Over the last couple of decades I have had the privilege of hiring hundreds of people, and the misfortune of having to fire a handful. I’ve done 1000s of interviews and taught dozens of seminars on application writing and interview skills. In that time, I’ve seen and heard a lot of misconceptions about interview dos and don’ts.
The first installment in this series is one of my favorite questions/excuses, the “overqualified” applicant. Is anybody really “overqualified?” Let’s think about this for a moment. We’ve all heard this excuse, but from an employer standpoint, can it be true? If you were managing a fast-food restaurant, and you knew your average employee stayed less than six months, and a Neurosurgeon or Fortune 500 CEO came in and applied to work the drive-through, would you hire them? I certainly would! I don’t care what set of circumstances brought this intelligent and mature applicant to my desk, but I sure as hell am going to take advantage of their skills for as many weeks, months, or years as I can! Imagine the positive influence on the rest of your crew and the image you can portray to your customer for even a brief stint. So, if a Neurosurgeon can work the drive-through at a Taco Bell, can there be any such thing as “overqualified?”
I have to admit, I have used this term before, but I was a liar. It was a politically correct way to tell someone they were arrogant and wouldn’t fit in well with the rest of our staff. I believe the term “overqualified,” really means “too full of one’s self to allow any room for company loyalty or teamwork.” I cannot imagine a time as an employer where you would not choose the most qualified candidate that applies. Now, of course a Neurosurgeon might make a terrible mechanic, and the lifetime of experience and education may not apply to a particular job. That isn’t overqualified, that is underqualified. A published literary giant may not be the best person to market your Twitter account, and a combat helicopter pilot may not be the best guy to run your forklift. None of these things represent an overqualified situation; they are exactly the opposite. A 14 year old girl, with no professional experience in her life might be more qualified as a ghost tweeter than a renowned author. The skills must fit the job, and a person might feel overqualified when in reality they were not qualified at all.
From an employee standpoint, if you are feeling overqualified, and you are facing a lot of negative responses to your applications and interviews, or you are getting no response at all, then it becomes important to get an honest and thorough look at yourself. Perhaps let an experienced friend or colleague review what you are sending out. Perhaps reflect back on your attitude and demeanor during an interview. Are you embarrassed of your skills and starting every answer with some type of disclaimer or discount of your real skills? Did you start every answer with an egotistical, melodramatic recap of your accomplishments? Were you honest, succinct, and straight-forward, or were your self-congratulating and condescending?
The pseudo-logic behind not hiring someone who is qualified for something above and beyond your current position is that they might get bored and quit, they might use it as a stepping stone, they might even outperform you as their supervisor and take your position. All of those excuses are garbage. In this day and age an employer is lucky to get 1-3 years out of an employee. If the person over performs and uses it as a stepping stone, hopefully they leapfrog right on up in your organization and you get the credit for finding them! If they take a higher position than you, because they are better at it…. GREAT!
I do not believe anyone ever legitimately missed out on an opportunity because they were overqualified. I’m sure there are anomalies such as poor hiring managers and jealous souls who have skipped very good applicants out of fear, but those things are rare, and those managers are short-lived in their positions. The more common occurrence is an applicant talking their self out of a job by acting unconfident, shy, or embarrassed over their accomplishments or an applicant turning off the interviewer by acting overconfident, egotistical, and arrogant. Nobody wants to bring a negative influence into their organization, and nobody wants to deal with supervising a narcissist. If you’ve fallen victim to the paranoia of “overqualification” it is time to get some honest help from a friend, co-worker, or professional coach to improve your demeanor. If you are one of those managers who see great applicants as a threat to your position, call Scott Flowers Consulting and learn how to build a high-performing team that is testament to your expert leadership!
– Scott Flowers