When you tell a job candidate they’re “overqualified” for a position, here’s what they REALLY hear (and what you should be saying instead).
by Lance Haun
Two and a half years ago, I wrote about a job candidate being told they were overqualified for a position. Here is a quick excerpt:
I wouldn’t hire a VP of Sales to mop the floors (however much I would enjoy the sight). You want someone who will like the job, who will do well and who will stay (i.e., not turn over). People within the range of experience (and not above or below) do the best. That’s why we develop, test and use job descriptions.
I got an email responding to my post that was as interesting as it was long (three very long pages). I read every word, but I obviously can’t reprint the whole thing here. Here’s the point:
I sincerely hope that you will not promote the notion of not hiring people who seem to be overqualified for a position. There are many reasons why people may be applying for positions that they seem overqualified for. I was reading an excerpt from a book on the Internet that talked about CZUs (comfort zone underachievers) who are people who are highly-qualified but they don’t necessarily like being challenged.
These low-paying positions that are often receptionist and customer service positions and administrative positions can make a contribution to the company’s bottom line. Doctors, optometrists and other professionals have no idea how man patients/clients they lose because of poor customer service and rudeness from these inexperienced, unappreciative and rude young employees. I’d be so grateful to have a regular routine and to be in a position where I could once again take care of myself and live with dignity.
I thought this email would be worthwhile to take a shot at in terms of updating my stance on hiring people who seem to be overqualified. Yes, amazingly, my stance has shifted as the business climate and my own education progresses.
A bad excuse
Out of all the lousy reasons to not hire someone, saying that they are overqualified (and telling them that that’s the reason for not hiring them) is one of the worst. If you look at it logically, either a person is qualified or unqualified. “Overqualified” implies that there is some upper limit of expertise needed for any given position. And I can’t think of a worst thing to say than, “You were great. So great, in fact, we gave the job to someone with less experience. This job isn’t good enough for you!”
Every job candidate who hears “you’re overqualified” hears this phrase instead. It leaves them stuck. How can they get less experience in a field so they look just qualified enough? It is incredibly stupid.
What HR is really saying?
In my experience, HR is usually saying one of four things when they say you’re overqualified:
1. You’re not actually qualified but you think you are. Often this is a manager looking to go back down to a technician level where they haven’t been hands-on for five or more years. Supervising someone doing a job is different than doing the job day to day. If you have been a director of marketing and are looking to downgrade to a PPC position but you haven’t been hands on for three years (or you’ve just supervised PPC), you’re probably not qualified to do that job.
How should HR approach these situations, then?
Either be honest and use the four points above as assistance to “overqualified” candidates (who actually aren’t overqualified), or don’t say anything at all. If you don’t have the guts to tell someone the truth about why they were rejected, you shouldn’t water it down with some platitude that can only make things worse.