The Question of Overqualification Yields Different Answers

Another potential obstacle in the path to getting hired is a hiring manager’s concern for possible overqualification. There is no one definition for what constitutes overqualification as it varies across companies, industries, and countries. However, a very basic and broad designation would be a candidate who has too much experience, the wrong kind of experience, or higher-level experience than what the position and duties call for. The “Scale of Perceived Overqualification”, a self-reporting assessment, also incorporates perceived surpluses in education, experience, knowledge, skills and abilities. In some circles, even an unrealistic expectation of a starting salary or the nature of the job can induce perceptions of overqualification in the minds of candidates.

Many if not most hiring managers have higher expectations of hired overqualified employees:  They will ramp up quicker, work harder, show more initiative and be more effective leaders than those who meet job qualifications. The fear about hiring overqualified individuals centers on job dissatisfaction if there are no opportunities for growth or promotion, which can lead to lower job performance, and eventually, higher turnover.

When I made the transition from the oil and gas exploration profession to software and documentation development in 1986, I feared being considered overqualified for any position. I had experience using a variety of complicated software programs (and writing some simple programs) as an exploration geologist, and was the division technical editor for professional journal articles and papers. My “new” résumé gave more ink to my software and scientific communications expertise and less to my core geological, geophysical, and geochemical duties, responsibilities, and accomplishments. It took nine months to get a job (with a 50% salary reduction from the oil and gas position), but it was with a software development company that created pipeline mapping software for oil companies.

During this same time period (1986-1988), laid-off oil company geologists flocked to the environmental sciences field for a fraction of the salary they earned in the oil patch. At least they were able to directly apply their knowledge of geology to their work (much of it in the field monitoring test wells), but it didn’t take the environmental science industry long to learn that as soon as the price of a barrel of oil started moving up again, people would jump back into their former roles as oil and gas geologists. From that lesson, environmental science companies devoted more efforts hiring people coming out of school with degrees (and strong commitments) in the environmental sciences.

Hiring overqualified workers can work in the short term for both employer and employee as long as both recognize the concerns each has entering into the agreement.


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