I have been working in IT for over 20 years now, and had another career before that.

My problem is that I don't want, and can't take the stress of the positions I am qualified for. The stress will literally kill me. I can handle lower stress/responsibility positions with no problem at all, but I keep getting hit with "Aren't you overqualified".

Of course, they want to know why someone who could command a much higher salary seems to be "settling" for their company and position. I know this sets off one of two red flags in either "What's wrong with him" or "He's just looking for a filler position"

How can I handle the "over qualified" questions for positions I actually do want as a permanent position?

Since this has been flagged, let me explain how this is different. I do not merely have to account for being overqualified but deal with the reason being that I suffered a stroke, and the stress from continuing on the level I was on would likely trigger another one. While it is illegal to ask about medical issues, it is NOT illegal to ask about being overqualified. So this question is BOTH about being overqualified AND about having medical issues which require me to take a step back in job level.

  • Even if this fact is true, I would avoid using the phrase "the stress will literally kill me" when you give your explanation to a would-be employer.
    – Brandin
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 11:42
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    Well, I'm not trying to tell this to employers, just asking for advice and explaining to the group why I cannot go back to doing what I was doing. Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 13:14
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    I looked at the overqualified question, it's not the same issue for me. Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 14:37
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    I also don't think this is a duplicate of the "overqualified" question. I'd be interested in answers, too, as I'm in a somewhat similar situation, where I simply can't work at my previous (very high) level any longer.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 18:53
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    Related question: Convincing a prospective employer about taking a “lower” ranked job
    – sleske
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 8:15

4 Answers 4


The truth sounds like your friend here. You're not settling, there isn't some problem that you're hiding, you're just making a work-life trade-off that makes sense for you today.

I've seen plenty of people that have taken a step back from the career ladder perspective to get a better quality of life. It's perfectly reasonable to say something like "I enjoyed my X years as a Senior Widget Maker and I learned a lot but doing that job well meant that I was spending a huge amount of time focused on widget making. At this point in my life, I'm really eager to move into a role where I can spend more time outside work with my family/ enjoying my hobbies/ whatever floats your boat. Working as a Widget Polisher here at Acme lets me leverage all the widget making skills I've built up while giving me the freedom to leave widget making in the office at the end of the day."

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    Does not it sound like "I do not have it in me anymore" or "I burnt out"?
    – PM 77-1
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 23:01
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    @PM 77-1, well It sounds like the OP doesn't want it to sound like that which is why this is an excellent answer!
    – Octopus
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 23:10
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    @PM77-1 I think the key here is to avoid sounding negative. Don't say "I don't have it in me to do X", instead say "I want to do Y (instead)". The meaning may be the same, but the impression you leave is different.
    – Brandin
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 11:44
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    Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'. We are not now that strength which in old days. Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are -Tennyson Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 15:19

I can handle lower stress/responsibility positions with no problem at all, but I keep getting hit with "Aren't you overqualified".

How can I handle the "over qualified" questions for positions I actually do want as a permanent position?

You simply tell them the truth about your medical condition forcing you to look for a lower-stress position.

That way, you'll get feedback as to if this lower-level position is indeed lower-stress, or just lower-pay. In which case you'll need to look elsewhere.

If you don't tell them the real issue, they can't help you, and will suspect your motives.

While it is illegal to ask about medical issues, it is NOT illegal to ask about being overqualified.

It's not illegal for an interviewer to discuss your medical condition with you, if you tell them about it.

  • 1
    Don't share your medical information with anyone except your health care provider. There's a reason medical questions aren't allowed in job interviews.
    – empty
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 22:16
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    @empty The reason that medical questions are not allowed is because it could lead to unfair discrimination. Joe recommends giving medical information yourself because it puts you into a better light.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 22:20
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    @gnasher729 understood. Medical info in this case would be a very bad idea. One more reason for disriminating.
    – empty
    Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 2:25

Some comments have mentioned that you should not disclose your medical information with your employer or interviewer, so I will be answering with that in mind.

How can I handle the "over qualified" questions for positions I actually do want as a permanent position?

Explain to them that you have a medical issue that can be triggered by stress, which is why you decided to leave your senior position. Keep it generic and don't reveal more than you have to. This avoids the possibility of them thinking that you have burned out and not hiring you because you might be more of a liability to them.

The interviewer doesn't want to hire someone who is overqualified that just sits around doing nothing in the name of a better work/life balance. You should be convincing the interviewer that you will perform to the best of your ability even in this "lesser" position, and that you're not going to be using this position as a filler position.

  • gratz! you get the prize Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 20:06

I understand that the answer might not help 3 years ago but I share from my own experience. Maybe someone else will need it.

I have 20+ years of experience too. I was never explicitly "accused" of being overqualified, but I was occasionally asked: "Why did you do programming AFTER you were a project manager?".

On one hand, I think that some recruiters have a bad preconception, that being in an senior / expert position in an execution job (e.g. programmer) is actually a demotion from being in a decision job (e.g. project manager).

On the other hand, the said recruiters might have some realistic reason why they ask, and you getting the job is in their hands anyway. So a good answer is needed.

My answer was along the lines of:

The projects where I was a PM were quite stressful, so I needed some time to "rest". I did that by moving to a senior / expert position doing XYZ-thingy. You might notice in my CV that I switched between decision and execution jobs several times, and there was never a problem. That is my way to find a balance in my life, both personal and professional.

After this kind of answer, there was never any question on this topic.

Regarding the topic of health condition... I have myself some serious / dangerous health issues (non-contagious) for almost 10 years. When I switched jobs some years ago, I did not even mention about them during interview, and they did not ask. After being hired, I mentioned occasionally that my health does not allow me to (...something... according to the discussion), but as long as I was able to do my tasks, there was never a problem.

So, it should be your decision if you mention your health issues or not. Of course, it is going to be easier if you make a full disclose, but as long as they are not endangered (you are not contagious), and you can do your job, they should not mind about it.

  • Great answer and very useful! Certainly relevant. Yes, I'm well established now. I put a bounty on this so that it might help other people. Thank you for answering Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 12:08

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