The Problem With Overqualified Workers

Too many skills, not enough jobs

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The plight of overqualified job-seekers is coming under focus as the latest hardship in this lingering recession. Companies typically avoid hiring overqualified workers because they tend to be unhappy with the job and frequently quit. But with the high unemployment rate and brutal job market, many highly qualified workers have little choice but to apply for jobs below their education and skill level. This has created a unique pool of struggling job-seekers who are doomed, paradoxically, by their high qualifications.

  • Companies Win...Maybe  The New York Times' Michael Luo reports, "The phenomenon was probably inevitable in a labor market in which job seekers outnumber openings five to one. Employers are seizing the opportunity to stock up on discounted talent, despite the obvious risks that the new hires will become dissatisfied and leave." But overqualified hires quit more often, which is costly for companies who have to replace them.
  • Creates Generation of Unskilled Workers  The Atlantic's Daniel Indiviglio explains that overqualified applicants poach jobs that would otherwise go to entry-level workers, who as a result are robbed of much-needed experience and resume boosting. "It will stunt their career development. [...] That leaves workers with shorter experience or less-developed skills out of the work force for an extended period of time."
  • Do Overqualified Hires Work Harder?  Despite research showing they're less satisfied with their job, the New York Times' Michael Luo suggests overqualified workers could still be productive workers. "An interesting open question is how overqualification affects job performance. This is much more of a gray area, where the research actually leans toward supporting the hiring of overqualified candidates." But this requires special management. "If workers are given autonomy and made to feel valued and respected and that they can actually have an impact, many of those negative consequences that usually cause companies to steer away from hiring overqualified workers can be mitigated."
  • Reality Show Recruiting Overqualified Workers  Donald Trump's reality TV show, The Apprentice, is planning next season's show to feature lawyers who are overqualified for their current jobs, as well as other lawyers who are similarly affect by the recession. Above The Law's Kashmir Hill quips, "If your world has been rocked by the recession, maybe it’s time to seek out a reality TV gig." If overqualified workers are now getting their own season of The Apprentice, some of them, at least, are getting along fine.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.