3 September 2019

Can you be overqualified? - UKFast, Lawrence Jones MBEIt is a simple question, really. Can you be overqualified for a job?

According to the Wall Street Journal, managers are more likely to offer a job to a less qualified candidate assuming that those with extensive experience won’t be as committed to the company or role, or that they could usurp the manager themselves.

Research by university professors at Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and Johns Hopkins, shows that there is a perception that highly capable candidates have lower commitment to the organisation.

A Forbes article covering the research claims that the situation is far worse than that. That there is in fact a deeper bias. The article reads that:

“There is an inherent prejudice built in. The company representatives are highly suspect of why a person who has achieved such a high level of success, status and compensation is willing to take a step backwards. This is an anathema to most type-A corporate professionals. They are convinced there has to be something wrong—maybe the person flamed out, they reached their own level of incompetence or just want to coast.”

Is this true in your business? What would you think if you were presented with a CV for a highly qualified person looking for a role some may think is ‘beneath them’?

Judging a book by its cover

This is the danger of CVs, in my opinion. A piece of paper does not tell you if that person is right for the job or not? That piece of paper enables these kinds of biases. Instead, we need to be asking what the story is behind the person. We need to get to know them before making any kind of judgement.

Someone may be starting from square one, changing their career path, trying something new. To me that’s no bad thing! It is brave and exciting! To me, that’s a character who I would want to meet. Leaving a successful role, when you’re experienced and highly qualified, takes guts. It’s undoubtedly a risk. Rather than dismiss them as over-qualified, I would want to get to know why they took that risk and what drives them. That’s the key. Qualifications and attitude don’t count half as much as attitude.

Inevitably, there will be the specific roles for which someone could be overqualified; a junior position, an apprentice role, etc. However, in a more general sense, would you hire someone with ‘director’ on their CV for a starting role in a different area of the business?

Interesting isn’t it. If you felt threatened by someone’s experience and qualifications would that make you hire them or not?

There is nothing wrong with feeling that someone is more qualified than you as a leader, or that someone could be snapping at your heels. That’s the sign of good leadership. You should be constantly looking for your replacement, for the up-and-comers, not keeping them down.

What do you think? Have you had any experience of being told you’re overqualified? Let me know in the comments below.

Back to Blog