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“Overqualified” Just Doesn’t Make Sense!

Over the last 3 years one of my clients has applied for more than 40 specific positions to which I felt he was more than qualified to do, and he was rejected (most of the time with a polite letter or e-mail), with some of the employers saying that he was “overqualified.” This is one of those things that just never has made sense to me. It’s kind of like telling someone that they make “too much money.” How is that possible? When I hear this kind of statement it makes me ask myself, “Do they really want the best, or do they just want ‘good enough’ to get by?”

The dictionary gives a definition of “Overqualified” as: People who have qualifications that exceed the requirements of a particular job. Well, let’s think critically about this for a little bit. What would happen if we applied the same thinking these companies apply to our home life, and only did those things to which we were qualified? And what if we followed this type of thinking outward to conclusion, what if it is our life on the line, what would happen? Would being told the person who can save you is overqualified, so we’ll get someone else make sense?

First, let’s consider what would happen if we used the same thinking at home in our daily lives? When the kids say, “Daddy, can you help me with my math,” I can just say, “Sorry kids, I have a Doctor of Education degree, you are doing 7th grade math, so I’m overqualified for that…go ask your 7th grade teacher?” Would this be appropriate? How would the kids feel? They honestly don’t give a rip about your degree or level of education, as long as you can help them get the algebra done so they can turn in their homework the next day.

Or, what if my significant other is needing help with some of the chores around the house, and asks me to take out the trash, or feed the dogs, or sweep up the leaves off the porch, I can just say, “Look at my resume, I have many accomplishments at a much more elevated level, and they are all much more complicated than those things, so I am overqualified to help you?” How would that go over? Sure, I’ve been trained in hostage negotiations, critical incident command systems, performance counseling, and many other very complicated and critical task functions, but does that get the garbage out, or the dog fed, or the leaves swept off the porch?

No! See it doesn’t make sense in the “real world” of a home, so how does it make sense in the business world?

Next, let’s consider what would happen if we followed that thinking out to conclusion. The people who are doing the hiring always state they are looking for the “most qualified candidate” for the job. What does “most qualified candidate” mean? Does it mean someone who can do everything on the job description? I think that is why they put that stuff on the job description isn’t it? So, if a candidate can do all that stuff and then even more stuff, isn’t that the “most qualified candidate,” or do we just want “good enough” to get by?

As an example, let’s say I have a time-bomb that is attached to a cable locked around my neck and I have only 15 minutes before it goes off (sounds like good T.V. so far...). So, I put out a job request for a “Bomb Technician, who can defuse bombs.” And let’s say, there are three candidates, each standing right in front of me. They each submit a cover letter, resume, and answer a supplemental questionnaire (because that is the process). From this information I learn that all three candidates (#1, #2, and #3) have successfully defused bombs in the past, so they are all “qualified.” However, two of the three (#2 and #3) can defuse the bomb and remove the cable from around my neck that is attached to the bomb. And one candidate (#3) can defuse the bomb, remove the cable, and dispose of the bomb safely. But the job request only described a “Bomb Technician, who can defuse bombs.” So, by following this “overqualified” thinking out to conclusion, candidate #2 and candidate #3 are “overqualified,” so candidate #1 gets the job. But, isn’t #3 most likely going to be the one you want for the job, because it is your neck locked in the cable? Oh, by the way #3 is "Superman"...obviously overqualified!

See, if we put ourselves in the position of wanting the “Most qualified candidate,” especially when it is our family, or our neck on the line, yet we use this absurd statement of “overqualified,” are you really getting the “most qualified candidate?” Or, is it because the person who is really the “most qualified” is going to request higher pay, or she may be able to walk in and do the supervisor's job… and do it quicker and more accurately, so instead they say “overqualified?” Maybe it is that the applicant is over 40 years old, and organizations know they can’t discriminate based on age (FDEA), so they say “overqualified?” The reality is that many companies want the wisdom of a 50-year-old employee and the experience of a 40-year-old employee, who has the ambition of a 30-year-old employee, but they only want to put you on the payscale of a 20-year-old employee. Or maybe, it is as simple as them seeing that not only are you clever, sharp, prepared and capable, with valuable experience that they may not have, and it intimidates them.

Should people who have excelled in education, training, knowledge, skills and abilities try to forget

stuff or “dumb down” their resume/CV first, then apply, or leave accomplishments off their resume/CV? What if they did leave stuff off the resume or application, got the job, then the employer learned about it later? Would an application that is not “complete and accurate” be cause for termination? See, it doesn’t make sense, and is a de-motivator for most applicants who are highly skilled and capable.

Putting It All Together:

So, let’s stop using the term “overqualified” when, if we really hired people who were “the most qualified,” then those people who have qualifications that exceed the requirements of a particular job, should be the ones getting hired not getting letters and e-mails of rejection. Leadership is using methods of influencing behavior of individuals, teams, and the organization to achieve organizational goals, so if we really want to hire the most qualified candidate, we need to stop using the term “overqualified” because it just doesn’t make sense and is making it harder to achieve the organizational goals.

About the Author: Dr. Chris Fuzie is the author of "S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling: Save the Relationship, Change the Behavior," and Owner of CMF Leadership Consulting. Chris is a developer/trainer/consultant for leadership of public, private, profit, and non-profit organizations. Chris holds a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D), M.A. and B.A. in Organizational Leadership, and has graduate certificates in Human Resources and Criminal Justice Education. Chris is honorably retired from the Modesto Police Department after 28 years of public service where he last served as the Assistant Division Commander of Investigations.

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