Why Being Overqualified For A Job May Not Be A Good Thing

If you are looking for a new job or even a career change, being overqualified is not necessarily an asset to have in your arsenal.

By Kristi Eckert | Published

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Climbing the job ladder in the particular field that you have chosen to work in is an inherent part of career growth. Steady growth is an ideal outcome for anyone looking to both bolster their finances and (hopefully) quality of life. However, this isn’t the case if you find yourself wanting to make a career pivot and move to a lateral or even a new industry altogether. If you are one who has managed to shimmy your way up the career ladder you essentially become overqualified for many other positions, in most instances, that’s actually not a good thing. 

One worker, who chose to be referred to as Emily for anonymity, recounted her experience of being overqualified to the BBC. Emily was not happy in her current role or working in her current industry. She discovered that she wanted to pivot her career toward more media-focused roles. She elected to apply to an entry-level job that she knew she could do in order to get her foot in the door and work her way up from there. Unfortunately, the end result was disheartening.

The company Emily had applied to told her that she was overqualified for the job and that they worried she would grow tired and bored of it too quickly. Thus, they chose not to offer her the role. If that weren’t disappointing enough, her skills did not make her eligible for any of the upper-tier roles either. So, Emily being overqualified essentially shut her out of an industry that she wanted to be in and stuck in a place where she was unhappy. 

It seems almost backward to think that companies wouldn’t jump at the chance to hire a candidate willing to downgrade themselves just to be a part of that company/industry. However, the concerns that these companies have about hiring overqualified candidates are actually quite valid. Terry Greer-King, vice-president of EMEA at cybersecurity firm SonicWall, explained “In hiring, you have to act paranoid. If someone is coming down a level or two, and they’ve likely already achieved what the role offers, then you have to ask questions about their motivation.”

Greer-King continued to detail that hiring a new employee is a big investment and it takes a significant amount (3 months to a year) of time to get that employee to the point where they are a true asset to the company. By investing in an overqualified employee who might leave in 6 months, means the company is taking an immense risk. 

Additionally, a person applying for a role they are overqualified for could present as a red flag. To employers, it raises the question as to why they were unable to get a role they were qualified for. It also raises concerns about reliability and performance. Employers want to do everything they can to avoid hiring a candidate like that. Ultimately though Greer-King says it comes down to the fact that employers want “…to hire the right person, at the right time, who can grow into the role, develop and mature.” To that point, “Employees generally want to be challenged; then, they tend to be happier and stay longer. At the heart of it, good isn’t necessarily good: a candidate can be wrong in areas other than skill and experience,” highlighted Greer-King. 

So what can overqualified workers who are looking to take lower positions in service of themselves or their careers do? First, it’s important to be explicitly clear to prospective employers about your reasoning and underlying motivations for wanting to essentially demote yourself. If you can highlight that your intention is to stay and grow with the company, you could end up with the end result that you are looking for.