Over-qualified

Can you be “over-qualified” for a job? My colleagues seem to think so. I have encountered this a few times in my workplace. One, an extremely well-qualified project manager with oodles of experience, repeatedly turned down for roles, despite patently out-performing other candidates at interview.

We could only conclude that the recruiting manager felt threatened by her, no doubt with an eye on the long-term, worried about being replaced by her recruit, her culture of mediocrity exposed. No, no, she was just “not the right fit” for the organisation.

More recently, colleagues itching to get rid of the over-qualified temps from the team. I pointed out that this sounded rather discriminatory. “Surely it’s a good thing that they’re going above and beyond?” Not in this role. “Really?” Don’t get me wrong, it’s great customer service, but it’s bad for our stats; we just need to get the call volume down.

I was just about to say that there are many reasons someone with greater qualifications might work well below their grade, but unfortunately all of my colleagues jumped in, cutting me off, turning it into a moment of jovial buffoonery. So the temps will soon be gone — no first-time-fix here — replaced by perms compliant enough to just answer the phone without resolving the problem there and then.

Had I been able to finish my sentence, I might have gone on to say that years back, the only way for me to get my foot in the door was for me to apply for roles way below my level of qualifications. Indeed, about a year into one of those roles, while tidying up the office, I came across my own job application, used at interview. In the top-right corner, my manager had scrawled: “Over-qualified?”

Perhaps I was, and perhaps they should have told me, because it was one of the most dreary jobs I’ve known, with all the interesting parts removed on my very first day in post. But I had to take it anyway, because there were no other options for me.

And so we come to the present. On paper, I too would probably be considered over-qualified for my present role, if anyone cared to review my certificates. Certainly, I have the highest university qualifications of anyone in my team. But the reality is that what’s on paper isn’t that important if you can barely string a sentence together.

Interestingly, in the past five years, I watched many an under-qualified individual come into the organisation. Some of them I trained in aspects of their role, providing support whenever they needed it. From the sidelines, I watched their ascent through the ranks. One of them transitioned into to a director-level role: a stepping stone into a comparable role elsewhere.

Qualifications, we come to realise, are mostly irrelevant in the end. It’s all about confidence and personality. If you have these two, you’ll go far. If not, then you’ll forever occupy that unenviable status of the over-qualified, plodding away, going above and beyond, revelling in mediocrity.

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