Why You Are Not Overqualified

by Evil HR Lady on June 24, 2011

In the past few weeks I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people who claim to be “overqualified.” To quote that philosophical genius, Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Why You Are Not Overqualified

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Henning Makholm June 24, 2011 at 11:59 am

What strikes me is that your correspondents seem to think that being overqualified (if so they are) ought to be an asset to them, or at least something boastworthy. But really, being overqualified is a liability, because it makes your employer wonder whether you're going to jump ship the moment you get an offer that matches your qualifications better.

Some years ago, I had a Ph.D. and a few years of postdoctoral academic experience, but wanted to move into industry. In terms of job satisfaction that's the best decision I have ever made — but during the transition I did talk to employers who seemed to be frightened by the Ph.D. I got the vibe that they'd gladly hire someone with just my master's degree and no experience, but what I'd piled on since was a problem. One even said right out: "I don't think we have enough sufficiently theoretical work to fill your day". It took some time and luck to find one who believed me when I said I wanted to do practical stuff.

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Regan June 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Saying you're overqualified is a death wish, IMO.
Like Henning said, employers are going to worry you'll be bored/expect more than they can give/leave once a better job comes along.
I had a job where they discouraged me from getting a master's. They said I "didn't need it" because I was already doing a top-notch job, but no doubt they feared I'd either be expecting a raise, moving on or even that I'd expect them to contribute to continuing education. Just promote yourself as best as possible, without the ego.
http://www.staffingtalk.com

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Anonymous June 24, 2011 at 5:26 pm

FINALLY! Someone else has said this, besides me! I will be refering my "overqualified" coworkers to your blog TODAY!

So many people today feel they are "overqualified" to take a job that pays less than expected. One of my friends is dating an "overqualified," unemployed fella that refuses to take any job to help pay the bills at home. Rather than taking a burger joint job to pull his weight he languished around on unemployment until it ran out. He said that he was "overqualified" for anything less than the job from which he was downsized. Despite several "help wanted" signs around our community in fast food and convenience stores, he remains unemployed (and, I am told, is soon to be homeless if things don't change soon).

I must have a different work ethic. If it keeps a roof over my head, food in my mouth and clothes on my back, I have no problem shoveling manure day in and day out. Not only am I qualified, I'm probably proficeint.

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Eric October 5, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Actually I have a very different story and problem. I have been working in Higher Education for the past 23 years and had ascended to a Dean of Enrollment position in Admissions, which is about as high as one can go in Higher Ed Admissions, sounds good, right? Problem is, I had only spent 11 months in a senior staff position that I was ill prepared to take to begin with, but Provost who aggressively recruited me and promised training, failed to take the time to do so. Long story short, the school I worked for hired a new president who came from a corporate mentality and started cutting positions to balance the perceived enrollment shortfall (BTW, turned out there was barely a shortfall at all), my position was cut. So, here I am now overqualified on paper, happy to pursue a lesser title which is where my true experience and calling exist, and would gladly, Gladly take a lesser position and salary, but most employers can’t look beyond the last title held to see where my true qualifications and abilities shine.

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Jessica June 24, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Can someone please, please, please tell managers this as well? I have applied for several jobs that I know I would love to do. One I had to travel for three separate interviews at three separate times for one particular job. I was willing to move to where the job was, mainly because I knew I would love the position. At my last interview, they told me, "You are overqualified for this position and won't be happy. You have a degree, and none of your peers would have."

I wanted that job, because it sounded awesome and all the people I interviewed with were wonderful. I responded with, "I hope you'll consider me for this position, as I do not believe that I am overqualified for it, and I would love to work here within this organization."

I've been told that before and after that particular one, always with reference to my degree. I have never considered myself overqualified for a job I've applied for and/or any job I've been employed at.

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Film Co. Lawyer June 25, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Anonymous, here's a problem: how do you know your friend might not have flipped burgers in the past? I worked for 7 years in retail & am a licensed attorney; NO ONE would hire me for that even if I wanted to do it. I couldn't even get management b/c I'd be considered "overqualified" & don't have retail manager experience (though I have general management experience & feel 7 years is quite sufficient for considering someone for management).

You apparently also don't consider the whole listing a job on a resume issue (that will definitely affect future pay) & if the job might pay less than unemployment. It's down right stupid to take a job paying less than your unemployment benefits.

One more thing: many of those types of jobs are known for being abusive workplaces & they're not going to hire someone who knows their legal rights. They only want people they feel they can abuse without punishment or retaliation. I speak from knowing people who worked in these environments. ANY job is NOT always better than no job. Stress can take a huge toll on your emotional state. I hate the "flip burgers" advice since it's neither constructive nor typically helpful. Plus, at least servers get tips.

