Monday, October 6, 2014


When I encounter job descriptions, they usually speak about a minimum or an ideal range of experience required. I don’t recall seeing job postings stating a maximum limit of experience and, with good reason, it would be considered discriminatory. Yet, there are job seekers both interested and very qualified, who are ironically disqualified with the excuse of their being overqualified. I suggest it‘s most often used as a generic excuse to disqualify anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into the little boxes or differ from the majority of cookie-cutter people and personalities. It is also utilized, in my opinion, as a veiled form of discrimination.  

There are, of course, some valid reasons why companies worry about considering those with experience exceeding the stated job requirement. For example:  someone might say all the right things and accept a position lower than that for which they are qualified just a get a job, then, shortly thereafter, reveal their true intention. And, after a short period they’ll get bored and want a higher position. Or, they require more money than is budgeted for the job; this one is often valid, but not if it is baseless and lazy assumption on the part of the interviewer. There is also a worry they might use their advanced experience to usurp their supervisor; at least this is a stereotype – although, this is primarily the paranoid concern of weak and mediocre managers. By the way, it’s instructive to note the best of managers, those who are secure, confident and successful – hire in the own image. That’s right, they seek people as good or better than themselves because they are advancing in their own careers, recognizing they need good people to continue what they’ve accomplished after they move on. 

Undoubtedly, markets are shifting and changing, which requires adaptive perspective as it relates to hiring practices that are not keeping pace with economic and workplace changes. However, this would contradict current entrenched and formulaic HR selection and hiring practices, which more resemble dogma than a process of selecting the best and brightest available talent, which is the stated goal. As a result, many companies are missing an opportunity to benefit from highly-skilled and experienced applicants who might, just maybe, have a lot to contribute. So what if they may overshadow more junior employees, in effect raising the bar for overall performance? It’s as though the concept of Topgrading never existed. 

As the majority of baby boomers reach retirement age, there is a growing shortage of skilled professionals in many business sectors. As a matter of necessity, managers are increasingly becoming open to considering highly-skilled, experienced and, yes, even those who until recently had been considered overqualified. Furthermore, many senior company managers express frustration about younger professionals who increasingly lack the basic skills taken for granted in the past. Although, I find the most resistance to change in the halls of HR departments. There, the concept does not fit their increasingly formulaic processes nor institutional one and two-dimensional thinking. Their concern is often administrative in nature, rather than what might be best for business.

I have spoken with human resource professionals who lament about the lack of suitably-qualified applicants compared to the sheer mass of resumes they receive. So if there is a stale, half-hearted effort to fill a position that‘s been vacant four months or longer with no solution yet identified, why shouldn‘t a company consider someone who may indeed be a little overqualified? Or, is it better to leave the position open long term, diverting others to duties that prevent them from effectively doing their own jobs, thereby making everyone less effective? Meanwhile, there may be a qualified person (you) with, for example, 8 years experience instead of the job position’s description requirement of 3-6 years. Not enough experience I understand, but too much experience seems more a matter of perspective, wouldn’t you agree? This is especially evident in technically-skilled roles. In some business sectors, there are simply not enough qualified grads entering the workforce to offset the larger numbers of those retiring. 

If you consider yourself to be, or have repeatedly been told you are overqualified, your task is to demonstrate why you are a good choice. But your experience on paper, all by itself, is a dead and lifeless document, it does nothing to display your energy level or attitude, as well as you can do so in person. Relying on your resume to do the talking for you is a mistake no matter how good your past may have been and whether your experience is  applicable in the current marketplace. And most important, are you able to articulate why you are a better choice than others – which is the task of any applicant regardless of experience? You must be able to do this while directly addressing and alleviating suspicion, convincing interviewers that your interest in the job is sincere and your skills can add value. I recognize many people are incentivized by the pursuit and climb up the organizational ladder, although not all lawyers seek partnership, not all sales representatives want to be VP of Sales, not all administrative assistants dream about being the office manager, etc. But that doesn‘t make them any less an asset.

If you fit the demographic we are discussing and, thus far, unable to gain full employment status, you may also need to think outside of the box; consider offering to be a contractor rather than an employee on the company books. You might also suggest you can do the job on a temp to perm basis. Then later when you’ve demonstrated your value, challenge them to hire you as a permanent employee. 

If you are confident in what you have to offer, do not let the term overqualified  automatically prevent you from pursuing a company to which you’d like to contribute your experience. While some may call you overqualified, be ready to explain why, instead, you are in fact eminently qualified.

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