What does “Overqualified” Mean Anyway?

Years ago one of my managers said to me: “Mary, you are an overachiever. You’re overqualified for this position and we’re not used to that around here.” I was a little thrown off by that because she said it in a tone that made it appear as a bad thing! I thought, well aren’t we supposed to be good at our job? Aren’t we supposed to go above and beyond to deliver quality work? Why should great work ruffle feathers?

Should we – the “overachievers” dumb-down our work for the underachievers?

I’ve learned over the years that many managers use the term “overqualified” loosely instead of articulating what they really mean so I’ve come up with my version of reasons why managers label people as “overqualified”

1. They don’t want to pay you what you are worth.

It turns out that while your résumé may include all of your degrees and accomplishments, but after speaking with you the hiring managers have determined that you are above their pay grade. You may be intellectually gifted and may have more experience than most of their employees, maybe even the very ones that are conducting the interview. These types of employers are looking to hire someone who will fit right in, not “rock the boat” with their smart suggestions or challenge the way things are being handled in the organization. You simply bring too much experience and knowledge to the table and they want no part of it. They are not looking for change and that means you likely won’t grow there anyway.

2. They can’t pay you what you are worth.

Your résumé will not likely include your desired salary on it, but it looks like you have all the qualifications they are looking for. When you get to the part of the interview that tells them how much you are currently making or desire to make, the room gets silent. The employer does not want to tell you that they simply can’t afford you. They disguise it by saying you are overqualified when in reality they can’t pay you the salary you are asking because it’s not in the budget. They were hoping you had all this experience and knowledge and were desperate for the job and were willing to get paid much less than your accomplishments require.

3. You seem like a know-it-all.

During the interview your responses include a lot of factual data. You are precise and certain as to your knowledge but you elaborate too much. You start going on and on about how things should be done or how you would do them. Instead of creating a connection with the interviewer you are more lecturing the employer. This is a turn off to the employer and will cause them to label you as “overqualified”. Ego in interviews drives a lot of good candidates away. Another example of an organization with people in positions who do not value the importance of learning from those around them.

4. You don’t fit in with the culture of the organization.

Your personality does not match with the behavioral characteristics of the employees. You may be a great match for the job description but these days employers are looking for employees that can get along with each other, work well together and are on the same page. For example, if the work environment includes a lot of creative thinking and open discussions and you seem reserved and shy than it’s too much work to pull those characteristics out of you and they don’t want to spend the time doing it.

These reasons may be difficult to digest; however, it is better to have an understanding behind the term “overqualified” so when you are faced with this situation you are not discouraged.

Why should being good at your job work against you?

Your accomplishments should be recognized and appreciated because you have worked hard to achieve them. Don’t allow the term “overqualified” to dissuade you from seeking great opportunities. Instead let it teach you that not every organization that seems like the right fit is the right fit.

If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.” – Anonymous

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