What does “over-qualified” really mean?

Monday, October 13th, 2008 - career change, CV Writing, Job Application Rejection

Over Qualified?

Axe-wielding homicidal maniac or managing director?
Creative Commons License photo credit: juhansonin

Mark asks: I would appreciate your assistance on my research into the executive job market for an upcoming article for CIO Magazine. Most executives, managers and senior functional specialists have heard that reply from a hiring manager, recruiter or HR person at least once in their careers. This response is especially frustrating for a job-seeker when they have actually spent the time verifying that their skills and experience do indeed meet the requirements. So, as a hiring manager, have you ever used the term “over-qualified” when in fact the candidate does meet the position’s specifications? And if so, what are some of the reasons why you would do so (eg, candidate’s age, price, reputation, prior history, etc)?

In answer:
I am a recruiter not an HR manager, but have been involved in the hiring process for hundreds of people over the years. The reasons most often I have seen for using an “over qualified” statement are:

  1. Your compensation requirements exceed the hiring budget
  2. You will be under employed, quickly dissatisfied, and we will have to hire someone to replace you in a few months
  3. Favouring an internal candidate as a growth promotion, and have resultantly lowered the job standards to qualify them

Most employers feel that if a candidate is not challenged, he/she will soon be on to to a more challenging career opportunity. There is also fear in this current economic environment that people are taking jobs just to get through the financial crisis, and will quit thereafter.

I have never used the term “over qualified” to remove any one from a hiring process, unless they truly were overqualified. If they are not overqualified but their salary range is out of budget, I am honest and tell them that while they are a strong candidate, our budget cannot support their salary requirement

There are scenario’s where candidates do, and more regularly now, down grade:

  • People fed up with dealing with the headaches associated with high positions
  • People very willing to start over and just looking for a chance

The risk is lower from the employers point of view with the former of them leaving the company for a better offer, the employer is just concerned that they may lack motivation – these people are normally financially secure. However, they offer great knowledge and experience to advance teams, and it is this aspect they should emphasise in their Cover Letters: I want to work because as well as I want to work for you Mr Employer because

The second group are normally ambitious and have failed on some level. While there is a possibility they might leave for a better position in six months time, employers can manage the risk by motivating them in their present position and showing them a possibility for advancement. In this case employers should always implement a “non-compete” clause, so you are not preparing your next competitor. Candidates in this scenario should always emphasise in their Cover Letters why they want to work for that employer, and why they will remain loyal/show track of in their CV/Resume.

Good Luck!

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