Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
Kristen Fife's Blog

Why Does "Overqualified" Mean "Unemployable"?

2010-11-02 17:29:55

There is a discussion happening over on LinkedIn (Greater Seattle Career Center) about being overqualified. What it means, how to overcome it, perceptions, experiences, tactics to work around it. It started out as an excellent blog topic on and has generated quite a bit of vitriol. Many people equate the term "overqualified" to the nasty, ugly practice of "age discrimination". I will be the first to admit that there is a correlation, but being overqualified isn't just about how old you are, how long you have been in the working world, or even money. I'm not writing this blog to try and help overcome this hurdle, but I'm trying to give my audience an understanding of the perspective from my side.

Much of it has to do with making sure that a potential employee is going to be the right fit for the opportunities available. For example, someone sent me a job description this week for a "sourcing recruiter" (my recruiting specialty), but in the actual job description, it stated they were looking for a "sourcing recruiter or a recruiting assistant". I actually replied to the person that sent me the mail, because I happen to know a couple of people that might be interested, but not in a junior role. Yes, compensation is part of it. But more than that, most of my colleagues have spent far too much time building up their skills, working with very high level hiring managers on senior positions. There is a more junior version of this role, that of an "internet recruiter", who’s sole job it is to run keyword matches in databases between resumes and jobs. While that is certainly the most basic part of what I can do, it is one very small piece, and if that is what a potential employer is looking for, neither I nor other senior talent sourcing recruiters are going to be interested, even if the pay *is* good *unless* they are out of work or looking to return to the workforce after a hiatus (such as FMLA, or maybe returning from military duty). The job would be boring, repetitious, not challenging, and would make new colleagues uncomfortable finding out how much more experienced we are. And it certainly would put our potential boss on the defensive (imagine hiring someone with ten years more experience than you, that was doing *your* job in the nineties.)

Although the candidate reply is "I'm willing to take a job I'm overqualified for" and "I have no problem taking a pay cut", recruiters and hiring managers have to consider long-term implications of hiring new employees. Our responsibility is first and foremost to the *company*, including existing employees. While someone "overqualified" may be a great investment in the short run, many companies have gone this route and regretted it in the long run for any number of reasons, and are gun shy of hiring them. In more prosperous years, "overqualified" candidates were often those that were trying to power down from a high profile/fast track career, scaling back for work-life balance. The unfortunate reality is that right now, the number of candidates on the *upward* track that are available is quite high, and managers are looking for human capital investments that are going to be an asset to a company over the longer haul.

One of the tracks taken in the discussion I started off with had to do with "creating" opportunities by using a value proposition for a small-midsize company that may have more flexibility with headcount than a larger company with complex formulae determining how many people to hire for any given fiscal year. There is merit to this approach; however what I have seen is that candidates are seeking stability. This brings us back to our original dilemma. Candidates that are fighting the "overqualified" label need to position themselves appropriately to gain the interest of recruiters and hiring managers; and that means your resume is probably what needs to be your #1 marketing tool.

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Carrie Krueger: Re: Why Does "Overqualified" Mean "Unemployable"?
2011-01-07 16:20:17

Thanks for the mention and for the great perspective. It's really helpful to hear from "the other side" on the issue.

Here is a link to part one of Jobfully's three part series that started the discussion.

It continues to be an important, and vexing issue.

Carrie Krueger

Kristen Fife: Re: Why Does "Overqualified" Mean "Unemployable"?
2011-01-07 16:34:27

Carrie, my pleasure. It's nice to see well-written articles that are realistic instead of overly-optimistic and misinform candidates.

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