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October 2019
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TD Magazine

Think Before Applying

Being overqualified for a job isn't as beneficial as you may think.

Overqualified job candidates put themselves at a disadvantage with hiring managers, according to research from Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business. While there are ways to mitigate hiring managers' perceptions, overqualified job seekers need to understand that they may be facing an uphill battle.

The research, titled "Too Good to Hire? Capability and Inferences about Commitment in Labor Markets," shows that hiring managers perceive overqualified candidates as lacking commitment to the position and to the company as a whole and may have a bias toward someone with less experience. However, there is evidence that this general rule of thumb may not be true for women in childbearing years. In that case, being overqualified may offset the bias that women in child-rearing years have commitment problems.

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Oliver Hahl, assistant professor of organizational theory and strategy at Carnegie Mellon and one of the report's authors, says, "Hiring managers tend to be pretty myopic about hiring for a particular job instead of hiring for the organization generally. They can't really know what the applicant's commitment might be."

There may be benefits to hiring candidates who appear overqualified. Although there is risk that an overqualified candidate may quit a role she is hired for, it is also possible that once that candidate begins the new job, the employer may identify a role at a different level that she could fill that benefits the company.

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Hahl says that companies could help their cause by encouraging hiring managers to think more generally and tie the hiring process to the organization's strategic goals instead of the specific goals of a business unit with a particular job opening.

There is also advice for job seekers applying for roles for which they may be overqualified:

  • Understand why companies are concerned about things like your boredom, pay expectations, and flight risk, and be prepared to address them.
  • Tailor your resume to what the role requires, even if that means leaving off roles, titles, or accomplishments.
  • Use the cover letter to explain why you want the job and what you can add to the organization.
About the Author

Kristen Fyfe-Mills is the director of marketing and strategic communications for the Association for Talent Development. In her role, she works with an exceptionally capable ATD team to plan and execute marketing and strategic communication strategies on behalf of the association's business priorities. Kristen is a published author, coach, and speaker. She attended Northwestern University where she received a bachelor of science degree in radio-TV-film and a master’s degree in journalism.

3 Comments
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Excellent Insight !!
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Great article Kristen - definitely a good insight to think about. Thanks for sharing!
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Typically, in the instructional systems design (ISD) field for the government, in many places, there's a glut in the market and many ISDs are taking pay cuts and jobs below their qualifications (e.g., ISD 1 or 2 vs ISD 3 or task lead) because they need a job.
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