Over Qualified Candidates


It is no secret that unemployment in the country is high, and record numbers of people are applying for every single opening listed.  So it amazed me when I was told that I was “over qualified” for a position I applied for.  “Is that a problem?” I asked.

It would appear that employers are still trying to weed out people who may be able to step in and assume the responsibilities quickly.  I believe the phrase is called “hit the ground running.”  Heavens, I guess we don’t want people with more skills than are in the job description!

I reached out to a friend of mine who has been a corporate recruiter forever and asked him why people use the words “over qualified” and was horrified at his response.  First, over qualified is a term for “too old to work here” but age discrimination is against the law.

Second, over qualified is seen as someone who will not stay long and will be gone as soon as greener grass is found.  I can see this point, but if you are not going to provide a “yard” that is healthy and people want to play in, they will leave for greener pastures even if they are unqualified!

His third reason was the most chilling.  Often the words over qualified are used to keep people from applying that may have a stronger set of skills than the manager they would report to.  Either the hiring manager has made it clear they will not be interested in any candidate with more skills than they have, or HR is directing the recruitment process to keep superior candidates away from an under performing manager.

I’ve always thought that when a company has decided to weed out candidates as over qualified, they actually are trying to source under qualified candidates.  You don’t have to pay them as much, and they are apt to be grateful for the job and be easier to retain.  Sure the collect a salary and may not be able to perform their responsibilities well, but in some companies that is the culture.

I open this discussion up to all of you.  If you have ever been told you are “over qualified” for a position you applied for and could perform well, why do you think they used that as an excuse not to hire you?

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One thought on “Over Qualified Candidates

  1. You make several excellent and truthful points in this blog post Jim. Here is the one that jumps out at me because it’s so close to our current experience.
    “I guess we don’t want people with more skills than are in the job description!”
    Our experience: My husband has been full-time, year-round seasonal for about 5 years and has applied for the full-time benefit positions every time they have come available. In this last round, those chosen individuals that have MORE skills than are in the job description. For example, one can help with the computer system, one can do a maintenance function with a specified set of equipment and one had only been with the organization four months as a full-time seasonal but fulfilled a needed diversity requirement which was understandable. None of these “extras” were in the advertised job description. He continues to work tirelessly to be clear about what the required skills are, offers to be available for every opportunity to learn or take on new tasks to be valuable beyond the job description. One interviewer remarked “it took me 7 years to get off full-time seasonal and into full time for the company.” My husband hangs in there because he loves the work, tries to get feedback continuously, not just once a year, and we have found a way around the no benefits situation for the short-term. The company isn’t truthful from our point of view, but if you could get someone with more skills for a low hourly wage and benefits for a few years and keep your best people hanging on hoping for a chance at a full-time, benefit slot some day I can see why they do it.

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