Employees Perceived as Overqualified Experience Lack of Commitment

A client of mine once told me about how they lured a talented web developer away from his current job and to their web company, despite the fact that he had to take a $15,000 pay cut. How did they do it? The web developer was bored with his job because he felt overqualified and was eager for a more challenging position.

This brilliant millennial’s previous company was now left with a job opening for one of the most challenging positions to fill: web developer. Alas, another casualty of an organization not properly utilizing their employees’ talents.

Perceived overqualification, defined as “the belief that one has surplus skills compared to job requirements”, can not only increase turnover but negatively impact both the company and employee in other ways.

Study by FAU

According to a recent study by Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business, overqualified employees are often dissatisfied with their jobs, uncommitted to their company, and experience psychological strain.

When an employee believes their skills aren’t being utilized there is a sense of being deprived. “That deprivation is what is theorized to result in these negative job attitudes,” said Michael Harari, Ph.D., assistant professor in FAU’s Department of Management Programs. Harari, together with fellow researchers Archana Manapragada and Chockalingam Viswesvaran of Florida International University carried out the study.

Harari continues: “We invest effort at work and we expect rewards in return, such as esteem and career opportunities. And for an overqualified employee, that expectation has been violated. This is a stressful experience for employees, which leads to poor psychological wellbeing, such as negative emotions and psychological strain.”

The lack of commitment the employee feels for their company can be damaging. Often times the bad feelings manifest in deviant behavior, according to Harari. Deviant behavior is coming late to work, leaving early, stealing, and/or bullying coworkers. The likelihood of an employee participating in such behaviors correlates to the amount of over qualification they feel in their job.

Ensuring a Good Fit

Overqualification can be a major problem. So how can your company avoid fitting people into a job for which they are overqualified when hiring a new candidate?

First, examine the candidate’s resume. The most obvious question to ask yourself is: “Does the position for which they’re applying make sense given their experience?” Those who have held more senior positions in the past warrant an extra set of questions in the interview.

Sometimes spotting potential overqualification issues requires looking for gaps in employment dates. Some candidates, particularly those who have been out of work for an extended period, may omit employment history that could make them seem overqualified. Don’t hesitate to ask a job candidate how they spent their time between jobs.

Second, probe for overqualification during the interview. Prepare questions that will help get an idea of how the person perceives their work experience in relation to the job.

In the FAU study, employees who were “younger, overeducated and narcissistic tended to report higher levels of perceived overqualification.” This finding suggests that those new to the workforce can be motivated to take jobs for which they feel overqualified in order to start their careers.

Make the old “How long would you expect to work for us if hired?” question a little more relevant by asking what position they would expect to hold in 5 years.

Lastly, add a behavioral assessment to the hiring process. Behavioral assessments allow you to create a set of guidelines for what type and level of behaviors the candidate needs to have. Give the candidate the assessment and then review their results together. Let them know why they are a good fit for the job and let them share their insight back with you. The conversation will show that you care about the candidate’s happiness and future, and will reaffirm to them why the position is right for them. Continue coming back to the assessment results during on boarding and beyond.

It’s true that employees who feel they are overqualified are often dissatisfied with their jobs, uncommitted to their company, and experience psychological strain. A good hiring process with additional questions built into the interview and a behavioral assessment will help guard against hiring people with an overqualified mindset.