021 Helpful answer


Christopher Kellar Grove City, OH

As an old saying goes, the best way to get a job is to have a job... So maybe taking a lower level job may open up other opportunities.

2 August 2021 Helpful answer


Barbara Kennedy Salisbury, NC

Hi Scott,

Appreciate you sharing your dilemma as it looks like others have weathered the same. Being in HR for a corporation for over 25 years, I am literally using and interpreting the words, you've outlined, "they love me as a candidate but believe I would be a better fit at a lower level (even though those lower levels positions are never available)". This is just another me, your statement taken literally doesn't mean "over-qualified". If you were over-qualifed, you more than likely would have not been considered for a first interview let alone a final interview.

I think you are doing everything right! However, there is another candidate they selected that is more qualified, a better cultural fit, etc. and sometimes we don't know exactly the reason. May be you have received feedback directly that you are "over-qualified" from the hiring manager. If not, you might want to ask for the reason you were not selected. Most times though, they may just provide "we selected a more qualified candidate".

There are companies that do look for and hire veterans and service members, I work for one now. There is a need for your experience, its just like looking for a needle in a haystack. So please don't give up and keep applying and interviewing, it is about the numbers--getting no's to get to the yeses. You will get that job your looking for and that company will be so much better for hiring you.



30 July 2021 Helpful answer


Jerry Welsh Middleville, MI

If a position requires 10 years of experience, you are over qualified. Start networking, conduct some Informational Interviews with positions you feel you are qualified for. You have 20 years of experience, but how much of at a senior level. Link up with Michael Quinn, a CSM who had some issues similar to yours and speaks honestly about networking in versus trying sell what companies are not buying. Thanks for your service and God Bless.

27 July 2021 Helpful answer


Kent Watson Monticello, FL

Hello Scott, We commend you for your selfless service and dedication on behalf of a grateful Nation. Oftentimes, military jargon does not always translate to the private sector. Most in both military-industrial/industrial base complex do understand the importance of Leadership and values orientation. Corporations already have middle-management, senior management, and executive level management. Therefore, strongly suggest that you focus on your being a technocrat. Industrial certifications, technical certifications, and tradecraft certifications are keys to entry into the private sector. Networking will help you find someone to help open the door. However, your knowledge, skills, and abilities must prove your worth to any organization - tall or flat. Cyber security is going to remain a continued area of growth. Congress just did put $500,000,000.00 into cyber security to help protect homeland defense. Best of Luck, Kent T. Watson, National Security Consultant, CW4, US Army, Retired.

25 July 2021 Helpful answer


Jim Schreier Milwaukee, WI

There's a lot of excellent information here -- just one key factor is the importance and continuing emphasis on your networking activity.

I will add one point for your consideration. Despite your statement that you've tried to downplay your experience/qualifications from being "too/overqualified," this is something that could be a key in both your resume and your interview responses.

I have worked with several vets to better focus on accomplishments -- and move away from some "mistakes" that veterans often make in listing recognition/accomplishments. You can see one of my articles on "Superman" at this site or at

I'm also happy to review your resume from what might be a different perspective. However, you're getting interviews so the mentoring recommendations are critical to practice your intereview skills.

24 July 2021 Helpful answer


Joel Cushing Chillicothe, OH

Hey Scott,
There are probably hundreds of folks who have been through the same (or similar) thing. It is smart to reach out and get some feedback. I retired in late 2019 (Army E-8) and had some some of the same experiences that you are describing...and here is what I learned:

1 - Your "about me" part of your profile states: "...over 20 years of Operations and Leadership experience. Upon transition, aspires to transition towards a Senior Operations Manager role." I learned from experience that, unless you are applying for a similar gov/contractor role to what you did in uniform - 20 years of military experience unfortunately does not translate to 20 years of civilian/private sector experience at all. In other words - the civilian/private sector works very similar to the military sector...start at the bottom and work your way up - prove yourself and show the organization that you can function at a higher level in THEIR organization. If you are being offered positions "in the middle...." and not at the high level that you desire - not necessarily a bad thing. Get in there and show them that you have what it takes...just like you did in uniform. *Caveat - I have no idea what your resume says - just going off of what I could find here on ACP - and your LI account appears to show security/law enforcement experience.

2 - It has been mentioned in other comments, but find a mentor in the career field that you want to work. And "operations management," or "project management," or "leadership" are not career fields - this is the most common mistake that us transitioning military folks make. I learned that the hard way - lol. Narrow down a career field (I am sure that you already have) - find folks doing now what you want to do (ACP and LI are great places)...and ask for help.

Not sure if any of this helps - but again, I am fresh (last 18 months) out of the same situation that you find yourself in now.

Good Luck!
Best - Joel

23 July 2021 Helpful answer


Jeff Westling Virginia Beach, VA


I had a similar experience when I was looking for positions outside the government following a 27-year active duty career. Find other retired military members who are now in the field(s) in the type of business or sector you want. They will be in the best position to guide you. A couple points I learned and consider when I hire military retirees and veterans today:

1) Military/government jargon and titles are confusing and need significant explanation to those who never served - avoid using specific titles and language and focus on results and impacts (including in interviews).

