Over-Qualified for the Job? 5 Factors That Pull You Down

Over-Qualified for the Job? 5 Factors That Pull You Down

As manager, planning to hire overqualified professional for a role?

If you are on the other side of the table- thinking of going to lower job than what you are qualified for? I have been on both sides. Also i have seen people on both sides. Here are some insights.

Considering to move to lower role than qualified is not be normal in large organization culture – at least in some cultures. There are good reasons to pause and think.


Hence, first know the reasons:


1. Better work life balance:

This should be obvious. The hope is that the person is skilled enough and no need for putting extra effort to stay afloat. Hence can put less energy and reach home on time leaving the thoughts of work behind.

2. Chances of success are higher:

Again, the hope is that due to higher qualification, the chances of success are higher. As employer, you too are likely to be excited about it. Probably this is the sole reason to consider hiring someone overqualified.

For the job seeker, this motive could be attractive reason – in order to turn around from past failures and stabilize.

3. Making time for other activities:

If this is the reason, the job seeker does not care about money or position. The the motive could be to pursue other ambitions. May be higher education on the side, or hobbies like music bands. Who knows? These may lead to new career!

4. Compulsions:

These days the uncertainties of economic situation across the world is well known. Seeking the job is out of compulsion.

The reasons would trigger issues down the when the employee starts working.


The potential issues:

1. Dis-engagement & Withdrawal – living in past glory:

If the person has accepted the job while feeling he deserved better and it is his/her compulsion to do this job, then it is a bad start. It will be a time bomb waiting to explode. He may keep living in the past, stuck in time machine. He may not be able to apply himself to current job, staying depressed, withdrawn and isolated. The behavior would cause cyclic effect. The manager and peers would perceive negatively and feed back into withdrawal symptoms.

2. Superiority – I had been there, done that. Follow me:

If the person took the job out of compulsion, there is another effect i.e. the feeling of superiority. In this case, mainly he might talk forcing others to accept ideas. This may close opportunity for discussions and teamwork. But then, this could be highly dependent on personality of himself and those around him.

3. Equations with the Boss:

Being highly qualified, he can visualize too much. This is supposed to be good. But is it really?

The overqualified person has better visualization of where the risks are, and so on. Often, the manager may not be able to understand even after explaining. The person can get labelled as negative thinker.

Consider a less qualified person in same shoes. If someone with no prior experience starts on such work, no biases of the past. He will look positive initially. Sure- he may eventually fail and learn the same lessons. But the lesson will be learnt together with manager. But current year’s performance evaluation, equations with boss etc. remain intact.

The bosses have a psychological need to ‘mentor’ others. This overqualified guy may not be available for it while everyone else naturally fit into this ‘mentee’ role. How sad!

So, you know who may have more successful work life.

This discussion is not about what is right and wrong. It is just about how things could turn out practically.

4. Equations with peers, comparisons and compulsions:

Humans have comparisons hardwired to them. So are the organizations. On top of this, to make it formal, we have performance evaluation schemes and enough theories such as Bell curve.

There are too many behavioral parameters and result (through himself, directly through others, indirectly through others etc.).

In this maze, there is no way to survive if the employee can not connect with his peers. Whatever the baggage comes with over-qualification can be a hurdle.

This could include the emotional barrier of the employee himself, or the insecurities of the peers, secret sabotages by peers, boss…. It can be combination of many things.

5. Higher expectations, though at lower level:

Not everyone will keep reminding themselves that this employee is working at lower level. Instead they would keep thinking about his experience and potential. The expectations get set based on this perception of strengths irrespective of what the job description says.

End of the year, the employee should not be surprised to heard – Í expected more from you’.

So, hiring overqualified is a No-No? Seeking job below experience level is not at all good?

There are few precautions to take. It can be a win win.

1. As hiring manager, know the reason why it makes sense for the employee. It will rule out some failure modes. For the issues perceived, see the mitigation. There may be specific mitigation matching the context.

Ask the candidate to simulate problems and seek his ideas about solving.

2. Perceive him as someone playing two roles – One – the role for which he is being considered. Second is virtual role fitting his extra qualification. It may be Subject matter expertise, operations role, people role etc. Splitting this way may help to normalize expectations on agreed terms. I have a piece on job design here.

3. Based on the failure modes i listed above, devise remedies matching your context. Once the issue is diagnosed, this part should be easy.

4. Check if the person can be used as external consultant. If organization allows and if the candidate is willing this may be good.

For those seeking roles below their level: 

1. Do the home work: Introspect the reasons, the failure modes caused due to these reasons. How you intend to mitigate those failure modes.

2. Check whether the manager have experience in managing your kind of profiles.

3. Check about the typical profile of future peers. These give good picture about what to expect.

4. See if you can be non-employee consultant. Offer to develop a governance model in initial period for less riskier financial model. If this works out, may be the best one for both.

Share if you have any experiences and thoughts!

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