OVERQUALIFIED! Candidates Need Not Apply

Overqualified Candidates Need Not Apply

I just took my car in for routine maintenance; all I needed was an oil change. When I got there, I saw the metal sign boldly proclaiming “ASE Certified – Over 30 years experience” hanging outside the door. He obviously has far too much experience to perform a straightforward oil change, and even if I let him, he’d probably have a bad attitude and leap at the chance to complete a transmission service while only finishing half of my car.

No, he doesn’t charge any more than the drive-through mechanic down the road who has less qualified staff to perform an oil change. And it’s likely true that he would see the faulty fuel filter that the drive-through would have missed. Why not employ him? He is, of course, overqualified.

OVERQUALIFIED! Candidates Need Not Apply

We all know that overqualified employees are only “settling” for that job until they can find something else, that overqualified employees are significantly more dissatisfied with their jobs and will sow discontent throughout the workplace, that overqualified employees were likely paid more in their prior employment and want more compensation than we can afford, and that overqualified employees are untrainable, difficult to coach, and would foment discontent throughout the workplace.

Where do we find this information? Why can we claim common knowledge from that massive morass of data drawn from the unsupported, out-of-date, and prejudiced garbage?

Where is the research that supports these hypotheses? Where is the evidence to support these allegations, exactly? (That isn’t based on research from before 1980.)

Socioeconomic analysts warned about the loss of the experienced worker pool accessible to businesses a few years ago, before all the economic collapses, bailouts, and lost retirement funds. We were informed that the numbers of Baby Boomers nearing retirement age would never be equaled by Gen X and Y. We also learned that older people wanted to stay in the workforce longer out of a sense of self-worth rather than solely out of necessity.

“Self worth.” If ever I heard a Maslowian sign of job discontent, that one is it! Additionally, reducing onboarding time and training expenses by having a team member who is fully trained and has a wealth of expertise to draw on is undoubtedly an extra ROI benefit.

What accounts for this (unsupported) rise in the use of OVERQUALIFIED during candidate screenings? Age discrimination is not a possibility because, as we all know, it is prohibited in the workplace.

There has to be another valid business reason we’re missing. Due to the lack of hard research data, I really need your input. Let me know at joel@joelawhite.com or comment here.

Have A Nice Day!


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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Carol says

    Good points. But, what action can we can retrain outselves and others? Ask questions of speakers whenever we hear generalized statistics and reliance on “they said.”

    Chase it down. Who said? If no name or organization can be quoted, tell people you’ll have to discount the idea until you know where it’s come from.

    When working with students making career or higher education choices, I’ve often heard, “they say” and “other people say.” Teachers and parents say those phrases too. I chase down those thought too. Who? What was said? What are they basing a decision on, gossip? Life choices are way too important to be made on what fictitious people might or might not have said. What are the facts that you can verify?

    They say is hear say. Hear say isn’t allowed in a court of law as evidence. In these times, one way we can all encourage truthful interactions is to reject hear-say.



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