Jessica's response is much more intelligent & I can relate to it. I'm facing a problem trying to get my spouse a new job & people want to shove him in a librarian box. Do you know how hard it is to get anyone to consider him for things since he's got a Master's? I also despise this mentality of employers that you're going to work someplace for life; it's why I'm glad to take temp work & be a freelancer. No one develops false expectations.

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Suzanne Lucas June 25, 2011 at 8:09 pm

The whole idea of working someplace for life drives me nut. A few weeks ago, over at Ask a Manager, people were flipping out over a military spouse who needed to leave her job after only 18 months (I think).

Yeah, it would be nice if people could stick around long term, but you can't count on the company to keep you, why should the company make a 5 year commitment a requirement for the job?

I like freelancing, myself. However, I'm keenly aware of the fact that I can live this lifestyle without too much stress because Evil Marketing Man has a good corporate job.

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Long Time Admin June 27, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Oh, Please, HR people are ones who first starting using using the word "overqualified" to job candidates. I heard it more than once when I would apply for a job. I never considered myself overqualified for any job. The truth is, coming from an HR person or a hiring manager, it really means "too old".

Now you've got ordinary job seekers claiming to be overqualified for this job and that job, who wouldn't have started using this word if they hadn't heard from HR first.

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Suzanne Lucas June 27, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Long Time Admin–just because HR thinks of something stupid, doesn't mean the rest of you have to quote us. :>)

I totally agree, though. Rather than give real reasons why someone isn't being hired, they say, "you're overqualified."

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Anonymous June 29, 2011 at 10:25 pm

@ Film Co. Lawyer,

It's stupid to skim over my response and miss the part that read "unemployment…ran out."

If he did flip burgers in the past, then he'd be qualified for that now wouldn't he? (Which I think was the point of EHRL's post)The fact of the matter is that HE feels he's "overqualified" and refuses to look for ANY job because of that. I'm told that worrying one may be evicted seems to cause quite a bit of stress and take a toll on one's emotional state too.

Please don't make assumptions on what I considered when I wrote my response.

Just because you can't "relate" to my response, does not make it unintelligent. It just means that your opinion differs from mine.

Where I come from,those who don't work, don't eat, regardless of what kind of sheepskin is hanging on their wall.

When you are struggling to make ends meet, the "more intelligent" choice is to DO ANYTHING to keep money coming in.

Just being practical.

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Jessica June 30, 2011 at 12:36 am

I don't know that "overqualified" means too old. I've been hearing it since I was 24 years old. The particular job I mentioned above was when I was 24, right out of college, and I was still considered "overqualified" by the hiring managers. Whenever I've heard it, it means "entry level job of some sort when you have a degree and we don't think you'll stick around more than a few years, if that." I have always heard about my degree right after the term "overqualified" every time a hiring manager has said it to me. (I'm currently in my very early 30s.)

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ACU Frank June 30, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I hope most HR pros realize it's a stupid term to use. I've never used it, and I've never heard another HR person use it. Ever. I'm not saying no one in HR has, but the only place I've ever heard it is from mid-level managers who consider it code for "too old".

Overqualified because you have a degree? Inconceivable!

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PC_GEEK September 17, 2012 at 6:03 am

I was lucky enough to have 5 managers in 5 years at my last job. The last one decided to clean house and I was let go because I “didn’t maintain or exceed performance expectations”. Odd how I was doing fine until the last guy came around. I signed up for UI benefits and now they’re gone. I’ve applied for positions in my field and that I know I’m “overqualified” for, but I’ll take anyhow because I need to pay the bills.

On several occasions I’ve heard “we like you but you’ll just get bored”.. or .. “you’ll just leave the minute you get a better offer”. I’ve explained in interviews that while I may have more skills than the job requires, I still have financial obligations and it’s not my intention to leave. Especially if there’s real opportunity for promotion in the company. Still no luck.

I’ve thought about omitting information, play it down, appear less qualified and hope they’ll hire a “less experienced” person that way. I mean, they’re still going to pay you less than you’re worth anyhow. I just hate thinking about lying just to get a job. It doesn’t seem right.

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CPD February 3, 2015 at 8:25 pm

Why would a company ask someone in HR to hire outside of their department? Would an IT Manager be responsible for hiring an accountant? Would a MLB scout be able to evaluate and recruit for the NFL? The answer is a resounding NO, yet HR has found themselves in the middle of the hiring process and making decisions far beyond their scope of knowledge. With their standardized questionnaires and personality tests, they’ve lost touch with the human element and the ability to evaluate character and ability. It doesn’t matter if you are the best HR person on the planet. You do not have the required skillet to identify quality applicants in other industries no more than Phil Jackson and his knowledge of basketball could coach a hockey team to the Stanley Cup. Only well thought out responses please.

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