Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sorry, But You're Over-Qualified

"I'm sorry, but you're over-qualified for this position." The suited man across the table smiled sincerely, then folded my resume and placed it on the other documents at the corner of his desk.

I smiled, trying to break the tension. "Well, I have had over 40 years of experience in the field. That should count as an asset, shouldn't it?"

"We cannot pay you for that experience. It wouldn't be fair to the rest of the staff."

"I will agree with you. But I'm not asking you to pay for my previous experience."

"Sorry. There is nothing I can do."

It wasn't the first time I had heard the phrase "over-qualified." Perhaps that phrase deserves examination.

Scores of retirees and other experienced workers are looking for work. Perhaps they grew bored by retirement and hope to find part-time work. Other workers may have reached the top of their employers' salary limit and became disposable. Thousands of workers with an overabundance of experience are in the job market, encountering situations like this on a daily basis.

What is wrong about being over-qualified?

Say you are a restaurant owner and have thought about adding some nice dinner music for your patrons. You run an ad in the local newspaper seeking a pianist and in response receive several applications. You then ask two finalists to audition.

Applicant 1 is young and arrives wearing jeans and a polo-type shirt. He plays well. However, his hygiene is weak. He is wearing large spacers in both earlobes and has visible tattoos on his arms. You try to picture how his performance might be received by diners. Will his appearance alter the type of guests who visit your establishment?

Applicant 2 is also a man, middle-aged with short, stylish graying hair. He arrives in a suit and has brought a prepared resume. His experience includes having played at a local restaurant as well as several years performing as a concert pianist. You ask what took him away from the concert circuit. Applicant 2 replies that he wanted to raise a family and settled down to teach music at a local college. He plays very well but as you are listening, you worry about his expectations. He might think this position is mediocre and will leave when some other opportunity comes along. Perhaps he will think that the salary is inadequate.

So you tell Applicant 2 that he is "over-qualified" and you select Applicant 1. Your business suffers as a result of that choice.

If someone offers you the choice of fine wine served in crystal stemware or a can of beer -- for the same price -- wouldn't it make more sense to take the wine?

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