#157 from R&D
Innovator Volume 4, Number 5
Not Hire Someone Who Is Overqualified?
Gittler of Oberlin, Ohio, retired a few years ago after 40 years
as a manufacturing executive.
He now writes and lectures on management issues.
"Sam" called recently to say that he'd been turned down
for a job at "XYZ Development Labs" because he was
months ago, when he was a vice president of research and
development, he became another victim of the rash of realignments,
reorganizations and mergers that's sweeping American industry.
He was fired.
overqualified for the new position?
Perhaps--he did have a Ph.D., and I do know that he could
have done the job with the proverbial "one hand tied behind
This wasn't the
first such experience for my friend, who had also recently been
turned down for a job as a research associate, a position he had
held years before and which required no Ph.D.
Since is still young, age discrimination was not a factor,
and the only reasonable conclusion was that he was simply
use this term to politely reject candidates they're afraid to hire
for reasons that are, at best, spurious.
interview at XYZ, Sam tried to assure his prospective employer
that he was willing to sign on for the long haul, knew the job
carried reduced responsibility, and realized he'd be taking a pay
cut. Did the company
worry that my friend wanted only a temporary paycheck while
seeking a better job? From my experience, I'd say the personnel department should
have noticed that Sam had been jobless for six months, and that he
wanted to stay in the region.
that he and his family were happy to adjust to the new position
and salary. He was so
eager to get back to work that he would guarantee to remain for a
certain number of years. (The
company, to the contrary, wasn't willing to guarantee any
term of employment.)
company deemed Sam—with his Ph.D. and his history of working at
a higher level—an insuperable obstacle, and turned him down.
Value of the
this notion of "overqualified" by looking at the flip
anytime an executive, manager or supervisor is promoted, he or she
is, at least for the moment, under qualified and overpaid.
Yet companies don't seem to be worried about this.
companies profess to worry that "overqualified"
candidates might be unhappy and unchallenged, they don't seem to
understand that almost any job is a relief from the boredom and
unhappiness of unemployment.
I speak from
years ago, when I was eased out in a merger and looking for a job
and I, too, was repeatedly called "overqualified," I had
difficulty even getting interviews.
Finally, through business connections, I was offered a
position at a lower level. The
man who hired me said, "It's going to be a pleasure, just
once, to have someone on the staff who is not only fully qualified
but who will bring a little more to the job."
This remark set a wonderful tone for starting the new job.
started me to wondering: would most interviewers, facing major
surgery, reject an "overqualified" surgeon in favor of a
You could apply
the same test to lawyers, stockbrokers (I wish mine were
overqualified!) and auto mechanics.
Flying over the ocean, have you ever been afraid that the
airplane mechanics down in the hanger were too
interviewers seem oblivious to the difficulty that many people
have finding any position in today's contracting job market.
The real question is this:
overqualified for what?
To perform the job effectively with experience and
knowledge? To possess
abilities that should assure excellence in performance?
How could XYZ
have suffered by hiring a research associate with years of
experience--and a Ph.D.? When
Sam finally did find a job--it was lower-level and required no
Ph.D.-- he did it by explaining that the firm was getting a
bargain. He put it
this way: "a hire like me is any purchasing department's
dream—the highest quality at the lowest cost."
He wasn't overqualified, he explained, but rather highly qualified.
I think many
managers reject the "overqualified" simply because they
feel threatened. They
panic because such an employee could present competition.
They are insecure in their jobs and unaware that the one
true way to assure their own success is to surround themselves
with the best (most overqualified) people they can find.
stockholders feel about hiring the "overqualified?"
I'd think they'd be pleased to know that the business in
which they've invested has a wealth of personnel technical and
In the search for
excellence that is the current holy grail of American industry,
I'd think that a staff that is utterly overqualified could help
Think of today's
cutbacks as an embarrassment of riches--rarely has such a glut of
talent been unexploited.