The Frustration of the �Overqualified' Job Candidate

Don Tennant
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Six Strategies for Tech Professionals Looking for a New Position

Too many IT professionals know what it feels like. You apply for a job, you nail the interview and you see it as a perfect fit. You're convinced that you could make a great contribution and bring much-needed experience to the organization. Yet, you're turned down for the job. The reason? They tell you that unfortunately, you're 'overqualified.'

It's difficult to think of a more frustrating reason to be excluded from consideration for a position, and yet it happens all the time. The good news is that there's a growing vanguard of people who are determined to dispel the notion that 'overqualified' job candidates are high-risk because they'll demand too much money and leave the moment something better comes along.

One of those voices of reason is Maribeth Kuzmeski, a business consultant and author whose most recent book is " And the Clients Went Wild! How Savvy Professionals Win All the Business They Want." Kuzmeski said the phenomenon is common in just about every industry, including IT. And while she said she hasn't seen any statistics that show it's more or less common in IT, Kuzmeski indicated that the nature of the profession is such that applicants often have experience and certifications beyond the requirements listed in a job posting:

There are people out there, especially in IT positions, that may have had jobs three or four levels up from a job they're applying for now. The hiring manager says, 'Boy, they had a job much higher than that' or 'They're certified in this and that, and we don't need all those things for this particular job.' The question is, do they have the right attitude to fit into the company culture, will they be able to do the job? In many cases there are lots of advantages to hiring somebody with lots of qualifications.'

Those advantages are discussed in a recent Harvard Business Review article that Kuzmeski cited, entitled "The Myth of the Overqualified Worker." Here's an excerpt:

New research shows that overqualified workers tend to perform better than other employees, and they don't quit any sooner. Furthermore, a simple managerial tactic-empowerment-can mitigate any dissatisfaction they may feel.

The prejudice against too-good employees is pervasive. � And unlike discrimination based on age or gender, declining to hire overqualified workers is perfectly legal, as shown by U.S. federal court rulings upholding the New London, Connecticut, police department's rejection of a high-IQ candidate on the grounds that he'd probably become dissatisfied and quit.

This kind of thinking has tossed untold numbers of experienced, highly skilled people into the ranks of the long-term unemployed, a group that now constitutes nearly half of all U.S. jobless.

Particularly interesting was a reader comment on the HBR article, posted by consultant Dawn Boyer:

Grrrr...there is no such thing as an 'overqualified' candidate - either they are qualified or are they are not.

Just cuz it came out of Harvard, doesn't mean it makes any sense.

In reality, the term 'overqualified' is a recruiting misnomer that indicates the candidate will probably want more money than the company can afford to fill this position, so don't bother interviewing them and wasting the time.

This really grates on my nerves - there are many 'highly-qualified' workers out there that would be willing to work in positions that may have lower salaries for which they are used to earning, but may wish to cut back on responsibilities, work load, go part-time, etc. Any company overlooking these brilliant hires, just because they are afraid of what the candidate will ask for a salary are fools.

Kuzmeski said that comment was spot on:

The perception is that they will want to make too much money and all of that. But if you have an open position at your company, and you're looking for a person who can come in, step in and do the job, then there really is no such thing as 'overqualified.' Either you can do it, or you cannot do it. The rest of it is just things that we're assuming or perceiving that may or may not be true at all.

Kuzmeski's advice to applicants who know they're likely to be perceived as overqualified is to be proactive and address the matter head-on:

It's like the elephant in the room. You know they're thinking about it, and if somehow you got the interview, you might as well say, 'Hey look, I'm just going to take this off the table right away. Here's why I applied for this job.' Absolutely, it's the job candidate's responsibility to take that argument off the table. In fact, a lot of times when people are getting jobs, they're getting jobs because they know somebody-that's how the resume floated to the top. Using those same channels, the person you know should say, 'You should look at this person-yes, they have a lot of qualifications, but don't exclude them from the process.'

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