Being Overqualified for a New Job Can Work

By Donald Sears  |  Posted 2010-03-28 Print this article Print

There is strong evidence against taking a job in which you are overqualified, and for that matter, recruiting advice is telling companies not to hire overqualified candidates. These experts say you will inevitably be dissatisfied and those feelings will translate into being a poor, unproductive and bitter worker and that you'll probably leave at the first whiff of a better offer.

While being overqualified may be a roadblock, there are some detours offering opportunities. The rise of online Internet-based work, the availability of mobile technologies and the global expansion of independent technology contract work are reshaping a more flexible and adaptive workforce.

They are also reshaping how companies hire. Some are using the recession to get at a talent base they were not able to afford in the past. Case in point is family-owned moving company Cartwright International in Kansas City, Mo., featured in a recent New York Times article.

While there is no hard edged evidence on the number of jobs being filled by workers who are terribly overqualified, The Timesarticle looks at a few examples where hiring overqualified workers--particularly individuals who landed in jobs roughly one ring down on the ladder--can actually work to everyone's satisfaction.

A result is a new cadre of underemployed workers dotting American companies, occupying slots several rungs below where they are accustomed to working. These are not the more drastic examples of former professionals toiling away at "survival jobs" at Home Depot or Starbucks. They are the former chief financial officer working as comptroller, the onetime marketing director who is back to being an analyst, the former manager who is once again an "individual contributor."

The phenomenon was probably inevitable in a labor market in which job seekers outnumber openings five to one. Employers are seizing the opportunity to stock up on discounted talent, despite the obvious risks that the new hires will become dissatisfied and leave. ...

Academic research on the subject confirms that workers who perceive themselves as overqualified do, in fact, report lower job satisfaction and higher rates of turnover. But the studies also indicate that those workers tend to perform better. Moreover, there is evidence that many of the negatives that come with overqualified hires can be mitigated if they are given autonomy and made to feel valued and respected.

The key is to understand transferable skills and how to sell a vision of yourself that is in line with the goals of a prospective employer--even if you need to convince that employer of your comfort level and ability to adapt to changes in title and responsibility.

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