2) Spend the funds to transition military/government certifications to industry standard certifications, licenses, etc. Government equivalents are meaningless outside the government since the government and non-government organizations require industry standards from people directly tied to government contracts. Private sector and NGOs don't understand government certifications and acknowledge industry standards.

3) Entry level or mid-level positions are the likely entry point regardless of years of experience unless coming from a similar role outside the government in the same sector and corporate/NGO career path. Similar that we won't bring someone into the military at the E-6+ or O-4+ levels even if they are experienced and overqualified, other employers do the same. They try to observe and grow within their sector and discipline, even though they recognize career progression across company lines (similar to rank, career path and past experience when transferring from command to command in the military).

4) Competent and overqualified veterans are noticed and recognized once in an organization. They typically promote quickly or climb the sector/career field ladder fast in similar organizations.

I hope this helps. Best wishes for continued success and in finding the correct position to leverage your skills, abilities, experience and desires. Those jobs are out there, but it takes time to find them.


22 July 2021 Helpful answer


Tim Feemster Dallas, TX

You live in Virginia and should be able to get a good job there. They have a very diversified economy with high tech, supply chain, manufacturing, cyber security, etc. and companies committed to hire veterans . I would like to have a conversation with you to understand the field you are looking at. I am a supply chain person so I may not be able to help you except for my network. My email is; phone 214-693-7689.

21 July 2021 Helpful answer


Gerald Mannikarote Houston, TX

Hi Scott,
This is a tough situation. I was in a similar situation when I was laid off. I was applying for jobs with no success and then I began applying for lower level jobs that would get me interviews but then wouldn't be able to get the job because I was over qualified. Eventually, I was able to secure a position that was a better fit for me through my network.
You mentioned that you started with networking, which is the right thing to do. I would continue to work with your network to find a better fit. This may take a lot longer than you would like, but ultimately it will help you get a more satisfying job.
I hope this helps. I wish you all the best.
Warm regards,

20 July 2021 Helpful answer


Saul Gomez Chesapeake, VA

Brother, feel free to reach out. I can certainly empathize. Short and to the point: Network on Linked In...specifically, via a "1,000 cups of coffee campaign". One thing I've learned is "seek a job and you will get advise and you shall get it, and maybe even a job offer".



Anne Crawford Swansea, MA

Hi Scott, I would ask you , why are you applying for the lower end jobs if you feel you are over qualified ? There are several factors going on here. One, you are looking in the wrong places, two, you might need some help with your transferable skills , and three, when you are in the interview you might be coming across as not a team player, since you out shine the person who is interviewing you. Feel free to reach out to me to discuss your situation in a more in-depth manner.


Karen Frank New Canaan, CT

A lot of great suggestions already, but offer you my 2 cents. There are two ways you can get over the over qualified piece. 1) Focus on higher level positions, but reorient your resume to focus on transferrable skills. A lot of times, recruiters don't really know what the role is about, but really are looking for those 'buzz words' or 'key words' in their search. I would look up the job descriptions of the type of role you think you're qualified for and then try to make the linkage to those skills sets and how you've demonstrated them via your job. There's a fallacy in resume writing that it's about listing your responsibilities and activities. This is just a form to help you express why you think you're qualified through your education and experience. 2) For those lower level roles, I think stating that you're confident you can do the job well and offer a trial period. I've done it for free (not sure if you're willing to do it), to demonstrate my willingness and interest in the role just to get my foot in the door. Once they get a handle of my skills, it's easier to then move around the organization or find a role that's better suited after a period of time. Good luck!


Paul Garbis Towaco, NJ

Scott, first and foremost, thanks for your service. I've worked with several guys through ACP and love doing it. It's a common problem, but let's have a conversation if you're interested. Nothing but free advice from someone who's been hiring people for 30+ years. If I can be of help, just reach out to me on Good luck!


John Parker, MBA, MSIS Vacaville, CA

I agree with what others have said. If you need a steady paycheck then there's nothing wrong with taking an entry-level job when one is available just as a temporary position. But with your background and experience, there's a possibility that instead of being promoted the standard way of step by step, you could jump a few positions once you prove what you're capable of doing. Keep networking and Google search for organizations in your area that help veterans transition to civilian careers. I used Swords to Plowshares and REBOOT but they may only be in California. I also used an executive search firm specializing in finding veterans top-level positions and they're based on the East Coast.


Daniel Sudmeier Oklahoma City, OK

Hello Scott,
First, good move on reaching to the community for assistance. We are a resource, so use us. For being "over qualified", there seems to be an agreement on the career field description needed to really address that issue. Have you been working with a mentor yet? Of not it is another great resource to use in helping you get there. Keep you chin up.


John Green Cary, NC

Hi Scott, You don't mention what area of expertise you are pursuing? Why not look at going into IT? The term overqualified may mean over priced. As a scrum master, you could easily make six figures. Do you have a security clearance? Raleigh NC, not far from where you live, is booming right now. Best of luck. JG


George Stalter Katy, TX


You could also try to use a recruiting agency (military to civilian, industry specific, etc.,). You can have them do the work to find positions in companies that recognize your military experience/education.

2. Project or contract positions can get you into companies where you can showcase your abilities. I've seen many contractors get hired during/after projects as permanent employees. May not be a direct route, but will help get you some visibility.

Hope this helps.


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